It will come as a surprise to many that AMG, the performance division of Mercedes-Benz has until now only produced one vehicle that is all its own. That was the SLS, with its traditional GT shape and dramatic gull wing doors. Recently, Ignition Live had a sneak preview of its second ever car, the AMG GTS, but after much anticipation we finally got to drive it and where better to put it through its paces than California.
Granted, driving in California is not a high speed affair with signs everywhere announcing that the authorities track your speed using aircraft and the threat of the local sheriff hiding around every corner, but one can put up with a bit of gentle cruising when the ultimate destination is the legendary Laguna Seca race track near San Francisco. It was here that we were set to put the new GTS to the test through one of the most famous corners in the motorsport world, the Corkscrew. Strangely, the GTS is the first to be launched, with the slightly less endowed GT only being unveiled in January 2015.
The latest model “has been designed to prove the capabilities of our company,” said the chairman of the management board of AMG, Tobias Moers. More importantly it has been designed to take on the benchmark of the sports car genre, the Porsche 911. The assembled team from AMG even went to great lengths to say that the Porker is its only real rival, dismissing what, in my opinion, is a clear competitor in the form of the Jaguar F-Type coupe.
Like the SLS it has echoes of the iconic original SL about it, but do not expect to be drawing a crowd by opening gull wing doors, the GTS has regular horizontal opening ones. The styling is a great interpretation of the traditional GT, with a long nose, high flanks and a deep vertical front. The cabin is set well back and the rear has an elegant and curvaceous look to it. “In our opinion there is no way to design the perfect sportscar other than as a complete work of art,” said Moers. Under that long bonnet sits a brand new engine, one which Moers says will not only be used in future AMG models, but also in other Mercedes vehicles too.
That engine is a 4l biturbo V8 which in GTS tune pumps out 375kW at 6 250r/min and provides torque of 650Nm between 1 750r/min and 4 750r/min. The figures are slightly higher if you have the optional AMG dynamic plus package. The 0-100km/h time is claimed at 3.8 seconds and it has a top end of 310km/h. It is also the first engine to feature the turbochargers inside the V which makes the package much more efficient. The body structure and shell are made of 93% aluminium to make the vehicle more lightweight and it boasts 47:53 front to rear weight distribution. It also boasts new dynamic suspension mounts that automatically adjust to the driving situation.
Driving through the Californian hills and along the Pacific coastline, the GTS showed its respectable side, proving to be a great tourer with a true GT character. With the driving modes dial set to comfort, it was all very Mercedes with relaxed gear changes and a smooth ride. The one major element that set it apart was the sound, which is all AMG. That massive bellow from the V8 is totally natural and could easily upset the San Andreas Fault. “I think it’s very important for us to have a natural sound,” said Moers. “Maybe in the future we will have a symposer, but pushing sound through the speakers (like BMW) — no, no, no,” he ex- claimed. That is a good thing, after all, nothing sounds quite like an AMG on throttle.
The occasional blast in the mountains gave a hint as to the nature of the beast, but antics were reserved for the infamous Laguna Seca rather than risking the wrath of the local sheriff. At the track stood not the regular GTS but the GTS Edition 1, a limited edition model with a fixed rear wing, additional front splitter and other cosmetic enhancements. Our fearless leader for the on track action was Bernd Schneider who had to contend with managing a few less qualified drivers from the East. Eventually we had a good group lined up and it was time to switch to sport+ and race mode and see how the latest AMG dealt with the twists and turns of the famous track.
Blasting over the brow just beyond the start line, the engine roared and the nose seemed far away as you blindly head down into turn one. This wide hairpin allowed for the rear tyres to scrabble a little as the turbos kicked in and the very quick gearbox forced that power back down onto the tarmac. The faster turns two and three showed the GTS has plenty of grip, but you have to keep it in race mode to avoid the dreaded electronic stability programme cutting the power. Even then, the car is very controllable with Moers saying that he wanted the car to be “safe” rather than to have a brutal edge. Keeping it safe might mean that the GTS does not quite have the precision edge of a 911, but it is also not going to bite in the same way as the F-Type when on the limit. However, it still has masses of raw power on tap.
I did get a slight feeling of compromise in favour of providing a true GT car that combines performance and handling with the ability to flatter and look after the driver, but the overall package is gorgeous. Order books for the GT and GTS will open in December with pricing yet to be determined. If the 911 is its biggest competitor, then it will have to be in the same ballpark, with the GTS arriving in the first quarter of 2015 and the GT in the third quarter. There will also be a drop top version that is likely to be revealed in the latter half of next year and I suspect there will be race-tuned versions for track aficionados too. We might also see it as the new F1 safety car and you don’t get much safer than that.