Road Test

DRIVEN: 2016 Mercedes-AMG GT-S Coupe

It's a beauty to look at but there’s something devilish about this new Benz …

2016 Mercedes-AMG GT-S Coupe

It’s a guy thing. Forget styling, handling or straight-line speed. When it comes to appreciation of automotive awesomeness, the deepest divide between the genders concerns exhaust music. For men, tailpipes that howl and spit and bark are ear-drum ecstasy. Most women in my experience just think something is broken on the car.

That being the case, the women in our vicinity must have thought the Mercedes-AMG GT-S was really badly broken. When the Drive Mode is in its more aggressive S or Race settings, the fury from the trapezoidal tailpipes utterly eclipses traditional terms like “growl” or “roar.” We’re thinking descriptors like “savage” – maybe even “satanic.”

Put it this way: If Wes Craven was directing a new horror flick, a recording of a GT-S throttle-blip might be the sound-track he’d use for the lightning-flash that marks the moment Beelzebub bursts out of the crypt in the deserted cemetery during the apocalyptic thunderstorm.

So when people stare as we drive by in the satanic black test car, we’re never quite sure if it’s the sight or the sound that first gets their attention. Not that even a deaf person would fail to notice the AMG’s arresting shape. It’s wider than an S-Class limo yet lower to the ground than an SLK. It has the kind of exaggerated long-hood, cab-rearward proportions that used to invite “manhood enhancement” analogies, in the days before monster trucks picked up that role.

Relatively more mainstream

To recap, the GT-S is the second all-its-own-work sports car from Mercedes-Benz’s performance subsidiary, AMG. Insofar as its arrival marks the departure of the SLS, you could call the GT-S an SLS replacement, though really the new car is a smaller, more-mainstream and relatively less expensive sports car aiming pretty much for the jugular of the Porsche 911.

At $149,900, the AMG starts pricier than a base 911, but with its twin-turbo, 503-hp 4.0-litre V-8 engine the newcomer seems to fit comfortably between, say, a naturally-aspirated rear-drive Carrera GTS (RWD, 430 hp, $135,830 with optional PDK dual-clutch transmission) and a base 911 Turbo (AWD, 520 hp, $172,400, PDK standard).

A 475-hp entry-level GT model will debut next year as a 2017 model and will presumably be priced closer to the $100K opening bid for a PDK-equipped 911.

The AMG comes only with a dual-clutch automatic (Speedshift DCT in AMG-speak), integrated with the final drive in the rear of the car and rear-wheel drive; the engine is front-mid-mounted, i.e. ahead of the cabin but behind the front axle line. The strictly two-seater body is built almost entirely from aluminum, apart from the hood and the lifting tailgate, which are fashioned from ultra-light magnesium and not-so-light steel respectively.

Do you think maybe they were trying to massage the weight distribution? Unladen, the GT-S loads 53% of its mass on the rear wheels. With a human or two on board we’re guessing the rear share gets even bigger, given the extreme rearwardness of the seating.

That’s a good thing for enhancing straight-line traction in a car that lacks the “claw-wheel-drive” of many rivals; it also means that if you do break the rear wheels loose in a slide you really know it. The lateral displacement is happening virtually right under your butt, not somewhere behind you as in more conventionally-proportioned cars.

Going, going, gone …

Mercedes-AMG claims a 0-100-km/h time of 3.8 seconds, which appropriately positions it between the 4.0- and 3.4-second sprints claimed by Porsche for the 911 GTS and Turbo respectively. It also possibly understates how fast the AMG really is.

Be it a hint of turbo lag or just the limitations of 2WD traction, its initial launch – the first second of first gear after you mat the throttle – feels soft compared with what happens next. When traction and torque get in sync, the GT-S lunges at the horizon with a ferocity that is as relentless as it is shocking. Claimed maximum speed is 310 km/h – and according to the factory that’s electronically limited. Could this be a 200-mph car (322 km/h) without the limiter?

Yet for all its potential powertrain sound and fury, the GT-S is easy to drive. Leave the drive mode selector in C (for Comfort) and you can putter around town as smoothly (though certainly not as quietly) as in a Buick.

The ride is always stiff, but rarely jarring. The body-hugging seats are more comfortable than should be possible for their firm padding, and ample adjustability should allow most body types to arrange themselves just-so at the wheel. There’s even useable luggage space under the lifting tailgate.

The full expanse of the hood – large enough, it seems, to land a plane on – is visible over the cowl, making it easy to aim in tight spaces. Steering heft at any legal-in-Canada speeds is minimal and its response just muted enough to avoid edginess.

Corner? What corner?

Push harder, and the combination of implacable tire grip, impeccable balance and undetectable body lean – with stability control always on hand if needed – accommodates ambitious cornering speeds with almost disdainful ease. “Is that all you’ve got?” it seems to say.

But along with that towering ability comes an absence of true engagement and car/driver synergy. Perhaps the GT-S would feel different at autobahn speeds, or on a track with fast, open curves, but for the turns and speeds available to most daily drivers in the places where most Canadians live, the steering’s lightness brings with it a certain numbness. And all that acreage of hood that you see beyond the cowl is also a constant reminder of how wide this car is.

So the GT-S is not an intimate soul-mate for worshippers at the church of the winding road. It is, however, a car of simply awesome ability. Besides, most of us don’t have regular access to winding roads anyway, while the GT-S’s straight-line thrills can be accessed pretty much any time a stop-light turns green. As for those addictive tailpipes, you can get your fix without even leaving your driveway. Just fire her up and blip the loud pedal.

Despite what she says, it isn’t broken, and it doesn’t need fixing.

SPECIFICATIONS:

Model: Mercedes-AMG GT-S Coupe

Price: $149,900 base, $165,750 as tested

Type of vehicle:      RWD sports car

Engine:                     4.0-litre  DOHC Twin-turbo V-8

Power/Torque:        503 hp/479 lb-ft

Transmission:         seven-speed dual-clutch automatic

0-100 km/h:              3.8 sec (mfr. claim)                                           

Competitors:  Aston Martin Vantage, Audi R8, BMW i8, Chevrolet Corvette, Dodge Viper, Jaguar F-Type, Maserati GT, Porsche 911

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