AMG GT

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2020 Mercedes-Benz AMG GT Test Drive Review

A beautiful race car to thrill you and terrify one lucky passenger.

8.8 /10
Overall Score

Mercedes-Benz treats motorsport with the same awestricken passion as it does safety. Nearly a century's worth of racing victories and records are the lifeblood beating within a car like the AMG GT. While it may appear like another version of the company's two-seat SL, there is a beast beneath the GT's beauty—and it will overwhelm an unskilled driver. The AMG GT is a raw and razor-sharp race car that is often uncomfortable and always demands respect. This is an exotic machine built to compete against the world's top-tier sports cars: the Porsche 911, Audi R8, and the best BMW can throw at it. As such, we drove the 2020 AMG GT C Roadster anywhere an owner might—to swanky downtowns, the beach, and gas stations. But we had to visit a race track, too, because Mercedes-Benz engineered the GT to reach extremes that don't exist on public roads.

Look and Feel

10/ 10

There have been many golden eras of motor racing, but none so futuristic and flabbergasting as the Grand Prix and record-breaking cars in the 1930s. Barely 20 years after the car industry built little more than glorified carriages with wooden-spoke wheels, European automakers were racing cars that looked as if they'd landed from another world. They were hammered in raw aluminum, sculpted as the fuselages were in the first commercial airplanes, and fitted with the largest, most powerful engines—eight, 12, even 16 cylinders with superchargers pushing out upwards of 600 horsepower. They ignored the Great Depression and many, like those from Mercedes and Alfa Romeo, were fueled by fascists. These cars were publicity stunts, national pride, and a pinnacle of engineering that were unsurpassed decades later. In 1938, Mercedes built what could be called the world's first hypercar. It reached 269 mph on a closed public road—a record that would stand until 2017. And that's just one example (read Neal Bascomb, who documents this era in his book "Faster").

The 1938 Mercedes W154 is one of these incredible cars. Befitting of the company's history, there is no modern car with a more direct link to this past than the new AMG GT Roadster. The exaggerated hood, short sloping tail, ultra-low stance, tires nearly as tall as the car itself and pushed to the body's extreme edges, the driver sitting nearly on the rear axle, even the vertical bars on the grille—they are all exotic styling elements that were beautiful then, and just as beautiful today. Without knowing this sliver of automotive history, you cannot appreciate how special this car truly is.

We enjoy the AMG GT Coupe and normally prefer any coupe to a convertible. We also like the AMG GT 4-Door Coupe, the rakish sedan that applies this look—particularly the fastback tail with the wide, thin taillights—very well on a big car. But the Roadster is on another level. There is grace and muscle, width and swagger, all purposeful and not embellishing. With the soft top raised, it's very clear that this car bears no relation to any of Mercedes' five other convertibles.

Staggered-diameter 19-inch and 20-inch tires come standard in one of six wheel choices with red brake calipers (yellow ones indicate the carbon ceramic discs). The GT and GT C models have a retractable rear spoiler, while the R is fixed and quite tall—this is a wild look on a convertible. You can tell apart the GT and GT C models from the rear. The more powerful C has rectangular exhaust tips instead of ovals, plus three air slots in the bumper section—two on each fender to vent turbulent air out of the wheel wells, and another below the trunk to radiate heat from the exhaust. The R has a single exhaust outlet and an even more aggressive diffuser. (The GT Black Series coupe should be immediately obvious for how insane it looks; it's a 2021 model.) Up to 14 colors are available, including a matte lime green and a metallic yellow (a $10,000 option). The soft tops are trimmed in black, beige, or red.

Our car, in Selenite Grey metallic with the black top over Silver Pearl Nappa leather, was a stealthy piece. The AMG Exterior Night Package, which darkens the chrome trim, made it more so. It's a special place once you've dropped way, way down into the tight bucket seats. Soft leather covers every surface, including the roll hoops, and the quality is excellent as to be expected. But it's not ornamental in here. There's some diamond stitching on the doors and the microfiber steering wheel is very solid-feeling, yet you won't find the fancy elements of other Mercedes models—no special woods, metals, lighting, colors, or textures. The cockpit is pure business. The 4-Door Coupe is the exception, as it's based on the E-class and is meant to be more executive lounge than functional racer. In any model, you'll feel very special getting in, getting out, and staying behind the wheel.

Performance

10/ 10

This car is exceptional. But be advised: The AMG GT coupe and roadster are not commuters or daily drivers, not in any trim. You will regret taking them on a trip lasting more than two hours. The suspensions are rock hard and very stiff. The high spring rates, aggressive camber, and multi-stage dampers are unyielding to road imperfections, no matter how minor. It hurts you. The heat pouring through the footwells will cook your legs and require the A/C to be blowing on the floor, even in fall weather with the roof off. That's because the giant engine and its two giant turbos nestled between the manifold are mounted behind the front axle, ending right at your feet, and then the giant transmission pokes out by your pelvis (hence the car's ultra-wide center console). This challenge of cooling a 1600-degree exhaust as it feeds these turbos nearly 20 pounds of boost pressure is not lost on Mercedes, but it's also not solved, either. Don't buy the AMG GT just because it's the most expensive car in the showroom. We're telling you now so you don't sell one after 500 miles.

However, the latest models are much improved over the older AMG GT S. In that first 2015 model year, many cars came equipped with revised steering ratios and suspension tunes that made them nearly undrivable. Driving one long-distance left you exhausted. The car was nervous and darted from side to side whenever the road surface wasn't glass-smooth. The new cars aren't that way at all. In fact, Mercedes has revised the suspension tuning on many of its other AMG models for this same reason—the cars were way too stiff and unsettled. Even the newer C-Class and GLC-Class AMG cars ride and handle better than just a couple years before. Keep this in mind if you're shopping any used AMG, especially the GT.

The benefits are zero body roll and a level of adhesion that squirrels use to circle up tree trunks. The suspension is a double-wishbone setup made from forged aluminum—light and strong. For a rear-wheel drive (RWD) car, an AMG GT near its limits has more stability and grip than some of the best all-wheel drive (AWD) cars. Credit goes to the C trim's rear-wheel steering, which turns opposite the front wheels and then turns in sequence above 62 mph. This makes the car incredibly agile and easy to place on the road despite its racing drivetrain. Compared to the Ferrari 812 Superfast with rear-wheel steering, the AMG GT doesn't feel like the back and front are fighting each other. It makes every reaction that much sharper, without being too sensitive. Feedback from the steering wheel is terrific. We could feel the front tires losing traction after several hot laps at Palmer Motorsports Park, a very tight and technical 2.3-mile circuit in Massachusetts. This kind of communication is essential. A limited-slip differential helps power the car through the toughest turns, such as the long, uphill and banked curve heading to the track's summit 500 feet above the starting line. Dynamic engine mounts change stiffness in an instant, to better improve balance. The precision is remarkable, as are the four AMG Dynamics driving modes that alter the dampers, steering, differential, seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, and three-way stability control. The 4-Door Coupe rides on an air suspension biased more for comfort, and while it's very advanced, this is a larger, heavier sedan that's not really meant to race. Active shutters in the front bumper can direct air below the chassis for less drag or into the engine for more cooling. With the roof down doing 140 mph on the straight, chomping on the massive six-piston front brakes, and then charging headfirst into an S-bend, the car never skips a beat.

Those brakes are phenomenal and never fade, though you can spec carbon ceramic brakes if you visit race tracks on the regular. They are lighter, more heat resistant, and have a longer service life. We wouldn't recommend them, since the standard brakes have so much stopping power—and if you're into light weight, stop eating so damn much.

Powering this track athlete is a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 available in several grades: 469 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque (AMG GT); 550 hp and 502 lb-ft (AMG GT C); and 577 hp and 516 lb-ft (AMG GT R). The 4-Door Coupe's powertrain also comes in threes, but there's a hybrid twin-turbo V6, and the V8 has even higher outputs (up to 630 hp and 664 lb-ft). It's also faster off the line due to standard AWD. The transmission is always willing, but the final drive ratio on the GT C is quite short—We were seeing close to 3,000 rpm while doing 80 mph. That means hell for fuel economy, of course. We averaged 14 mpg, which is worse than the EPA's estimated 15 mpg city, 20 highway, 17 combined. But it isn't terrible considering how many times we lapped that 4.0-liter V8 engine around the track.

In Comfort mode, the AMG GT does quiet down and shifts early. This gives the impression of a soft cruiser, but then the road opens up, you click the steering wheel dial to S+, and the car rockets in a muscle-car roar and cracks off sharp gunfire blasts when downshifting to a stop.

Form and Function

10/ 10

While its sole purpose is maximum performance, the AMG GT can tolerate two people who may not want to attack every open mile. Ride quality aside, livability is good for something this hardcore. The trunk offers five cubic feet of cargo space, while there are small nets on the passenger side in the footwell and behind the seat. Those seats are firm and supportive, heat and cool, and can blow hot air on your neck. This, plus an optional heated steering wheel, extends the summer driving season in colder climates provided you go easy on the summer tires. The top goes back in about 10 seconds, and that's not the best part. Standing a few feet away from the driver's door, you can hold the unlock or lock button on the key fob to lower or raise the roof. Not only is this entertaining, it's practical since you won't have to duck when entering or exiting the car. The aerodynamic coupe is a lot more cramped than the convertible, although there's more space in the cargo area.

Climate controls are arranged in a neat row below a central widescreen. Americans demand useful cupholders, so AMG obliged with two big ones smack dab in the center console. For 2020, the two rows of twisting knobs and black buttons are now square buttons with color screens. This is command central for every essential act of driving: Dampers, exhaust, spoiler, auto stop-start, manual shift mode, stability control, engine/transmission, and the stereo volume. The steering wheel is brand new and features redundant controls on the lower spoke with more mini screens. One dial does the drive modes (Comfort, Sport, Sport+, Race, Slippery, and Individual) and two more tabs switch between automatic/manual gearing and—most important—whether the exhaust is loud or quiet. Each of these settings can be saved in an Individual mode. It's amazing to feel the car change its character from just one click.

A new digital instrument cluster replaces the analog gauges, a wider screen goes in the center, and there's no bulky touchpad/knob combo from previous years. Operating the infotainment system is a complex affair like in most Mercedes models, but in the AMG GT, anything important is clear and right in front of you, without any frills.

If you want to know about how the 4-Door Coupe feels as an everyday car, read our review of the 2019 CLS450 Coupe. It's similar in size, luxury, and practicality.

Tech Level

7/ 10

Like in the 2020 E-Class, the AMG GT uses an updated version of COMAND Touch. This doesn't mean touchscreen, but instead refers to the two pads on the steering wheel that can control the whole system by swiping with your thumbs. You'll get used to this, but there are too many submenus buried in more submenus to use efficiently while driving. The latest MBUX as found in the GLC-Class is far more simplified, faster, and intuitive. The 10-inch screen is sharp and rich in contrast, the maps are detailed, and there are onboard WiFi and the usual data services like live traffic and a companion smartphone app, and the Burmester sound system is great. On the car, there's an app called AMG Track Pace, which will sync the GPS to a list of preloaded racetracks across the U.S. and Europe and record your driving data. It can also learn a new track. We didn't try this at Palmer, but since even millionaires can't afford Lewis Hamilton's pit crew on the Mercedes-AMG F1 team, it's a great fantasy.

On the center console, Mercedes reverted to its older setup of a single rotary dial to control the screen. We'd recommend this over the touchpad, which is a no-cost option. It's slow to respond to finger inputs and takes forever to enter letters and numbers for addresses. Thankfully, the voice system is accurate and quick for those tasks.

The instrument cluster can be easily customized and is much easier to use than the main screen. On the track, we really liked the central tachometer which flashed as we neared redline. We had this gauge surrounded by tire pressure and temperature readouts, which went from yellow to red when the numbers surged on a hot 90-degree day. The LED headlights are very bright and give the car a sneering face. The front and rear parking cameras are clear, too. While adaptive cruise control is an option, there is no function on the two-door models for a semi-automated cruise. The 4-Door Coupe has that capability and much more.

There's no wireless phone charger, but look under the central armrest and you'll find an ignition switch. That's right—you can start this Benz like an old Saab. Why? The AMG GT uses an older combo key that was designed to either twist within an electronic ignition slot or perform keyless start. Mercedes has moved the engine start button from the console to the dash, yet this weird feature remains.

Safety

9/ 10

Unlike many convertibles, the AMG GT comes with head curtain airbags that deploy upward. There are also two knee airbags along with the usual front and side airbags. Two fixed roll hoops are there just in case. Forward emergency braking, pedestrian detection, driver attention monitor, auto high beams, and parking sensors come standard. Blind-spot monitoring and lane keep assist are optional on the base GT and standard on all others. Adaptive cruise control is optional on all. The 4-Door Coupe has considerably more electronic safety features and conveniences, plus a Driver Assistance Package that's as extensive as you'll find in any top-tier Mercedes sedan. Due to its price, neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has crash-tested the AMG GT in the U.S. Given the consistent safety record of Mercedes-Benz, we would expect only the best results.

Cost-Effectiveness

7/ 10

The 2020 AMG GT starts at an MSRP of $115,900 for the coupe and can crest $220,000 for a loaded GT R roadster. A GT or GT C roadster is about $12,000 more than either coupe, while the GT R roadster is almost $30,000 more (that's because Mercedes is making only 750 worldwide). The 4-Door Coupe is $99,950 for the GT53 because it's the slowest. The GT63 asks $140,250 and the GT63 S is $161,200.

The value is high because of the joy these sports cars bring. However, their resale values tank after just two years. That's not good among luxury cars, and it represents a big challenge when buying a car in the same generation that hasn't changed much. It sports a supercar price tag, but we still think the high-performance AMG GT is worth the cost, but look around. Coupes have been on sale since the 2015 model year, roadsters since 2018, and the 4-Door Coupe since 2019. However you buy one, check your comfort at the front door and hang on tight.

Updated by Clifford Atiyeh

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