First Drive: 2018 Mercedes-AMG GT and GT C Roadster
The open-top versions of AMG’s halo model offer fun in the sun with little compromise
SEDONA, Arizona — It's a crisp, sunny spring day along Highway 89a and we're headed toward the spectacular red rock formations that made the area famous. The top is down, we just passed a squiggly road sign warning of tasty miles ahead, and I'm desperate to unleash the handcrafted, 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 monster lurking under the long, sloping hood of the 2018 Mercedes-AMG GT Roadster. There's only one catch: two cars that won't move the hell over. It's absolute torture.
Suddenly, a tiny stretch of passing lane appears. With the AMG dynamic select dial turned to Sport+, my foot goes to the floor. The boost gauge instantly pins, the turbos spin furiously, and the seven-speed dual-clutcher kicks down as the grumbling V-8 is finally let off its chain. It. Is. On.
We begin our mountain attack sequence and the exhaust note's guttural, baritone roar echoes into the canyon. We're carving up the twisty asphalt Ginsu style and the GT Roadster utterly unfazed, its power band staying in its sweet spot, its AMG-tuned suspension keeping the car balanced into the tighter esses, and its adaptive ratio steering offering up more than ample feedback. This is what the crew in Affalterbach made this car for.
Annnndddd just like that we roll up on more four-wheeled roadblocks. Damn.
We pump the roadster's stout brakes with 14.2-inch perforated discs all around (15.4-inchers at the front for the harder edged, higher spec GT C, with carbon ceramics optional for both), the exhaust crackles and pops, and our fun run ends all too soon.
But hey, the sun's still beaming into the GT roadster's elegantly trimmed cabin - now with 100 percent more beige if you desire (Macchiato Beige Nappa leather is an option) - and we've got its impressive Burmester sound system turned up, so it's not all bad. I dial it back to Comfort (softer suspension and more relaxed transmission, steering, and engine response) and we take in the stunning scenery unfolding before us on the slow roll into Sedona. So far, we've spent our drive in the base version of the roadster — the other being the aforementioned GT C, which cribs several elements from the track-star version of AMG's two-seat halo model, the GT R. But lest you think the base GT roadster is a slouch, we've got 469 reasons and a claimed 0 to 60 mph time of 3.9 seconds why you should think again.
The GT and GT C drop tops are the latest variants to join Mercedes-AMG's GT lineup, making it seven in all for the division's only exclusive model, with one more on the way (all but certain to be a four-door version). The roadsters were in the cards since the onset of the GT's development, so the extra bracing applied in order to further strengthen their aluminum intensive architecture and keep them as free from chassis flex as possible was meticulously planned. And as is the case with the rest of the GT lineup (which is starting to resemble the 911's dizzying array of variations), they both offer an impressive performance envelope while appealing to slightly different customers.
On the way up the mountain, we spent ample time traversing swaths of Arizona's well-maintained freeways and the GT Roadster easily ate them up with a suspension that's tight but far from punishing at any setting. You'll want to keep it out of Comfort if you're planning to be aggressive, though, as throttle response was a tad lazy. The cabin's amenities are befitting a car in this range, with impressive trim and stitching accents, the Burmester sound setup, and a version of Benz's now familiar and logically laid out, dial-controlled COMAND infotainment system. An interesting feature available for both cars is the AMG Track Pace iPhone app, which hooks into the car to record lap times and even takes video of your hot laps. The AMG sport seats are an acquired taste, however. While they're plenty supportive during aggressive cornering and now come with the Airscarf system that blows air around your neck, they can also feel pretty stiff in normal driving situations. It's also a little tight inside overall, with cargo space at a premium in the cabin and the trunk, though that's somewhat expected of a roadster.
Flatten the pedal and the twin-turbo eight bellows in your ears as you easily reach hair-messing speeds in mere seconds. And while it can feel like a big car at times, especially during confined city cruising, out on the open road is where the GT Roadster does its best work. Speed limits are simply unfair when you're in a car so clearly geared to run all day long at triple digits.
As you'd expect, Mercedes-AMG has spent an inordinate amount of time making sure its GT cars perform at the highest levels. To that end, both cars utilize elements like the active air shutters that lurk behind AMG's mean, gleaming chrome 15-rib 'Panamericana' grille to aid air flow and cooling and are fitted with an AMG sports suspension (the GT C gets AMG's uplevel ride control system with active dampers). Weight saving tricks including a trunk made of composite materials help keep the gain over their coupe siblings to roughly 77 pounds in the GT and 110 in the GT C (the GT Roadster is 3,683 pounds, the GT C 3,825).
Then there's the stonking 4.0-liter twin-turbo eight, rated at 469 horsepower and 465 lb-ft of torque in the GT and 550 hp and 502 lb-ft in the GT C - thanks primarily to the turbo boost being turned up. Both variants are hooked up to AMG's seven speed dual clutch automatic, although the GT C gets a taller ratio in first gear, a lower one in seventh, and a taller final drive. The GT gets a mechanical rear differential with AMG's quicker responding electronic rear diff fitted to the GT C. Looking to launch? The GT C has a feature that lets you step on the brake with your left foot as you mash the accelerator while adjusting the revs using the shift paddles. Then let off the brake and you're off to a reported 3.7-second 0 to 60 mph sprint.
As we approached the midway point of the drive, we figured it was a good time to see how the lightweight, magnesium, steel, and aluminum constructed soft top operates. We hit the button at about 31 mph and it went up quickly with zero drama. Benz quotes 11 seconds and it was easily that fast. With it up, its triple-lined fabric design was effective in quelling outside noise, while headroom and visibility were acceptable. It's not the prettiest looking top when it's up, but you can get it in red, black, and, oh yes, beige.
The GT roadsters are best viewed with the top down of course, and according to AMG designer Vitalis Enns, the cars feature a "positive and strong stance" and are "really, really low, wide and aggressive." Enns said one of the team's primary design goals was to develop a car with a high beltline and a low rear end. Mission accomplished.
Most of the rear of the GT C Roadster is similar to the GT R, with a wider track (2.2 inches), bigger tires and 20-inch rims at the rear, and different bodywork to accommodate. The GT C also employs AMG's rear wheel steering from the GT R as part of the car's uprated suspension setup. Sadly, our time in the GT C was primarily limited to 100-plus miles of freeway driving, so we didn't get a chance to experience rear steer to any extent. But our man Georg Kacher drove the GT R, here's how he described its handling at speed on a track:
The AMG GT R's variable-rate steering systems (plural) deserve a separate chapter. Depending on speed, mode, and lateral acceleration, driver input has complex consequences. At the inception of a slide, for instance, steering effort is reduced so that correction maneuvers require only minor adjustments, adhering to the line is playfully easy, and lock can be unwound pleasingly early. Above 62 mph, the system switches from countersteer to synchronicity. Similar to the setups in the 911 Turbo and Lamborghini Centenario, this transition is executed progressively and smoothly. In Race mode, direction changes occur with physical immediacy; in Comfort, however, the wheels turn with pursed sidewalls. Further enhancing this by-wire muscle-tensing exercise for the hind legs are over a dozen uniball joints in lieu of the commonly used rubber mounts.
We did get enough time in the GT C Roadster to discern that it's perceptibly quicker and brakes harder than its GT cousin. It also features a Race mode that further sharpens the car for track duty, is fitted with the brand's performance exhaust, and comes with a more upscale interior including a leather and microfiber trimmed steering wheel, among other special touches. The GT C is obviously the edgier car, the GT is slightly more of a grand tourer, but both are eminently capable. It really boils down to personal preference and maybe pocketbook considerations.
There are other super high performance convertibles out there with more established reputations and different setups that some may find more appealing. But as is the case with the rest of its GT line, Mercedes-AMG's GT and GT C Roadsters have an appeal all their own - especially when the twisty road ahead is clear of four-wheeled obstacles.
2018 Mercedes-AMG GT and GT C Roadster Specifications
|ON SALE||Fall 2017|
|PRICE||$125,395 /$157, 995 (base, GT/GT C)|
|ENGINE||4.0L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-6/469 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 465 lb-ft @ 1,700-5,000 rpm (GT); 5,750-6,750 rpm, 502 lb-ft @ 1,900-5,750 rpm (GT C)|
|TRANSMISSION||7-speed twin-clutch auto|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 2-passenger, front-engine, AWD convertible|
|EPA MILEAGE||15/21 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||178.9/179.2 x 76.3/79.0 x 49.6 in (GT/GT C)|
|WEIGHT||3,683/3,825 lb (GT /GT C)|
|0-60 MPH||3.9/3.7 sec (GT /GT C)|
|TOP SPEED||188/196 mph (GT /GT C)|