Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: August 29, 2018
If you are confused by the jargon flagrantly littered across the Mercedes-Benz lineup, join the club. Most of their models are an abstract combination of meaningless letters and acronyms that don’t correlate with engine displacement or power outputs, and the AMG GT range of coupes and roadsters are no different. As the silver star’s halo sports car, the AMG GT Coupe harbours four trims: GT, GT S, GT C, and GT R, each adding more performance goodies and standard features than the last. The Roadsters on the other hand have fewer branches off the tree with just two trims: GT and GT C.
I had the opportunity to spend a few days evaluating the latter, the achingly beautiful 2018 Mercedes-AMG GT C Roadster, dressed in a matte Iridium Silver MAGNO paint with a black and red interior. Many people have asked me what the “C” stands for, and to be honest with you I have no idea. Comfortable? Convertible? Crazy? Probably the last one.
You see, both the AMG GT and GT C are equipped with a hand-built 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 sending power through a 7-speed dual clutch automatic to the rear wheels only. In GT guise, the V8 produces 469 hp and 465 lb-ft, launching it from 0-100 km/h in 4.0 seconds. But the C takes things up a notch to 550 hp and 502 lb-ft and rockets from 0-100 km/h in a swift 3.7 seconds, faster than a Porsche 911 Carrera 4 GTS and the same as a Jaguar F-Type SVR.
The C adds aesthetic upgrades like larger front and rear air inlets for a busier but more aggressive look, a 57 mm wider rear track, unique wheel designs, a louder AMG performance exhaust, rear wheel steering from the GT R, and an awkwardly looking air outlet horizontally sandwiched between the taillights that assist with heat dissipation. The C further receives a stiffer suspension, a RACE mode, a suede wrapped steering wheel (full suede available with the optional Track Package), and a 42 kg weight penalty and $28,600 price premium over the GT.
To understand what it is like to drive the GT C Roadster means understanding its design and proportions, the latter of which affects the way it handles. I have to admit that this soft-top brute is one of the most beautiful Mercedes’ to ever grace their showroom floor, appearing with more cohesive and harmonious lines than the odd humpback whale derrière of the Coupe. It harks back memories of the iconic SLS AMG and legendary SLR McLaren, and that new 15-slat (yes, I counted) Panamericana front grill is one of my favourite design features, granting these AMGs incredible street presence and triggering more rubbernecking than any other car I’ve driven this year, and that list includes a Rolls-Royce and a McLaren.
With classic roadster proportions, the GT C is endowed with a phallic hood, muscular shoulders, and a short rear overhang, uniquely placing the driver next to the rear axle. Now you might think that’s crazy and the substantial distance between the driver and front wheels will throw the weight balance off, but lift the front hood and you will notice that much of the space up there is empty, and the deceiving fact that the engine actually sits behind the front axle. Not only does that improve weight balance, but it also means this SLC-with-an-erection handles like a dream.
And much of that comes down to the rear wheel steering that the C aptly borrows from the GT R, shrinking that gap between wheel and driver and making you feel more connected to the machine. You truly feel the system in play during low-speed maneuvers where the GT C displays an incredibly tight turning radius. The initial turn-in is quick despite its deceptively long nose, and we can also give thanks to the staggered tire setup and the use of magnesium panels up front to save weight.
Another benefit comes from the use of hydraulic steering as opposed to the electric setups used in rivals like the Audi R8 and Porsche 911, which have fruitful merits but effectively mute all feedback coming through the wheel. The hydraulic setup in the GT C on the other hand is so effective at translating road texture to your fingertips that it essentially offers a two-way chat line between road and driver, a link that many sports cars these days fail to deliver. It’s a refreshing experience to be able to feel the levels of grip, letting the wheel caress the road, and following the curves, cambers, and crevices below. Of course, the other automaker that still employs hydraulic steering is McLaren, and the GT C is still behind compared to the faithful and sentient steering rack of the 570S, but it’s enough to say it’s better than the comparative 911, R8, and NSX.
And I haven’t even got to the best part yet: the engine. A darling of a V8, whoever built and designed this powerplant knew what they were doing. For a turbocharged engine to feel this linear is a masterstroke of engineering. Turbo lag is non-existent, power is consistently on tap even in the low RPMs, and the surge of torque is relentless. The marriage between engine and pedal is wrapped in harmony and though 550 hp might not seem like much in a field where other players are juicing out figures over 600, it feels perfectly matched to the GT C’s character of calculated precision.
The V8 does not rev as high as an R8’s V10, nor does it get up to speed as quickly as an electrified NSX, but it does give drivers a proper wallop to the seatback at wide open throttle. The accompanying 7-speed DCT is quick and shifts with purpose, but it is not nearly as rapid as the R8’s gearbox, though not as choppy in low gears either. It is flawlessly tuned for balance between civility in low speed situations and the barbarity of high speed maneuvers.
And having a retractable roof, one that operates up to 50 km/h and in an expeditious 11 seconds, only adds to the AMG’s appeal of offering a feast for the senses, not just for the towering sights above or the smell of fresh autumn leaves, but also an unobstructed auditory passage to the bellowing exhaust. More refined than a HEMI and more soulful than Shelby’s flat-plane crank V8, at idle, the AMG’s exhaust sounds like a purring lion and at wide open throttle, it’s a charging rhino. The GT C emits terrifyingly loud crackles on overrun too but it’s not excessive, more structured and precise with just one or two braaaaaps before it stops unlike the maelstrom of artillery fire from the F-Type SVR.
There’s no doubt that the GT C is a performance machine that never forgets to bathe occupants in passion and driving nirvana, and even without a fixed roof this roadster demonstrates excellent chassis rigidity and zero flex, but all of these go-fast goodies have made this GT C, not so GT at all. Grand touring may be part of the name but the C really takes comfort out of the equation and replaces it with a blitzkrieg of theatre.
The ride quality is not as supple as an NSX, or nearly as cosseting as Mercedes’ own similarly priced S 560 Cabriolet or SL 63. And thanks to that extensive front hood taking up most of the real estate, the interior becomes cramped too. The footwell is much smaller than an R8’s, and there is not nearly as much storage space either. Without enough distance from the pedals, taller folks may find themselves forced to sit in a very upright and rather uncomfortable position. Furthermore, the seats are stiff with hard lumbar supports and not enough cushion, posing as a significant deterrent for those who plan on taking the GT C for cross country tours.
At least the cockpit layout is gorgeous, and is a design you won’t find in other AMG models downstream. The center console is expansive and garnished with massive dials and buttons flanking each side that control the exhaust, suspension, and ignition button. The lack of interior space does force most of the controls to be pushed far back, including the gear shifter which has been positioned at elbow distance. That means every time you want to shift to Drive, you have to awkwardly bend your elbow upwards and swing your wrist downwards for possibly the most unergonomic gear shifter I have ever experienced.
That lavishly embossed AMG crest buried into the center console is a nice touch, along with the key ignition slot in the cubby underneath it - not a very fitting spot and the push-to-start button is still the preferred method but on the odd day, slipping in a key and turning it does grant some nostalgic satisfaction. One omission I noticed was the quality of the window switches. The GT models do not utilize the glossy silver switchgear that you will now find in every C-Class, but it disappointingly adopts the cheaper black plasticky variants that you find in the GLA 250.
The AMG GT C Roadster not only adorns drop dead gorgeous proportions but it also boasts the performance to back it all up. Compared with its benchmark rival, the Porsche 911 Cabriolet, the GT C instills emotion, thrills, and road presence that the overly clinical Porsche cannot even dream of replicating. The 911 may have more history and roots dug deep within its storied badge, but the GT C offers a nostalgic and classic take on the sports car formula with a rear-slung seating position, potent twin-turbo V8, athletic cornering abilities, and an exhaust to wake up the heavens. This ravishing AMG roadster may not live up to its “GT” moniker and may not be the most comfortable grand touring car around, but it’s a thrilling experience every time you get behind the wheel, and that’s a price worth paying for.
Model: 2018 Mercedes-AMG GT C Roadster
Paint Type: Iridium Silver MAGNO
Base Price: $178,000
Price as Tested: $193,900
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,551 / 2,007 / 1,260
Curb weight (kg): 1,735
Engine: 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8
Horsepower: 550 hp @ 5,750 - 6,750 rpm
Torque: 502 lb-ft @ 1,900 - 5,750 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front-mid engine, RWD
Tires: Continental SportContact 6