2018 Mercedes-AMG GT R First Drive

Posted on Dec 19 2016 - 5:56am by Jeff Dunham

There is understeer. There is oversteer. And then there’s a four-wheel slide through an unavoidable spackle of rubber marbles that have built up through a fast, prolonged sweeper. A highlight reel of every other Indy 500 crash zips through my brain, as driver after driver goes off line, catches the marbles, and sails into the crunchy confines of the Safer Barrier.

2018 Mercedes-AMG GT R

But then, there is an awful lot to be said for downforce. For, even as its otherwise sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires struggle with the marbles, the 2018 Mercedes-AMG GT R continues to tenaciously hold itself to Portugal’s Autodromo Internacional do Algarve. The GT R isn’t just an extra stein of power poured into the regular GT with some bigger, pricier brakes thrown on for good measure. That was largely the AMG M.O. of yesteryear. And, okay, it still has those, but with the R, you get extra vents, foils, ducts, and diffusers that all contribute to keeping the ultimate AMG GT adhered to Portugal through that grand corner. And, quite ideally, most of them are hidden away, preventing one of the most beautiful cars in the world from becoming an overwrought track-day special.

Those parts also provide plenty of faith to progressively feed in throttle as that long, final sweeper unwinds into Algarve’s main straight as marbles kicked up from the car ahead pang, pang, pang off the GT R’s long, long hood. The lateral G’s first press me into the prominent bolsters of the optional AMG race seats and then into their thin backs. It’s invigorating, but then comes the deep, guttural, nasty bellow of the hand-built 4.0-liter V8 massaged up to 585 horsepower courtesy new turbochargers with a higher boost pressure, plus a modified compression ratio, sharpened throttle mapping, and a modified exhaust (including an additional, center-mount port). Mercedes says the entire combustion process has been retuned and the grand total is 82 more horsepower than in the AMG GT S.

He proclaims that as if banging a gavel. Sadly, that’s a challenge to be confirmed another day. And indeed, this one is coming to an end as the light drizzle foreshadowed by a rainbow in the distance (you can see it in our 360 in-car video) drifts onto the Autodromo. A perfect opportunity, then, to try out the GT R’s final addition, the nine-mode adjustable traction control system. When stability control has been deactivated, the special yellow knob located within easy reach on the dash (it’s cheekily un-Mercedes in its singular purpose and after-thought placement) is turned right for additional traction control interference or left to dial it back until shut completely off on level nine.

It really is a brilliant way to let you dial in the car to match your skill, preferences, and current road conditions, and to easily do so while driving extremely fast. At the same time, however, you don’t have to turn stability control off to enjoy the GT R, as there is more than enough leeway available in Sport Plus to make you feel in control. Even when skipping across those marbles, the system was more than happy to let me deal with the situation.

Perhaps that’s the lasting impression of the GT R: Despite its stem-to-stern enhancements over lesser AMG GTs, it remains an accessible high-performance machine that can serve and flatter a diverse range of talents. It’s also not wholly inappropriate for places other than the track thanks to its reasonably livable suspension and 100-percent Mercedes-Benz interior.

It’s certainly an emphatic message to the world that Affalterbach can do a lot more than just bigger engines, loud exhausts, and fancy wheels.