Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: July 10, 2020
When you tell your friends that you drive a GT R, the first question will always be, Nissan or AMG? Both share the same nameplate, oddly enough, though with a minor difference in spacing and punctuation. How Mercedes has gotten away with naming it the same as a legendary Japanese icon dumbfounds me, considering how much money brands spend to protect their trademarks. And it’s not like the silver star lineup is any less confusing because of it. AMG have axed the previous GT and GT S trims for the Canadian market, and now only offer the GT C, GT R, and GT R Pro, the first two also in Roadster variants. But hold your hats, because there are also four-door variants that share the same name but are based on an entirely different platform and look completely different. That’s the GT 43, 53, 63, and 63 S. Got that down? Good. Because once you peel back the layer of marketing jargon, you’re left with a remarkably pure sports car that is so unique and so well-rounded that it really doesn’t matter what you call it. The AMG GT R is simply one of the best sports cars we have ever driven.
And the competition isn’t exactly lacking either. With a starting price of $190,400, the GT R squares off against some heavyweights like the Porsche 911 GT3, Aston Martin Vantage, and Audi R8. It’s a good thing then that the 2020 model year brings some minor changes to the table, including new exterior bits and a refreshed interior.
What hasn’t changed is the powertrain, carrying over a hand-built, 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 pushing out 577 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque through a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission and carbon fibre driveshaft. 0-100 km/h is dispatched in 3.6 seconds, which isn’t mind-blowingly quick when you compare it to the competition. It’s slower than the Nissan GT-R (roughly 3.0s), BMW M5 Competition (3.3s), and only on par with the Porsche 992 Carrera 4S (3.6s), not the GTS or Turbo models. Even the S 63 AMG Sedan is one-tenths of a second faster. So what gives? Well as any pro racing driver will tell you, straight line speed isn’t everything when it comes to performance.
The GT R is slower because of three factors, the lack of all-wheel drive and the ability for all four tires to dig into the tarmac during launch, its heavy reliance on aero, and it’s not using EQ Boost or the higher 630-hp engine tune found in the GT 63 4-Door. That could be due to obvious reasons such as an upcoming and more powerful Black Series GT, the dual-clutch being unable to handle the added torque, or the lack of a variable AWD system to keep that power on a leash. Be that as it may, the GT R clearly prides itself on being lightweight with its carbon roof and forged wheels, clocking in at around 1,600 kg, featherweight in a field of brutes. Half of the aero features are hidden, such as the automatic flaps under the body and the louvres behind the front air intakes, all of which open and close depending on the speed to assist air flow. The half you do see are obvious, such as the large fixed spoiler and flared arches and vents.
This boost chugging reactor incorporates dry sump lubrication, allowing it to be mounted lower in the vehicle. That means a lower center of gravity and with the transmission and differential mounted at the rear axle, the weight distribution is spot-on. Rear wheel steering is also added to the mix to assist manoeuvrability in tight turns and increase stability at higher speeds.
Out on the open road, no other vehicle feels or drives like the AMG, partially because of the sitting position. Whereas you’re upright and forward in the Porsche 911 due to the rear-mounted engine, or near the center of the wheelbase in the mid-engined Acura NSX, in the AMG GT you’re sitting pretty much on the rear axle, giving you that grand, phallic, long-hooded, classic feel of a GT car. The hood is so long in fact that AMG even classifies it as a front-mid-engined setup. Thank goodness then, for the easy access to the front and rear cameras, which can be quickly summoned via a dedicated button above the rear view mirror. The tradeoff with this layout is interior space, which is more pronounced in the Roadster. With the front hood taking up so much real estate, the cabin is pushed backwards but surprisingly, it’s just as spacious as its mid-engined rivals. The hatchback-like trunk is even more cavernous, but more on that later.
The ride quality is excellent for both relaxed commutes and backroad endeavours, and the ride isn’t as punishing or as brittle as a 570S. Like the friendly Porsche 911, the GT R is more than usable for long distance journeys when the suspension is set to Comfort. We spent hours journeying up north to find some fishing spots, and the only limiting factor was the stiff racing seats that come as standard fare. Those prone to backache or arthritic flares may want to bring a pillow. This is perhaps the one area where I’d put the 911 above the GT R. That’s not to say the GT R doesn’t ride well. From a performance standpoint, body control is above par, taut and well strung, and so competent in its ability to dismiss corners that it almost feels aloof, no matter the entry speed. Despite its front-engined proportions, it’s not as nose-heavy or as intimidating as you might expect, and the way the GT R hugs the road and feels glued to the tarmac via its sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires makes you feel like a hero.
The nicely-weighted steering assists in its approachability, being near telepathic, delivering wide open channels of communication through your fingertips, and reacting to the tiniest of inputs. It reminds me a bit of the Honda S2000, and while not alive and kicking like the McLaren 570S’ hydraulic setup, it’s about par with the organic phone line in the Porsches, with the entire vehicle rotating the moment you flick your wrist. That’s as good of a compliment as it gets.
Every sports car should have some sort of party trick to appease passengers, and with the GT R its the nine-stage traction control system inspired by the GT3 racing car, operated by a yellow dial mounted bright and center on the dashboard. With it, you can dial in how much slip you want on the rear wheels, nine being the most slippery. And while not terribly useful for the GT R’s domestic duties in the concrete jungle, it gives you an impressive range of adjustability, along with the hoard of driving modes and dynamic settings available.
The other party piece is the exhaust, and the GT R sounds like no other AMG. Sure, they all use the same 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 format but the GT R’s unique three-exit exhaust makes one hell of a soundtrack. The muffler is made from titanium and the front section is thin-walled stainless steel, weighing in 6 kg less than the standard exhaust in the GT C. Hold the left paddle shifter while simultaneously pressing the start button and it will let out an even more pronounced roar as it comes to life. And while the dynamic engine and transmission mounts help to reduce vibrations entering the cabin, you will still feel the eight-cylinder rumble. The tremors aren’t as pronounced as a Challenger HEMI that will wiggle change out of your pocket, but more a constant auditory thrum. Still, the bellowing of the deep-timbre V8 grows louder the more you gauge the throttle, and builds and builds with a crescendoing bark on high RPM shifts. Honestly, the lower-tier GT C is just as theatrical on the road, exploding with a cathartic release of noise everytime you hit the rev limiter, but have a listen to our Exhaust Notes video above to decide which one you prefer.
The front-mid-engined GT R steals the show with masculine, curvaceous, and wonderfully dramatic proportions. The GT C already drips and overflows with road presence, and this spicier R variant and its fixed rear spoiler, wider track, and obnoxious flared arches scream for even more attention. The 2020 model year adds new head- and tail-lights, a redesigned rear diffuser design, and new exhaust tips. With the garnish of expensive carbon fibre bits, swoopy side mirrors, and a hexagonal central tailpipe, the GT R raises the visual bar up to the elevens.
The Porsche 911 may have a more classic silhouette but everyone will be looking at the GT R when it drives by instead. And if you think that shark-nose Panamericana grill catches too much attention, wait until you see the upcoming GT R Black Series that borrows as much as it can from the GT3 and GT4 racing cars. For those wondering why it’s called the Panamericana grill, it’s an homage to the Mercedes‑Benz 300 SL racing car that won the legendary Panamericana road race in Mexico back in 1952.
The interior also receives some updates for 2020, with a new 10.25-inch center non-touchscreen display, and a 12.3-inch instrument cluster screen in front of the driver. While we normally prefer analog dials, it’s hard to deny the effectiveness, customizability, and crisp graphics offered from these examples. Build quality remains excellent, and there is certainly more theatre in here than the comparatively bare Porsche 992. The gloss black panels replacing the metallic surfaces on the steering wheel and paddle shifters, exclusive to the R, are a devilishly good look too.
Coming out of the more updated GLC and C, it’s clear to see where the GT lags behind when it comes to garnish and the newest Mercedes trimmings. The window switches and heated seat buttons are last-gen, which are plastic and not as premium as the metallic-covered ones in every new Mercedes, A-Class included. The keyfob utilizes the old design as well, which still looks and feels good despite its age, and better than that shared-with-a-Micra Nissan GT-R key. The steering wheel is the brand new design, with two sets of dials budding out the lower spokes that let you quickly adjust performance settings. The left switches can be assigned to functions such as the manual shift mode, damper settings, 3-stage ESP, and exhaust system, while the right round control knob selects and displays the current driving mode.
The gear selector is not mounted as far back anymore. It used to be at elbow distance, making for awkwardly choreographed wrist movements. It’s been moved slightly forward but I shouldn’t complain when it’s clearly better, though less ergonomic, to use than the cheap plasticky column-mounted gear stalk found in every other AMG, or the dinky hair-razor of a shifter found in the 992. But what I found relatively amusing is that AMG has kept a key ignition starter inside the center glovebox, meaning if you ever want that nostalgic feeling of firing up a V8 AMG, the GT R provides just that. Furthermore, this AMG still makes use of a rotary dial in the center to control the infotainment menu, not that pesky new trackpad design that has irked us ever since Lexus tried their hand at it, and failed miserably.
While the GT may not feel particularly hampered by visibility, its high shoulder lines, small windows, and recessed front windshield make it a dark and cramped place when compared to more dedicated GT sports cars like the Bentley Continental GT or Porsche 911. That said, it’s not difficult to drive in the slightest, thanks to an army of radars and sensors to guide your parking maneuvers, a 360-degree view camera, a small window behind the B-pillar to view blind spots, and of course, blind spot monitoring on each mirror. The only thing you really need to worry about is clearing ramps and divots on the road due to the low front splitters. There is no front axle lift available like on other supercars.
Like we mentioned before, whatever interior space the GT R lacks, it more than makes up for with its massive rear trunk. It can swallow up twice as much volume as the Porsche 911, and with a hatchback-like liftgate and a deep, wide recess, we were able to stow all of our fishing and camping gear for the weekend. In went the foldable chair, collapsable tent, and our fishing rods. Even then, there was still more space to fill it up with duffle bags and suitcases. All it takes is some smart packaging and a few rounds of Tetris.
Here comes the question everyone is asking. Would we take one over a Porsche 911 GT3? Absolutely. And the Nissan GT-R? In a heartbeat. They both may be iconic in their own rights but its the AMG you want in your garage. It steals the show with stupidly quick reactions, brilliantly natural steering, superb brakes, and exceptional stability, meaning you constantly feel at one with the machine. Sitting near the rear axle helps cement that special feeling, as does its gorgeous sheetmetal and masculine shape. If you’re tired of blending in with the accountants and lawyers with their safe choices, and desire something unique and just the right kind of over-the-top, then AMG has your answer.
Model: 2020 Mercedes-AMG GT R
Paint Type: designo Diamond White Metallic ($1,600)
Base Price: $190,400
Price as Tested: $209,600
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,551 / 2,075 (with mirrors) / 1,284
Curb weight (kg): 1,555
Engine: 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8
Horsepower: 577 hp @ 6,250 rpm
Torque: 516 lb-ft @ 1,900 - 5,500 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch transmission
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front-mid engine, RWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 14.5
Tires: Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2; 275/35ZR19 front; 325/30ZR20 rear