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2018 Mercedes-AMG GT R first drive

Mercedes-AMG's GT R goes from mild to monster with the twist of a knob

Well worth its price, the Mercedes-AMG GT R is a supercar that is both well-behaved and raucous.

The mad geniuses at Mercedes-AMG are notorious for taking already powerful, svelte machines and turning them up just enough to evolve into rambunctious, boisterous vehicles with a penchant for the borderline outrageous. Hand-crafted engines, world famous test drivers, and visionary leaders come together under the AMG banner to push the envelope of luxury and speed, creating generations of lust-worthy vehicles. In 2014, AMG broke the mold when they launched the AMG GT, a grand tourer with a fine balance of rudeness and refinement. They followed it up with the incredible the GT S and now, they’ve topped out the GT range with the brand new 2018 Mercedes-AMG GT R. The Green Monster, as it has become known, has the technology of a race car, packed into a road car. With the potential to be a well-behaved and refined vehicle, it is also one of the most drivable track cars on the market.

We traveled to the Algarve in Portugal to get a feel for the GT R on track at the Autodromo Algarve, a technical, twisting, tough, F1 test track near the coast. Between long fast straights and sweeping turns are nerve-wracking blind corners hidden behind grand elevation changes that force even a skilled driver to have moments of concern. Since the GT R is a track ready road car, we also got to take it out on the beautiful mountain roads winding through quiet olive groves around Portimao, Portugal. In both cases the GT R shone through as a powerful, confidence inspiring machine, and a certified jewel in the crown of  the AMG team in Affalterbach.

Green with envy

From the outside, the GT R appears to be layered with extra flourishes and fantastic lines in typical AMG fashion. Yet the body of the 2018 Mercedes-AMG GT R is in fact, all form. Lucky for us that form lends itself to beauty. Mercedes head designer, Gordon Wagener has been known to ask his team to simplify their designs taking out lines and creases in favor of what he refers to as “sensual purity.” That playbook appears to have been tossed out the window in the form of the new AMG GT R, where, according to Tobias Moers, the head of AMG, the design team and engineering team worked in lock-step with one another.  “There isn’t a single element on the AMG GT R that doesn’t lend itself to some technical benefit on the car,” Moers told Digital Trends. “Every flourish has its purpose.”

To that end, 2018 Mercedes-AMG GT R is wider and appears to be lower than its GT and GT S peers. It gains an additional 46 mm at the front and 57 mm at the back giving it a low slung silhouette. Mercedes shod the AMG GT R in Michelin Cup 2 Sport tires and staggered them with 20” at the back and 19” at the front for better grip at speed. The standard lightweight forged wheels show off the yellow brake calipers, one of the most impressive features of the AMG GT R, particularly on the track. For an additional price, buyers can opt for the AMG Performance wheels which help lighten the car and carbon ceramic brakes  to haul it down to a stop even faster.  The GT R also gets a  large, fixed wing at the back, a carbon fiber roof and front and rear bumpers and monstrous yellow brakes.

On road and on track the Mercedes-AMG GT R is a powerful, confidence inspiring machine and a certified jewel in AMG’s crown.

Yet there are plenty of other features that you can’t see immediately that make the AMG GT R a special sports car. First, at the front, there is an electronically controlled air dam that opens and closes based on speed and steering angle. As the hidden louvers open and close they give the AMG GT R more grip. When going into a turn, under hard braking, or going straight at high speeds, the louvers close to lower drag. They only open when the system needs more cooling and airflow.

Additional aero features are also hidden just in front of the engine under the GT R. Here an upside-down airplane wing electronically adjusts its position based on which drive mode the car is in and how fast it is traveling. In Race mode, at speeds above 50 mph the flap deploys to suck the car onto the road in what is known as the Venturi effect.  In Comfort, Sport, and Sport+ modes the flap drops at 74 mph making the GT R feel even more secure and planted at high speeds.

Dial R for Race

Inside, the Mercedes-AMG GT R is almost identical to its GT and GTS family members with a few small differences. The cockpit is small and tight, with controls all within easy reach of the driver’s seat. A large center console is home to the numerous bells and whistles that make the GT R such a special car. Here you can control the drive mode by turning a single knob. With each setting chassis, throttle, and steering response change. In Comfort mode the ride is a bit cushier and there’s more play in the wheel when on-center. This is best for long straight drives at highway speeds or for cushioning your passenger when you’re in it for the long haul. Switch to Sport and Sport+ for more spirited driving, perfect for twisting canyon roads and more aural pleasure. In this setting the steering ratio and suspension tighten up to give the driver more feedback. Race mode is the stiffest and most responsive setting and the one we stuck to on track in Portugal. This mode is best suited to smooth roads piloted quickly.

The key to the AMG GT R however lies in a yellow knob at the center of the dash. Just under the round air vents sits an additional knob that you won’t find on the GT or the GT S. Bright yellow, notched, and marked with the letters TC, this knob is one of the magic points of the GT R. Here you can switch through nine different traction control settings that give the driver even more control over wheel slip. We got a chance to try the traction control around the ring road of the track just after a brief but spectacular rainstorm. At its lowest setting you can get the GT R’s rear to slide around on wet roads. At it’s highest it’s impossible, in normal conditions to get it to step out on you. The system isolates the grip on the rear wheels but doesn’t turn off ESP giving the driver more control over the car’s behavior based on road conditions and what they want to achieve.

A suite of choose-your-own-adventure buttons offer up settings that can be customized to fundamentally change the personality of the AMG GT R.

Additional independent buttons on the console include traction control, suspension adjustments, gearshift lockout, exhaust, and suspension settings as well as your radio and infotainment control and volume. Above the almost comically tiny gear selector is the main scroll wheel and touchpad that controls the iPad style infotainment screen mounted to the dash. While it’s a common feature across Mercedes’ product line it still looks suspiciously like you should be able to simply pull it off the dash and stash it in your bag when you leave the car. The interface is simple enough to use and like all Mercedes vehicles includes easily accessed menus for everything from driving dynamics and navigation to cabin temperature and stereo settings.

One minor niggling point on the interior is the seats. Sport seats are standard with optional upgrades to the AMG Track seats with four-point seat belts should you so desire it. The seats are manually adjustable and designed to fit snugly. After really long periods in the car however, (think hours and hours), the sport seats can get a bit uncomfortable. Because they are designed to hug you in place, they do just that, but some may find them restrictive. Seats and dash are leather wrapped with carbon fiber accents, however, bringing some of the sporty exterior features inside for a cohesive package that feels fast and luxurious both inside and out.

Bruiser friendly

The best part of the AMG GT R, however, is the fact that in the hands of an experienced driver or someone less experienced, whether on track or on the road, it is equally capable, comfortable, and incredible to drive. Because of the level of technology that Mercedes has put into the GT R, including all of the nannies we sometimes bemoan, the Green Monster is an approachable supercar with a dual nature. It can be well-behaved or evil with just a few pushes of a button and a few turns of a knob.

More: Mercedes-AMG could turn the next CLS into a full-blown Panamera-fighter

To show off it’s dual-nature, we took a few fast laps around the Autodromo track, sitting shotgun to the five-time DTM champion and AMG test driver, Bernd Schneider. Under his direction the AMG GT R truly sings. Schneider had traction control turned down from its highest (default) setting and in Race mode. Upon entering the blind turns and rises of the Portimao track he’d left foot brake while applying throttle and pointing in toward the apex. Surprisingly the GT R responded and went directly for the point that Schneider steered for, showing just how good the advanced systems in the GT R are. When we got behind the wheel we had a similar experience. The GT R was well-behaved, direct and communicative and downright confidence inspiring.

The aero on the outside of the GT R combines with the brand new independent rear steering that Mercedes has implemented on the GT R. Below 62 mph the rear wheels turn in the opposite direction of the front wheels to fundamentally shorten the wheelbase. This gives the car a tight turning radius and much more responsive feel at low speeds. Above 62 mph, however, the rear wheels turn in the same direction as the front wheels, stretching the car like a cheetah on the run so that when put into a turn, the car gains stability by essentially gaining wheel base length. The sensation yields an increasingly confident, stable, planted and direct road feel whether you’re shepherding it amongst olive groves and twisting roads, or hauling it above 100 mph on a race track.

In addition to the awesome handling, AMG has put its 4.0L V8 twin-turbocharged engine at the heart of the Green Monster. Tuned to put out 577 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque and mated to a dual clutch seven-speed transmission the powertrain is fast and incredibly powerful. Naught to 60 takes under four seconds according to Mercedes and most recently the AMG GT R ran the famed Nordschleife Nurburgring – at the hands of a journalist – in 7:10.92. That’s faster than the Ferrari 488 GTB and the Lexus LFA, but marginally slower than a Nissan GTR.

Helping it along, are a new set of turbos that increase boost. As a result, Mercedes-AMG engineers updated the throttle mapping from that in the GT and GTS to make power seem almost limitless and immediately accessible whether on the long front straight of the track or on overtaking vehicles on twisting roads. On one of our trips around the track during a lead-follow session we pushed the GT R to around 250 kph (155 mph). That’s only a fraction of the nearly 200 mph top speed that Mercedes says the AMG GT R can do yet, in Schneider’s capable hands and despite incredible high winds, the speedometer climbed well into 270 kmh and above (nearing 170 mph).

Our Take

On roads around the track, the GT R could be sedate or raucous depending on what mode you choose and just how hard you want to push. Above Comfort mode the engine note is boisterous and it was perfect in the high olive groves and golden hills, but it’s not a sound your neighbors would appreciate if you decided to take it on a canyon run at say, 5:30am.

All of these factors add up to an incredibly enjoyable sports car experience. The only major hang up could be the price. Since the GT R tops out Mercedes-AMG GT range, buyers should expect to pay around $200,000 to get behind the wheel of one. That being said, the experience is well worth the scratch. A supercar that grows with a driver’s ability is unheard of on the market yet the GT R offers just that.

Highs:

  • Active airflow controls give the car a planted and stable feel.
  • Adjustable traction control is fantastic.
  •  Very direct steering thanks to Independent rear-wheel steering.
  • Confidence inspiring characteristics.

Lows:

  • Looks larger outside than how it feels from the inside.
  • Race-style sport seats can get uncomfortable on long drives.
  • Heavier than expected due to added technology
  • Prices likely will approach $200,000