2016 Mercedes-AMG GT S

AMG was so confident that the new GT S would speak for itself, it simply gave us a quick route briefing and sent us scuttling out the door and down the San Francisco Peninsula toward Monterey in this, the final-spec version of its latest halo product. (We_ve previously ridden in a test car and driven a prototype.)

Make no mistake: Despite the fact that the GT S is likely to cost two-thirds as much as AMG_s most expensive offering, the S65 coupe_final pricing has yet to be released for either car_the car we_re discussing here serves as the brand_s calling card.

At the end of the day, after a couple of hours spent lobbing the car around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, AMG CEO Tobias Moers gathered our g-force-addled bunch, offered a few remarks about the car, and casually noted that a 1:41 lap was a pretty good time for a session that saw us restricted to lead-follow lapping behind instructors. For reference, 1:41 is the sort of time a solo racing driver in full time-attack mode lays down around Laguna in something like a Porsche Cayman S. The point is this: The GT S turned a similar time during what amounted to an exceptionally spirited Sunday drive.

Yet the sensation of speed in this, the car with which Daimler hopes to take a chunk out of Porsche_s Neunelfer Zwiebelkuchen, is muted. One does not quite realize the sheer velocities attainable until the right foot attempts to extricate itself from the floorboard just ahead of the crest marking the end of the front straight. Or until one experiences the forces acting upon the car when slowing for the Andretti Hairpin. Point, squirt, brake, repeat: The result is subdued violence all the way around the course. Atop the Corkscrew, the long hood and low windshield header conspire against sightlines. The quick and sure turn-in, paired with predictable front-end grip, more than make up for those shortcomings after a couple of laps.

The twin-turbo 4.0-liter M178 V-8 dispenses with the grunty, naturally aspirated honk-_n_-braaaap hoedown that the late, lamented C63 Black Series offered. Home taping is killing music, turbocharging is killing engines_ auditory esprit d_guerre. Despite Moers_s hatred of BMW_s current MP3 soundtracks_notwithstanding his laudable intent to let an engine be what it is_the 503-hp, 3600-pound GT S never gives you that side-of-beef-to-the-chest whump offered up by, say, the big-bore Corvette Stingray. The AMG just accelerates. We predict 60 mph will arrive in 3.5 seconds. Given enough room, AMG says it will continue to build speed until the car hits 193.

Chuck everything you remember about Mercedes-Benz steering. Imagine the tactility of a nice manual rack, then picture it boosted to the point that there_s just enough feel left. The wheel saws easily from left to right. The automobile is incredibly quick to follow these orders. The tiller reminds us a bit of the McLaren 650S_s, if the Woking-bred supercar_s had spent the past 24 hours pulling helium-tank keg stands.

The supercharged V-8_powered Jag F-type R is a loutish hooligan of a thing, a straight-outta-Albion wide boy happy to throw the odd elbow to make his point. In contrast, the GT S makes like the handsome, stern Teuton in the corner, prepared to dispatch interlopers with understatement, efficiency, and extreme prejudice. The AMG offers prowess and competence but something just short of unfettered joy. Rewarding as hell? Yes. Satisfying? Of course.

Interior-wise, the impeccably trimmed AMG_s cabin shames those of all comers save for the 911. The Porsche features better ergonomics and visibility, and we find that car_s sport seats to be more comfortable than the tight-fit units in the GT S. The main quirk of the Mercedes, however, is that its gear selector is placed far rearward on the high, sloping center console. We understand this is due to Americans_ need for cup holders. We_re not huge fans of Mercedes_ column-based gear stalks, but one might have been more useful here. Alternately, ditch the cup holders.

Due at your local Mercedes store in April, the GT S will be followed in 2016 by the base level, 456-hp GT. Despite Mercedes_ refusal to comment on its impending existence, a blast-furnace Black Series model will arrive at some future date. There may even be other models to come. Could we see a roadgoing AMG GT GT3? The racing version is in the works, after all.

As relentlessly competent as the GT S is, it clearly has more to give. The fundamentals are all here_and nailed_but the ineffable, incandescent fire that makes a car transcendent awaits a thorough stoking. We fully expect to see that happen in a future variant, and we get the sense that_in grand 911 tradition_the AMG GT is about to spawn plenty of _em.

Car And Driver | BY DAVEY G. JOHNSON

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