Preview: 2016 Mercedes-Benz AMG GT

Affalterbach, Germany – At a splashy ceremony in front of both of AMG’s founding fathers, along with a brief appearance by Formula One driver and points leader Nico Rosberg, Mercedes-Benz finally unveiled the uncamoflauged exterior of the AMG GT – the new range-topper in the AMG performance line, but not a replacement for the SLS, insists the company.

No, the company is targeting less exotic fish than the gull-winged SLS, although the AMG GT’s 4.0-litre V8 will still produce a plenty exciting 503 hp in its top GT S North American trim when it arrives in April 2015 as a 2016 model. In 2016, a less powerful version of the 4.0-litre V8 will arrive as a ’17 model, offering up 456 hp by turning the boost pressure down on the twin turbo units, which reside in the ‘V’ of this V8 in both models, making for a smaller overall package and greater pumping efficiencies, claims Mercedes-Benz.

This output may not quite reach the 583 ponies that the current SLS AMG GT offers, but the AMG GT S won’t be far behind in the realm of performance, if at all, judging solely by the published numbers. The AMG GT’s estimated 0-100 km/h time of 3.8 seconds is within a light breeze of the SLS AMG GT Coupe’s 3.7 second time, even though the larger and heavier coupe that’s running towards its final year in production starts at a truly exotic $248,000 for 2014.
Both the upcoming and current AMG flagships sport quite a few other technical similarities as well: a big, burly V8 up front, two seats, rear-wheel drive only, an aluminum-intensive body shell and chassis (updated from the SLS), double-wishbone suspension, and a seven-speed dual-clutch rear-mounted transmission. This helps balance weight front to rear to the tune of a 47/53 front/rear split, while lowering the centre of gravity of the car, said Markus Hofbauer, in charge of coordinating the AMG GT’s driving dynamics.

“We wanted an authentic sports car experience,” said Hofbauer, in describing why they stuck with rear-drive only, unlike most recently unveiled AMG models. “Forget all-wheel drive and all-wheel steering, we wanted a pure driving car,” he said, suggesting that the firm’s 4Matic all-wheel drive system may not appear on the AMG GT’s options list any time soon.

No one outside Mercedes-Benz has yet driven this car, its initial drive program planned for November in California, but there’s a definite sporting aura to just climbing into the driver’s seat. Sure, there’s not nearly the same sense of occasion with the conventional doors compared to the upward-swinging wings of the SLS. But there’s an SLS-like Start button down low next to the shifter, the precise scent of fresh Alcantara wafting up from the flat-bottom steering wheel, with most controls moving from the centre console wall to a more horizontal layout for most of its various engine, transmission, exhaust and suspension adjustment buttons.
Very similar to another German company, but with fewer buttons, thanks to Mercedes’ round COMAND controller knob that’s not only spinnable and pushable, but also now touch sensitive.

Misses? Well, perhaps five prominent aluminum vents within an arm’s reach of the driver is design overkill, four of them all bunched up in the centre console like a pair of conjoined dual exhaust pipes. The spindly little rear wing that raises at speed, as seen in a video montage hooning around Circuit of the Americas, seems to cry ‘Chrysler Crossfire’ more than serious performance machine. Plus, some Canadians who like to drive their sports cars in winter will no doubt miss the all-wheel-drive option, as offered on the AMG GT’s main 911 rivals.

Yet those items seem like mere quibbles when you look at the performance car value this car looks likely to bring to the AMG stable compared to the brand’s current flagship. At 250 large to start for an outgoing SLS AMG Coupe, that’s shockingly about double the price of where an AMG GT will eventually start, given its high-end Porsche 911–fighting mission, plus or minus a few option packages. Mercedes-Benz Canada hasn’t officially nailed down a price yet, but they’ve confirmed that it’ll be significantly less expensive than the outgoing king of the AMG garage, and compete in a different two-seat luxury sports car category than the SLS AMG, which took on super pricey Italian and British (Aston Martin) rivals. Published U.S. reports have estimated a starting price of about US$120,000, citing unnamed Mercedes-Benz officials.

Granted, that price is likely for the less powerful AMG GT model that doesn’t arrive for another two years, and will compete with the 911 S that starts at $112,800 for 2014. The current 911 Turbo starts at $172,400, and since Mercedes-Benz often prices its products just above its rivals in any class it enters, these Porsche prices are likely the best indication of where the AMG GT S model’s prices will fall this upcoming spring.

No matter where exactly the final price lands, AMG will follow Benz’s recent tradition of entering new markets by downsizing and down-pricing, hoping to increase volume but with appreciably enthusiastic performance products. Whether enthusiasts will still discuss the AMG GT and its successors 50 years from now still remains to be seen.

At a splashy ceremony in front of both AMG’s founding fathers, along with a brief appearance by Formula One driver and points leader Nico... 9/10/2014 2:39:36 AM