Mercedes targets Porsche 911 with all-new AMG GT sports cars
Mercedes-Benz put high-end sports cars such as the Porsche 911 and Audi R8 on notice Tuesday with the introduction of its 2016 Mercedes AMG GT S.
The V-8 coupe is an all-new model from the tri-star brand. It will go on sale in the United States next spring and will start around $120,000. Mercedes hopes to use the GT as proof of what its performance-oriented AMG sub-brand can build.
“We are venturing out into a challenging sports car segment with its top-class competitive field,” Thomas Weber, head of Mercedes’ global R&D, said in a statement. “This is an incentive and motivation for us at the same time to prove to sports car enthusiasts around the world the kind of performance that AMG is capable of.”
The GT is very loosely based on the AMG SLS supercar (the one with the gullwings) that was discontinued this year, and shares the same layout: two seats, front-engine V-8 and rear-wheel-drive.
But the GT is smaller, lighter, and cheaper than the SLS, which easily passed the $200,000 mark. And the SLS’ trademark gullwing doors don’t translate down to the GT.
“It’s definitely time for [Mercedes] to have a car that you’ll see more of on the road, not something that costs $200,000,” said Dave Sullivan, manager of product analysis at AutoPacific. “They need to have something that says, ‘We’re not all big sedans and station wagons,’ and with this pricing it opens it up to more buyers.’”
The GT S has an all-new 4.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V-8 engine that Mercedes will eventually use in a variety of its AMG vehicles. Nestled under the long hood of this new coupe, it makes 503 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque, and will hustle the GT S from zero-to-60 mph in 3.7 seconds, Mercedes said.
Power is routed to the rear wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission with paddle shifters and five drive modes. Top speed on the GT S will be 193 mph.
A year after the GT S goes on sale, Mercedes will offer a slower GT model. It uses the same engine and transmission, though it has 456 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque. The car will likely sell for $10,000 to $15,000 less than the GT S.
By positioning the GT as an alternative to a Porsche 911, Audi R8, Nissan GT-R, or the upcoming Acura NSX, Mercedes is hoping it can sell between 3,000 and 5,000 units of the car a year in the United States. For comparison, Porsche sold just over 10,000 of its iconic 911 sports cars last year.
But without the widespread awareness and respect for the 911, which has been on sale for decades, reaching 3,000 won’t be easy.
“Look at how long 911 has been around,” Sullivan said. “It’s a brand unto itself. It’s going to take a while for Mercedes to create and build something similar. Three thousand a year should make [Mercedes] pretty happy.”
Regardless of sales numbers, targeting the Porsche 911 buyer makes sense, given the amount of money the Porsche brand makes for parent company Volkswagen. Despite a stable of high-end brands such as Lamborghini, Bentley and Audi, Porsche is the VW Group’s most profitable division.
“Porsche is the golden child for profits, so that’s a good place for Mercedes to start,” Sullivan said.
Mercedes does offer the SL, a hardtop convertible that has a family tree as big as the Porsche’s. Currently the SL lineup has V-6 and V-8 models that sell for between $85,000 and $216,000. But the car’s design is polarizing and it’s a softer, grand-touring type of car that does little to burnish Mercedes’ performance chops like the AMG GT will.
In addition to the robust capabilities of the GT’s turbocharged V-8, a range of speed-oriented features will be available. A sport-tuned exhaust system, electronic locking differential and adjustable sport suspension will all be standard, while carbon ceramic brakes will be optional.
Mercedes didn’t reveal the curb weight of the U.S.-spec car, but the model sold in Europe weighs 3,461 pounds. To keep weight down, the GT’s frame is 90% aluminum, as are most of the body panels. Only the trunk lid is made from steel, Mercedes said.
By comparison, the 520-horsepower Porsche 911 Turbo weighs 3,516 pounds, though that model also has all-wheel-drive, which adds weight.
The Mercedes-AMG GT S will officially debut at the Paris Motor Show on Oct. 2 and will be on display at the L.A. Auto Show in November.