The roads of southeast Michigan are not exactly where this car was meant to be driven, with AMG noting that the"spent most of its development time" lapping the fearsome Nürburgring. Yet while some track-bred machines can feel dull and lifeless at ordinary speeds, the wildest AMG car does not. It's a thriller from the moment I depress the Engine Start button to the second I give back the keys. Not only is it wickedly fast and capable, the GT R also delivers gobs of feedback and excitement to the driver.
Who needs a race track, anyway?
All the parts you need to go fast
At the heart of theis a dry-sump version of the twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8 familiar from other Mercedes-AMG products. While it may not be the most soulful engine you can buy, at least it's one of the most power-dense: you get 516 pound-feet of torque all the way from 1,900 to 5,500 rpm and 577 horsepower up at 6,250 rpm. Standing starts are impressive, at 3.5 seconds to 60 miles per hour, but what really shocks is the in-gear passing performance. With so much boost arriving so easily, rolling on the throttle at any speed in any gear shoves the car forward. There's so much low-end grunt you can even leave the dual-clutch transaxle in its seventh speed when executing highway passes. If you had enough space, the GT R would stretch its legs all the way to 198 mph.
Perhaps best of all, though, the throttle's gentle and progressive tuning means that you can dole out the exact amount of power you want with ease; the GT R never feels jumpy or hyperactive. It sounds good, too. The V8 growls and grumbles all the time and gets extra vocal when you depress the sports exhaust button. Move up to the Sport+ or Race modes for even more crackles and pops on overrun, all of which elicit giggles as they echo off walls and tunnels and bridges.
Converting all that velocity to heat is easy, thanks to enormous carbon-ceramic brakes (an $8,950 option) that deliver outrageous deceleration time and time again. Miraculously, they are neither grabby nor squealy in city driving, something that can't be said for every super-powered car with carbon stoppers.
Other go-fast technology includes an electronically controlled limited-slip differential, adaptive suspension and Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires. Yet the technical roster goes far beyond those basics. Dynamic engine and transmission mounts, for instance, can stiffen for sporty driving, while rear-wheel steering makes low-speed maneuvering tighter and high-speed cornering more stable.
And that's before discussing the aerodynamics, which offer up 342 pounds more downforce at speed than the standard GT coupe. That massive rear wing is adjustable (with a tool kit) depending on your preferences, while up front the splitter can lower electronically (above 50 miles per hour in Race mode) to add another 88 pounds of downforce at 155 mph. Plus, active grille shutters open and close to balance drag reduction and engine cooling needs. Yet with all that effort to glue the car to the road, the GT R still has a lower drag coefficient than other members of the. Science!
It adds up to a road car with more grip than one could ever use on the street. Flinging the GT R around an on-ramp reminds me that, yep, it really will stick at this speed, while it's laser-precise in the way it changes direction on winding roads. All the while, lots of feedback comes through to the driver: I feel nibbles and bumps from the road surface through the steering wheel, as well as varying weights as I load and unload the tires. As to ride quality, well, it's fidgety even in the default of the three suspension settings, but never harsh or unpleasant. The upshot: body movements are basically nonexistent no matter how enthusiastically you drive. The car just points, sticks and goes.
Looks and feels the part
All those go-fast parts and the car's flared fenders (it's wider than a Corvette Z06) would make the AMG GT R a hefty thing, but fortunately engineers built in lots of lightweight materials. The front fenders, roof, engine cover, driveshaft and torque tube are all made from carbon fiber, while the exhaust is titanium. At 3,594 pounds, the GT R is thus the second-lightest of its family (the entry-level model is 34 pounds skinnier).
It's not light on visual aggression, though, with gaping air inlets, big wheels and big rear haunches. A long, low hood and a small, curvy cabin give the GT R fabulous proportions. The contrast between its red paint and black trim pieces (including the exposed carbon roof) grabs attention at every stoplight. The rear wing may be functional (and looks killer), but it does ruin the otherwise graceful lines of the GT coupe's silhouette. In fact, it's menacing from every angle; note the wicked diffuser poking out from either side of the exhaust.
The snug two-seat cabin is impeccably finished, though the repeated four-circle design for the vents and control switches will aggravate anyone with trypophobia. As will reaching back for the stubby gear selector, which is located too far to the back of the center console. My test car's red seatbelts and matte carbon-fiber dash trim scream sportiness, while the aluminum shifter paddles and Dinamica microfiber-wrapped steering wheel feel lovely. There's a good amount of roof in the trunk, and the exposed carbon-fiber brace behind the seats is a very cool "hey, look" item.
With that lengthy hood stretching out ahead of the windshield, I tend to move the driver's seat up a little higher than normal. Be sure also to adjust the mirrors carefully to see behind you and double-check at four-way stops to see past the shallow-angle A-pillars -- minor ergonomic gripes common to pretty much all sporty coupes.
The technological complement is excellent but notably a step behind the features in the newest Mercedes models: you won't find the full-digital instrument cluster of, say, the Apple CarPlay nor Android Auto are supported because the Comand system is an older-generation unit. At least the Burmester surround sound system (a $1,300 option) sounds great -- assuming you've got the exhaust turned to its quieter mode so you can hear it.and the Comand infotainment system's 8.4-inch display is not as large as in newer Mercedes cars. Still, Comand works very well and includes navigation with XM traffic information, as well as satellite radio and even some AMG-specific readouts for things like G-forces and fluid temperatures. While you'll enjoy Bluetooth and USB connectivity, neither
Standard safety gear includes precollision braking, a driver attention monitor, automatic high beams and parking sensors, though adaptive cruise, blind-spot monitoring and lane-keeping assist are all paid options.
How I'd spec it
The 2018 AMG GT R starts at $157,000 before options or destination charges, representing a $44,600 premium over the entry-level, 469-horsepower GT Coupe. I wouldn't change too much about the way my $187,345 test car is equipped. I like the looks of the exterior carbon-fiber add-ons ($4,000), the usefulness of the $1,600 Convenience package's keyless access and power-folding mirrors, and the slick Nappa/Dinamica interior trim from the $3,600 Exclusive Interior package. I might add blind-spot monitoring with lane-keeping assist ($875), purely because the view over one's shoulders is so restricted. And I could do without the silver-rimmed black forged wheels ($1,700).
But those are all quibbles. The point of the AMG GT R is that it provides ridiculous performance in a sublimely usable package; who cares exactly what color it is or what features it boasts? Track-ready performance machines often abuse drivers on the road with rock-hard suspension, on-off throttle response and muscle-building steering. Not so with the GT R. Sure, it's a little louder, stiffer and thirstier than lesser GT coupes. But given just how thrilling it is to drive and how readily it can devour roads and tracks, those are pretty small compromises to make.