One of the world's best drivers is leading me over a cliff. He, Bernd Schneider, in his Mercedes-AMG GT S, and me in mine, following raggedly behind, trying to keep up with the master.
At least now I know the answer to that old rhetorical question: If someone told me to drive off a cliff, I guess I would.
Above the road in front of us there's only sky. Just before the top of the cliff Schneider finally slams on the carbon-ceramic brakes.
Our cars squirm and wiggle, then go light as they crest the cliff, the ABS and other assorted electronics struggling to avert a catastrophic spin. Then a sharp left, and a blind drop down five-stories at too-scared-to-look speed.
This series of bends is called the Corkscrew, one of 11 turns at the Laguna Seca racetrack in California, and one of the most terrifying turns in all of motorsport. The AMG GT just made easy work of it.
Honestly, for the 2016 AMG GT, I was expecting a soft-ish grand-tourer. It is, after all, the successor to the SLS AMG, albeit smaller and at a lower price point. And Mercedes-Benz hasn't done a true Porsche 911-rivalling sports car in the modern era, so I figured they'd go with what they know.
I was wrong. The AMG GT is a hard-core driver's car, pitched right at the sweet spot of the premium sports car market. On a spectrum of Porsche 911 GTS to Jaguar F-Type R, the Mercedes splits the difference. It's a touch softer than the Porsche, but sharper and lighter than the Jag.
We drove the top-spec GT S model, which will arrive in Canada in April, 2015. A more basic GT with slightly less power will join the lineup shortly afterward.
The soon-to-be-legendary 6.2-litre V-8 of the SLS is gone, replaced by a new 4.0-litre twin-turbo V-8. Where the 583 horsepower SLS did 0-100 km/h in 3.7 seconds, the 510 hp GT S does it in 3.8.
The new car has roughly 100 kg less mass to haul around. Much of that is thanks to its smaller dimensions and aluminum/magnesium construction.
The result is a car that feels utterly unshakable. The grip from both front and rear wheels is immense, and it steers like a laser-guided missile. Feedback is not exactly forthcoming from the controls, but they're all so quick and precise it almost doesn't matter.
Mercedes is keen to argue the AMG GT can be used as a grand tourer. Its hatchback-style trunk is big enough for a week's luggage for two. And virtually every parameter of the car – suspension, steering, throttle, even engine sound – can be adjusted on the fly in stages between Comfort and Race. But even at its softest, the ride errs on the side of stiff. It was fine on California's forever smooth pavement, but we'll reserve final judgment until it meets Toronto's awful avenues.
Perhaps it is wise for Mercedes to go into the premium sports car market with guns blazing. The AMG GT S is beautiful and sharp and makes easy work out of one of the hardest corners in all of motorsport. If it can handle the Corkscrew at Laguna, it has a real fighting chance against its many stellar rivals.
You'll like this car if ... You live for expensive thrills
- Base Price: $150,000 (estimated, GT S)
- Engine: 4.0-litre twin-turbo V-8
- Drive: Rear-wheel drive
- Transmission: Seven-speed double-clutch auto
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.4 combined (EU cycle)
- Alternatives: Porsche 911 Carrera GTS, 911 Turbo, Jaguar F-Type R, BMW i8, Audi R8, Aston Martin V8 Vantage
- Looks: That could kill (rivals).
- Interior: Just barely big enough, but with an excess of quality.
- Performance: Can handle scary racetracks with ease, twisty roads with surgical precision, abundant power and torque.
- Technology: Brilliant engineering throughout. Light on gadgets, but if you want gadgets in a car like this you’re not driving it right.
- Cargo: A respectable 350-litre trunk. No rear seats.
An excellent car, among excellent rivals. Strong on handling and performance, average on comfort, off the charts style.
The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.
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