Viewing the 2016 Mercedes-AMG GT S for the first time, and all subsequent times, I was bowled over by its smooth, almost retro-50's GT styling. Whenever I hit the ignition, I got a warm fuzzy feeling as the engine roared to life with a sound that would make the king of the jungle hide behind his lionesses. And driving it, the Mercedes-AMG GT S proved one of the stiffest cars I've ever piloted.
If you're thinking I misspelled this car's name, you would be wrong, as in recent years Mercedes-Benz seems to have gotten bored with its existing model nomenclature. Instead of Mercedes-Benz's performance division adding its three-letter acronym to existing model names, such as the Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG, the division gets its own distinct sub-brand, as in Mercedes-AMG. No Karl Benz to be found.
The GT S also takes up where the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG left off, coming out as a powerful track-ready two-seater and a halo performance car. However, where the SLS AMG's base price came to $200k, the 2016 Mercedes-AMG GT S goes for a base price of $130,825 in the US, while the Mercedes-AMG GT runs £97,200 in the UK and AU$314,136 in Australia. The model I drove came with a few performance and driver assistance options, bumping the total to $139,880, which strangely seems like a bargain compared to the SLS.
To achieve its performance goals, Mercedes-AMG designed a new engine for the GT S, a 4-liter V-8 with two compact turbochargers mounted between the banks of cylinders compressing air to 17.4 psi. At 503 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque, the output is balanced and gets this 3,695 pound car to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds.
For balance, the GT S gets a seven-speed dual clutch transaxle, that's mounted at the rear axle, rather than a traditional front-mount transmission. The driver selector sits way back on the console, not a good ergonomic position, but you only use it when selecting drive, reverse or neutral. You can let it shift by itself, which it handles very well, or use paddle shifters to enact your own lightning-fast gear changes.
In either Sport or Sport Plus modes, selected with a dial on the console, this car showed little in the way of limits on twisty mountain roads. Again and again, its powerful engine and responsive throttle tempted me to push it hard in the turns. And each time, that stiff body combined with an adaptive suspension and 20-inch wheels at the rear (19s in front), held the road perfectly, exhibiting no sway. With reckless effort I achieved a little controlled rear-end slide, but on public roads I wouldn't advise it.
Controlling my speed was a delight, either stepping into the throttle and blasting the car forward with neck-snapping acceleration or getting on the brakes, which afforded excellent modulation, letting me shave off however much speed I desired. In the two sport modes, the engine speed held around 4,000 rpm, making for immediate and delicate response on the throttle.
One oddity was in the steering feel. Instead of a similar hard response from wheel to steering rack, the GT S existed a slightly soft edge, just a tiny bit of unexpected lag. It seemed like the steering was tuned for a weekend in the country while everything else was set for the track.
And speaking of the track, CNET editor Jon Wong drove the GT S at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Here's what he had to say: "In sport-plus mode, the automatic shift programming is really good for a lap, but manually choosing gears with the paddles delivers instant response to shift commands. All the horsepower from the twin-turbocharged V-8 is comfortably manageable, pushing the GT S quickly out of corners and rapidly down straights with no turbo lag and strangely no whirls or whooshes from the turbos.
"Through turns, the staggered Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires and adaptive suspension keep the GT S planted with high grip levels letting you place the car where you want. Steering feel is hefty and communicative letting you know when the front tires are approaching their limits. For those who want an even more interesting track experience, select the car's race mode to loosen up the stability program unlocking more slip angle in corners, but also still leaving a safety net in case you really get in over your head."
Setting the drive mode to Comfort doesn't exactly mitigate the GT S' stiffness. As I drove city streets I could feel every nuance of the pavement, including the rougher bits, and concluded I wouldn't want to drive this car to work every day. However, the engine and transmission combination remains manageable even at low speeds. Taking off from stops in 25 mph zones, I had no fears that I would suddenly find myself hitting 70 mph without realizing it.
Despite the stiff ride, Mercedes-AMG tries to make the GT S more palatable for daily driving. Helping the fuel economy, rated at 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway, the car incorporates an idle-stop feature, shutting down the engine at stop signs and lights. Idle-stop brought the engine back to life rapidly enough to not interfere with my desire to go, but the loud V-8 makes it very noticeable, especially if when edging forward car-by-car in slow city traffic.