Mercedes-AMG GT 4-Door 63 S

Affalterbach discovers bandwidth; super-sedan greatness follows

ASH WESTERMAN

THE rotary controller used to select the drive modes of the new AMG GT 4-Door doesnít move with quite the crisp precision you may expect from a circa$290,000 super sedan (or should that be super-liftback?), but that doesnít seem important right now. What really has my attention is the word glowing in the dash, arrived at via the selection of Race mode, combined with a button-push for ESC Sport. The displays shows ĎMasterí, part of the system intended to outline the recommended driving skill for each combination. It opens with Basic, moves to Advanced, steps up to Pro, and tops out with that term making me just a little uncomfortable.

This is the setting that ramps the powertrain to its most aggressive, the damping to its firmest setting, and allows the stability control its longest leash. But Master? Iím a master of precisely nothing; that accolade should be reserved for men like the bloke climbing into the AMG GT R in front of me, German tintop champion Bernd Schneider, who will lead our trio of cars for hot laps around Texasís Circuit of the Americas.

Minutes earlier, Schneider had assured me that the Master setting is entirely suitable: ďFor sure, youíll slide, but the intervention from the car is very subtle; hardly anything at all if your corrections are okay...Ē

Right then; Iíll take his word for it. After all, this all-new offering from AMG only has 470kW/900Nm, and the circuit is fearsomely fast in most places, and technical in others. What could go wrong?

As we idle in pit lane waiting for our session, I reflect on truthin-naming policies, and canít help but think thereís a little sleight of hand here. The Mercedes-AMG GT 4-Door Coupe 63 S, to give it its full moniker, is unrelated to AMGís GT line in anything other than styling cues and some interior inspiration. That car, in its five-variant line-up, is a rear- drive, rear-transaxle layout. This new model is neither of those things. Itís an all-wheel driver built on the MRA architecture that underpins E Class and CLS. Itís simplest to see it as a lower, swoopier version of the E63 S with the wick turned up. Effectively itís a replacement for the AMG CLS 63, which now tops out as a sixcylinder model with a 55 badge. But thatís not to downplay the new carís significance as only the third dedicated model the AMG division has produced, and the first with four doors and room for the kids.

42 BENTLEY CONTINENTAL GT 43 NISMO JUKE 45 MAZDA CX-3

And that bit about wicking up the 63 S? The twin-turbo 4.0litre in this installation matches its previous torque record of 900Nm (in the AMG S63 super limo) but takes power to a new all-time high, with 470kW. So yes, comfortably more than even the most hardcore of the two-door line-up, the GT R (430kW/700Nm) that Schneider is strapping into.

Curiously, as we accelerate hard onto the main straight and fire toward the uphill braking area for the turn one hairpin, 900Nm doesnít feel ludicrous, it feels about perfect. The strength of this engine through the midrange feels monumental, the upper reaches found via a torrent of grunt thatís delivered with utter linearity. Race mode opens the switchable exhaust, and allows the V8 to properly open its lungs.

The Senna Esses provide a great test of the AMGís body control and agility

Thereís both ferocity and culture intertwined in the note, even if it doesnít have the aural crispness of an atmo or supercharged engine. Still, it seems churlish to single that out, and to focus on that leaves less brain processing power to deal with the rest of the package, which is just over two tonnes moving at indecent speed. AMG claims 0-100km/h in 3.2sec, which sounds credible, given that weíve recorded 3.3sec and 0-400m in 11.3sec from an E63 S. Down the back straight, the digital speedo flicks past 270km/h before a big stomp of the optional carbonceramic brakes hauls it down with rock-solid stability. Autobahn Vmax is 315km/h.

So far, so awesome, but also in line with expectation. What I wasnít counting on was the level of steering connection and confidence this car provides. Iíve always found the GT coupes and convertibles a little aloof and detached in this area, despite the fact they run a hydraulic steering rack aimed to optimise these very attributes. The GT 4-Door runs an electro-assist system, yet it instantly feels ultra-connected to the pointy end, with a chunky weighting and crisp response. Maybe the less cab-rearward design also contributes to the four-doorís sense of cohesion and control; whatever it is, it makes it instinctive in terms finding the limit of front-end grip and managing the onset of understeer in the tight turns.

That initial front-end push is unavoidable on a track in a car of this size and weight, but the sense of agility and keenness of turn-in is helped by the fact thereís four-wheel steering (as fitted to the GT C and GT R) helping those vast rears pivot the back end. As for actually deploying all that grunt in the exit phase, the GT 4 is a beast. The constantly variable all-wheeldrive system only gives the fronts what they can use, so the overall balance of the car feels properly rear-driven, the way it should in an AMG. As I start getting harder and earlier on the power in an effort to stay on Schneiderís tail, the rear starts lighting up and progressively stepping out, just as he promised, with no apparent retardation of spark. Itís all telegraphed with utter transparency.

The Senna Esses complex at CotA, into which the F1 boys pile at a scarcely believable 280km/h, is a great test of the GT 4ís body control and agility. In terms of the former, itís not absolute; there is a small lateral shrug of suspension compression as the Michelins bite, in line with what youíd expect of a super sedan expected to operate in the real world. But itís this bit of compliance, even in the stiffest chassis setting, that also allows the car to absorb the saw-tooth kerbs, as opposed to crashing over them.

Later, away from the circuit, up in the hills above Austin where Texan super-juicer Lance Armstrong still cycles, the full breadth of AMGís achievement becomes clear. In its most benign setting, the suspension has just enough travel to breathe with the road, and even sharp edges donít clang through the body the way they have in previous AMG cars. The nine-speed transmission is expertly calibrated for road driving, slipping quickly through the ratios to make full use of the huge torque reserve and restrain engine sound and fuel consumption, if thatís what your mood demands. Equally, each adjustable parameter is ever-ready to unleash hell when the opportunity presents itself. I found myself unable to extract everything the car can give in these conditions, purely out of deference for the blind corners and occasional Armstrong impersonator. But even at seventenths, thereís real satisfaction to be had, because everything about this car feels to be meshing so cohesively Ė steering feel, power delivery, braking strength, body control, bump absorption, engine note; I could go on.

On reflection, maybe Bernd Schneider wasnít the only master out on the circuit earlier. You could easily argue there was a group of them, all with those AMG letters on their rumps.

ASH WESTERMAN

01 BOARD; RIGID

AMG-developed body utilises extensive stiffening across the front end and bracing in the corners. For customers willing to forgo the folding rear seats, a carbonfibre rear bulkhead panel is fitted for extra rigidity.

02 GIVES LIP WHEN CORNERED

Active rear spoiler reacts to lateral loads, so in a straight line, itís angled to provide minimal drag; through corners, it moves to a steeper position to exert downforce.

03 NOT LISTENING

Conventional instruments out; dual 10.3-inch screens (as debuted in the A-Class) are in. Theyíre highly customisable and offer beautiful clarity, but the operating system is not the latest MBUX voice-command.

In opposition

In terms of the segment into which it lands, the AMG honchos must be cackling with delight. Rivals from BMW and Audi Ė the M6 Gran Coupe and RS7 Performance Ė are both in their twilight days, with replacements still some time away. Which really only leaves Porscheís Panamera, which, in Turbo guise, is well down on outputs, and about $90,000 more expensive. The Turbo S E-Hybrid has AMG-rivalling stonk, but costs a whopping $460,000. ĎOpen goalí is the term that springs to mind.

Porsche Panamera Turbo $384,500

Same engine fundamentals as the AMG Ė 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 Ė but down by 66kW and 130Nm, and the price is around 22 percent higher. In terms of packaging and dynamic attributes, a comparo beckons...

Audi RS7 Performance $257,426

Even the Audiís big-sounding numbers (445kW/750Nm) are shaded by the mighty AMG. Further, a new A7 has already launched in Europe, but a new RS7 flagship is still at least a year away.