When you’re the reigning Formula 1 Constructors’ World Champion and you go to war with the giants of supercar-dom, the weight of expectation is massive. Get an eyeful of AMG’s contender – and it’s compact, low, dainty even – not very supercary. Take away its go-faster rear diffuser, fixed wing and slicing side skirts and you’re left with a finely boned, cabin-back slingshot. It’s a retro racer. If you don’t believe me then follow the line down that long prow to its Panamericana grille. An old SL something-or-other racecar had a similar façade back in 1950. Really, we’re looking to the ‘50s for design inspiration? My theory on this is simple – its Affalterbach’s retaliation to the Porsche 911 legacy – reaching back for heritage in an effort to engrain the brand. A bit cynical? I’d say so. They hype ‘50 years of AMG’ but let’s be honest it was only in 1995 when the first road car bearing an AMG badge actually debuted. Anyone remember the W202 C36 AMG? Of course not, it’s only in the noughties, after the Daimler Group bought out AMG in its entirety in 1999, that AMG fascination really took hold.
Dubious linage aside, fair play to AMG GT R engineers for its supremely judged packaging. Thanks to dry-sump lubrication they’ve sunken a 4.0-litre V8 into that platypus-low bonnet. Twin-turbos inside the hot V mean a blitzkrieg to 100kph in 3.6sec, onto 200kph just 7sec after that and top schnell lives at 318kph. And it’ll do those accelerations time-after-time thanks to a weapons’ grade Race Start function. Due to its front-midship layout with transaxle, the recalibrated double-clutch gearbox sits at the rear and this provides delicate 47/53 weight distribution. You sense this sat in the cocooned cabin – the high transmission tunnel slung far back, festooned with buttons and the stubby gear selector that sits almost under your armpit. You aren’t quite in line with the steering wheel either, another reminder of the complex packaging and a V8 just millimetres ahead of your toes.
Our test drive is confined to just two laps of the world-class Kyalami GP Circuit – don’t pine for me, I’ll survive – so versatility of the GT R’s AMG Drive Select and stepped personalities won’t be tested today. Instead it’s Race mode all the way: steering enlivened, dampers set to judo chop(!), transmission to Ginsu and 430kW/700Nm armed to full AMG Gatling gun. Setting out, ahead of me two AMG GTs pull hard up through the ‘Essess’ towards the infamous blind ‘Wesbank’ corner. The first: a GT S, the second: a 410kW GT C Roadster that’s certainly no hairdryer. I’m at the back with the best bucket seat in the house in the GT R. Force-fed V8 engines guffaw at maximum attack, double-clutch transmissions rata-tat off shifts like a trio of crazed drum majorettes. The trifecta roars in perfect unison, then it’s my favourite game at Kyalami: look for the treetop on the blind rise and guestimate how much track you’ll need before hitting the brakes. I slide past the GT C before the tabletop and the GT S goes in too hot – no carbon ceramic brakes, you see. He’s off line as we start down the ‘Mineshaft’. The GT R’s Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s cling hard to the tarmac, active aerodynamics in the form of a chin spoiler that deploys at 80kph gives exceptional frontend grip and rear-wheel steering means I have complete confidence in the car as I power past in the cavalcading dip.
It’s just me, clear air and glorious open racetrack now. With one-and-a-bit laps of Kyalami left in my future I’m up to speed, flowing like mercury, letting speed be my guide. No hardship in the balanced, low-slung beast. The dialogue between input and response is perfectly honed. One can scarcely believe there was more to be had from this bombastic 4.0-litre V8, then AMG fitted new turbos, upped boost pressure and tweaked management. The result is a turbo engine that spins with seemingly infinite centrifugal force, like it’s naturally aspirated. Go-pedal welded to the firewall down Kyalami’s signature long straight, its efficacy is all-compelling; in a blur we hit 245kph – in a road car! – before a stab on the brakes quickly shoves everything into reverse. The GT R proves so grippy through the next left, right, left complex I can only grimace as my internal organs play dodgems with the g-forces. At this point its race-derived nine-mode traction control becomes its pièce de résistance. I’ve got it somewhere in the ‘middle’ setting; a buzzy flash on the centrally located dial shows it is indeed intervening. Clint the instructor backs it off two clicks and, like Goldilocks, that feels just right. Looser is faster in this sector; through balls-out ‘Sunset’ though I’ll flick it back a few clicks because R2.7-million into the inside wall isn’t the type of ‘not-so Beautiful News’ I want to make.
This is the AMG GT R’s chief party trick, amongst an overflowing bag of tricks, that gives it clear advantage over its competitors. It’s like being in a race car. It’s brutally fast, that’s a given when you’ve got 430kW hauling around 1555kg, but it’s the traction control tech lifted directly from the AMG GT3 race car that’s ace. The truth is you’re likely to get more crossed-up in the softer, more skittish GT S. One relentless stint later, I alight in the pit complex, and have my mind made up on the Beast from the Green Hell. Forget the epithet, and the fact that the AMG Light Green Magno paint will cost you 130k. Forget, too, the slightly disingenuous 50 years of AMG spiel – this GT R can be counted among the titans of modern supercars. That’s all that matters. And you’ll be happy to know red and black are no cost options.
In a nutshell
Speed, speed, glorious speed. AMG GT3 racecar tech in your Mercedes.
Really splitting hairs here, but R130k for green paint. Cummon!
- Engine: 3982cc, V8, twin-turbo petrol
- Power: 430kW@6250rpm, 700Nm@1900-5500rpm
- Performance: 0-100km/h 3.6sec, top speed 318kph
- Tyres: 275/35 R19 front, 325/30 R20 rear
- Economy: 11.4l/100km
- Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto
- CO2 emissions: 259g/km
- Price: R2 689 900
Godzilla vs. The Beast from the Green Hell – sounds like an installment of Marvel’s The Avengers. Depending on track layout, the JDM giant slayer could hold the AMG with its blistering launch control and tenacious computer-controlled grip. But AMG has it on engine and gearbox. 0-100kph 2.7sec, top speed 315kph, power 408kW/632Nm, Price R2 150 000
Audi R8 V10 Plus quattro
Beast from the Green Hell vs. Ironman – sounds like another installment of Marvel’s The Avengers. The Audi has the exotic mid-engined layout and quattro AWD, but that old V10 lumps takes a twin-turbo pounding from AMG and Nissan. 0-100kph 3.2sec, top speed 330kph, power 449kW/560Nm, Price R3 089 900