The 2016 Mercedes AMG GT S is a hot rod.
More muscle car than luxury car, more American than German, it's a wolf in wolf's clothing.
Sleek, low and lean, it looks fast and it is fast — zero to 60 in 3.7 seconds, with a top speed of 193 miles per hour.
Climb inside the two-door, two-seater — because you do have to climb inside — fire it up, and fly.
The 4.0-liter bi-turbo V-8 is a rocket motor, producing 503 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque.
The exhaust roar is leonine. When the car is in Sport or Sport+ mode, it howls. In Race mode, it screams.
The straight-line acceleration is intense, as befits a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive V-8. Mercedes says the long hood, high belt line and broad shoulders give the vehicle an “emotional appearance.” The emotion would be urgency.
On the open road, the AMG GT S is a bullet. The handling and seven-speed gearbox are precise, the electronic steering is speed-sensitive, and the suspension is tunable for three modes of stiffness and feedback. Traction is handled by a rear-axle locking differential.
On the twisties, the car steers a little longer than it is, because of all that engine weight in front of the driver. On wide sweepers, though, the handling seems to improve with higher speeds.
There's even a rear spoiler, which engages with a flip of the switch inside the cabin or, in Sport modes, extends or retracts depending on the vehicle's speed.
Drive modes include Sport and Sport+, a “C” setting, which on some cars means “Comfort” but on this vehicle stands for “Controlled Efficiency” and is meant to cut noise and increase mileage. There is also the refreshingly frank Race setting. A city street burnout is not a good idea, but the AMG GT S, in R mode, is up for it if you are.
The performance comes with compromise. The AMG GT S is built more for hot laps around Laguna Seca than a trip to Laguna Beach.
Mercedes says the car's interior design is meant to make you feel “like you are slipping into the cockpit of a fighter jet.” That would be a really small fighter jet, the extraction from which includes not an “Eject” button but a sequence of moves involving both feet, both hands and an abs workout.
The low-slung, hand-stitched, nappa-leather seats are sculpted and tight-fitting. The suspension is stiff and sharp — excellent on a newly paved patch of Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road, but murder on the pitted, pot-holed streets of Silver Lake.
Rear and side visibility are minimal, but what's there to look at? You're not sightseeing. You are the sight.
Besides, sightseeing would suggest companions and paraphernalia. It wouldn't be hard to coax a friend into the passenger seat, but there's no room for their stuff. You might be able to slip a tube of sunscreen into the space behind the seats, and just enough luggage in the trunk to get you away for a quick weekend. But if you were going golfing, you'd be driving something else.
The basic AMG GT — not yet available in the U.S. — will come standard with a host of assets, including high performance brakes, adaptive sport suspension, heated seats, a Burmester Surround Sound music system, and safety features for collision avoidance, assisted parking, automatic braking and more.
The AMG GT S version I drove had all that, and its base price of $130,825. But it was also fitted with carbon fiber trim and body elements, select interior appointments, special seat belts, custom wheels, a “high-end” Burmester sound system, and an engine and suspension “Dynamic Plus” performance package that Mercedes says is “ideal for aspiring racing drivers on closed-off circuits.” All that drove the sticker to $153,080.
That's a lot. But it's not more than a comparable German sports car, such as a higher-end Porsche 911 or Audi R8.
The AMG GT S sticker is well below the $230,900 Mercedes asks for the S63 AMG Coupe, which gets 621 horsepower out of a 6.0-liter V-12 power plant.
Like that engine, the engines for the AMG GT and AMG GT S are built according to what Mercedes calls the “one man, one engine” principle: Each power plant, when finished, will bear the actual engineer's signature on its engine plate.
The AMG GT S became available to U.S. buyers in May. Customers who are attracted by the styling and handling, but find the price too high, will soon have a less expensive option. The 2017 AMG GT, without the S, will go on sale next spring. It will offer about 50 fewer horses, and go zero to 60 two-tenths of a second slower, but it will be priced at $130,825. And it'll still bear that engineer's signature on the engine.
Customers who want to spend even more on an AMG GT S, though, may have to wait a while for a convertible version. Mercedes hints that one of those will be available, at some point, as well.