DJ Seams Legit: “Careful with this one” he said, offering me the keys. “Be very careful. If it steps out, it will bite you.”
David Booth yaks weekly via his Motor Mouth column , but, almost as often, you’ll find him behind the wheel of some of the fastest supercars on the planet. So when he tells you a car is a bit on the hairy side it’s a lot like someone from Texas telling you the chilli is a little bit spicy. Handle with care is all I am saying.
The “one” in question is the 2020 Mercedes-AMG GT R. The R stands for rage. Thanks to the 4.0L twin-turbo V8 nestled far back in its engine bay, this pretty little hate machine will sling you into the horizon with ease on its way to a 315 km/h top speed assuming you have the room and the fortitude. But honestly, lots of cars are fast in 2020. BMW will sell you a 5-passenger SUV with ventilated seats that’ll darn near match the GT R to 100 km/h . What really sets the GT R apart from other cars is its brutality.
His Royal Boothiness: Jeff Foxworthy, the guru of Blue Collar comedy, defines being a redneck as the “glorious absence of sophistication.” I often think that that also perfectly describes North American sports/supercars. Take your pick — Camaro, Corvette or anything else built in the Land of the Free — but they are, to quote our young DJ Seams Legit, brutal. European sports/supercars, meanwhile, are always a model of sophistication. That’s not to say they are not also lethally fast, just that their comportment is usually more civilized than their American brethren. A Ferrari is a rapier, if you will, compared with the Corvette’s broadsword.
The odd thing is that the GT R — the “one” that bites — lies smack dab in the middle of those two poles. Oh, the electronics are suitably advanced, that hulking twin-turbo V8 finely tuned and the interior no less hedonistic than any other $200,000 Mercedes. But, at its core, it is not any less brutal than a high-powered Z06. Punch the starter button and its 577 horsepower burst to life like a Chevy small-block on steroids. Toss it into a tight hairpin and, should local authorities not yet have fixed this spring’s latest undulations, the rear suspension will pogo about like a ZR1. Hit the gas hard on the exit and it will spin up the rear tires faster that you can say “Carroll Shelby, we hardly knew thee.” It may say Mercedes on the rear deck, but somewhere, somehow, the spirit of Zora Arkus-Duntov has invaded Stuttgart.
CS: It does indeed feel a bit like an American sports car. Like the C7 Corvette Z06, the GT R is really just pushing the limits of how much power a front-engine, rear-drive chassis can handle. Inside the GT’s snug cockpit you’ll see a yellow knob that looks as if it came off a John Deere tractor. It might as well be painted Day-Glo Red with ‘DO NOT TOUCH’ emblazoned all over since it controls the safety nannies — as in traction control — available to help keep you somewhere on the road. Ironically, this knob is activated after you press and hold the “TCS OFF” button. Then you can turn the knob to adjust between nine different traction control settings. Again, it’s counterintuitive because turning the knob counter-clockwise illuminates all the lights which means all the aids are actually turned to their lowest setting.
Ultimately, the scary knob and its many different personalities wasn’t really explored on the road. Suffice to say, one can still get in plenty of trouble even when the assists are running full tilt. Turning off the traction control should be left for the track and very skilled — not to mention brave — drivers.
DB: Yes, young man, you hit that one right on the head when you talked about pushing the limits how a ‘traditional’ chassis can manage this much power. And that’s not to single out the GT R. Chevrolet “had” to convert to mid-engine. Either that or be forced to dial down the power. Indeed, amongst the true front-engined, rear-drive traditionalists, only Ferrari’s Superfast and this GT R stand out as truly track-worthy big-horsepower supercars.
And understand this: despite both our characterizations of this fastest of AMGs as brutal and my premonitions of potential doom, the GT R remains, well, brutally fast. In the hands of AMG GT3 race driver Maro Engel, the Pro edition — same horsepower, even more ridiculously stiff suspension — of this car has done a 7:04 around the Nurburgring. That’s right up there with McLaren’s P1 and a Porsche’s topflight GT3 RS. Even our non-Pro test unit, the basic GT R, is good for a 7:10 lap making it almost as fast as a McLaren 600 LT.
In other words, in the right hands, the GT R is blindingly fast. Just don’t futz too freely with that yellow button my floppy-haired friend is so paranoid about. Hell, according to our own Costa Mouzouris, who drove the Pro version , even five-time DTM champion Bernd Schneider keeps the traction control system on some of the time.
CS: Well, you glassy-eyed fossil, what else can you expect from a car that has traction control levels labelled as: Basic, Advanced, Pro, and Master? But the thing about all this sturm und drang is that it’s exciting! Bury the pedal on that monstrous V8 and you’d think there were two of them underhood. The shifts that are soft and gentle in normal around-town prowling now become whacks in the small of your back announcing each new, freshly double-clutched gear shift. Pull the paddle again until common sense — or fear of license suspension — overcomes your need for speed. 577 horsepower may not sound all that crazy these days but German horses must be particularly powerful beasts, especially when reinforced with 516 pound-feet of torque..
Yet when you feel like driving calmly, the GT R does a half decent job of pretending to be a Mercedes. Sure, the suspension is rock hard even in “Comfort” and the tire noise never goes away. But you’re coddled with heated seats, a Burmeister stereo, Apple CarPlay, and a fully configurable digital dashboard. The interior is also exceedingly well trimmed and the quality of materials used is excellent. The window switches are the only plasticky letdown you’ll find inside the AMG GT.
DB: And that’s not to mention the intangibles, the most important of which is style. Along with the traditional chassis comes a classic silhouette, the cabin set well back in the wheelbase and the engine bay almost impossibly long. It cuts quite the shape and now that more and more supercars have descended into wedge-shaped sameness, something that seems, well, almost organic really stands out. Beauty is best left in the eye of the beholder, but judging from the almost universal praise the GT R enjoyed pretty much everywhere I drove it, the classic rear-cabin, long hood profile must be hardwired into our DNA.
CS: I agree. I’ve long been a fan of cars that have you sitting over the rear axle and the AMG GT R just looks exactly how I think a sports car should look. That said, the AMG GT R is not so much a GT and very much R. Super high performance front-engined cars are becoming something of a rare breed these days as that genre succumbs to mid-engined layouts that promise more dynamic performance. Nonetheless, there’s something to be said for driving something with a long hood and a great honking V8 belting out an internal combustion baritone. The AMG is just more punk rock than the comparably staid Porsche 911. It also might be more fun.
DB: There are basically two philosophies in the building of supercars. The first is that, in order to go fast, a car should present as little histrionics to its driver as possible. Tail-wagging powerslides may make for spectacular Youtubes, but they aren’t the fast way round a racetrack. Mid engine cars — the best examples of calm-during-the-storm perhaps Porsche’s 918 — typify this rock-steady-as-she-goes theory of speed.
On the other hand, there or plenty of people for whom the sense of speed is more important than sheer velocity, the theatrics of the event, if you will, more important than its actual result.
And that’s where the AMG GT R fits in. It’s fast. Very fast. But, more importantly, every ride will be soul-stirring.