Expert Reviews

First Drive: 2020 Mercedes-AMG GT

It may be almost five years since breaking cover, but the Mercedes-AMG GT looks as fresh, exciting, and – yes – achingly sexy today as it did on that day at the AMG factory in Affalterbach, Germany. Long of snout, short of tail, and looking as if it were sculpted solely by wind, water, and passion; the AMG GT embarks on its second act following a mid-cycle refresh for 2020.

We see new LED headlights, colours, wheel designs, and rear-end tweaks; but as would be expected, much of this effort focuses on upgrading the two-seater’s infotainment system. The top of the centre console is now dominated by a freestanding 10.25-inch touchscreen, and directly in front of the driver sits a 12.3-inch digital display, replacing the old analogue cluster. This display gets three styles – Classic, Sporty, and Super Sport – the latter featuring a large central tachometer with a digital speed readout in the lower half.

There’s a new AMG Performance multi-function steering wheel with little swipe pads on each spoke that allow access to most functions – with a bit of practice, of course. This wheel also sports a rotary controller, similar to that of Porsche’s, below the right spoke for changing drive programs; a couple of illuminated buttons below the left spoke can be assigned such functions as selection of manual mode, exhaust mode, ESP, etc.

A new console design features a large stylized “V” that contains restyled buttons for the sport exhaust, adaptive damping, ESP, drive mode, rear wing, and more. All drive modes are now under the all-encompassing AMG Driving Dynamics which divides them into four categories:

  • Basic includes “Slippery” and “Comfort” for most normal driving;
  • Advanced is active when in Sport mode, which allows for a bit more leniency in the stability program while firming up the dampers and steering, and firing up more aggression in the transmission and throttle;
  • Pro is assigned to the Sport+ mode, and here the car is set up for even more spirited driving with less intervention;
  • Master is paired with Race mode which pretty much leaves the driver to their own devices.

This all sounds a bit complicated, but in reality, on my two-hour drive in a matte-blue-finish 2020 Mercedes-AMG GT C from Affalterbach to the famed Hockenheim racing circuit, switching between Comfort and Sport provided plenty of bandwidth for a journey that jumped from sweeping secondary country lanes to the odd Autobahn blast.

Because anyway you slice it, the Mercedes-AMG GT is an absolute fire-breathing beast, a Swabian aristocrat with the heart of a muscle car. It bellows like a love-sick moose and accelerates with the unyielding force of a Saturn V rocket, all thanks to its dry-sump 4.0L twin-turbo V8 masterpiece that tucks itself well back of the front wheels, right up into the firewall. It drives the rear wheels through a rear-mounted eight-speed dual-clutch Getrag gearbox. Rear-wheel steering is standard on the GT C.

Strategically placing these mechanical bits within the aluminum structure bestows the AMG GT with wonderful balance and agility. It’s also quite communicative, filtering plenty of info though to your hands and backside. This is a car that engages right from step off – the excellent driving position, feelsome electrohydraulic steering, and a lag-free engine that hardwires your right foot to great chunks is visceral acceleration.

And the noise. No fake engine sounds piped into the cabin here – AMG makes this hot-vee V8 sound like there is nary a turbocharger between its exhaust ports and the new quad exhaust tips.

The Canadian AMG GT line gets streamlined for 2020. The lower trim levels – base GT and GT S – get cut, leaving the wide-bodied GT C (550 hp, 502 lb-ft) and GT R (577 hp, 516 lb-ft) that currently start at $163,000 and $183,000 respectively. Seems we Canadians prefer to have our super sports cars fully kitted. While there’s no pricing yet for the 2020 models that arrive this summer, we can certainly expect some kind of increase.

The big performance news for 2020 is the addition of the all-new Pro Package that is available only on the top-dog GT R. This suite of goodies will turn your GT R into street-legal racing machine, and very likely push its sticker over the $200,000 threshold.

And hence the reason for our cross-country blast to the Hockenheimring. There await a posse of GT R Pros, several AMG driving gurus headed up by multiple DTM Champion Bernd Schneider, and rain. Lots of rain. Oh joy.

To make the Pro, AMG engineers took much of what they’ve gleaned from running the AMG GT3 and GT4 race cars and blended it into the GT R road car. There are no modifications to the powertrain other than new active engine and transmission mounts. The GT R was never wanting for urge. No, the Pro is all about increased downforce, better handling, and weight reduction.

The carbon-fibre front splitter, rear wing, and dive planes on the front wings add 100 kg of downforce at 250 km/h – 65 kg rear and 35 kg front. The Pro also gets a carbon-fibre roof and front carbon-fibre anti-roll bar. Standard carbon ceramic brakes, forged alloys, and featherweight carbon seats shave even more mass from this special. Additionally, multi-adjustable coil-over springs at each corner allow for fine-tuning of the Pro’s handling characteristics. Add some GT3-inspired racing stripes and you’ve got one seriously intimidating land shark.

Yep, the GT R Pro might look super bad on this damp day as it is artfully mirrored in the paddock’s pools of standing water, but that ain’t giving me no comfort as I duck my helmeted head under the carbon roof and get strapped in with the four-point harness. We’re doing lead-and-follow around this high-speed F1 circuit – two cars behind the lead driver, who on this session happens to be Herr Schneider.

We’re running Sport+ and not Race mode for obvious reasons, and I’m told on the back straight – where speeds are kissing a relatively sane 200 km/h on this cold and wet day – I can expect to see nothing but spray and, hopefully, the brake lights of the car in front.

So out we head for the first four-lap session. Bernd talks us around via walkie-talkie, and we gingerly pick up the pace. The key to survival here is to stay on the outside of the proper racing line in the corners – where you’d normally place the car the surface is just too slick. And where you’d normally tuck into the throttle on corner exit and let the electronically controlled differential and super sticky race tires do their magic, you soon figure that won’t work. A couple of sphincter-clenching arse-end side steps has me gently rolling into the happy pedal until we’re well and truly straight and up to a healthy speed. This monster will spin its tires in fourth and fifth gear out here.

And yet, after a few more laps, full-out trepidation turns into mildly terror-tinged fun as I get to read this exceptionally balanced yet inherently brutish machine. The 2020 Mercedes-AMG GT R Pro’s cross-town rival would be the Porsche 911 GT3 RS, and while philosophically similar – both being essentially pure race cars for the street – they are in fact as different as chalk and cheese.

Available in Europe (but not in Canada) is a Track Pack that adds a roll cage, four-point harness, and fire extinguisher.

AMG is not stingy with track time at this event. Sure, I’ll take another crack at it. Who would have thought rain, the Hockenheimring and 577 horsepower would make for such an intoxicating cocktail?