2018 AUTOMOBILE All-Star: 2018 Mercedes-AMG GT R

Monstrously quick, monstrously rewarding, monstrously easy

I tested a Mercedes-AMG GT3 race car about a year ago and excitedly anticipated the chance to drive the street version, the AMG GT R, ever since then. Somehow, I managed to not drive it on the road before our All-Stars track day at Speedvegas. So when the track opened, I was strapped in and ready to roll despite temperatures in the low 30s.

In a real racing environment, cold temperatures and wide, low-profile tires can make for some wicked entertainment, and that was my initial situation with the GT R. I wrestled with it for three full laps before I got even a little help from the frozen tires. By that time, my passenger, who had mistakenly jumped in the car right before I set off, was about to recycle their breakfast and was turning purple. I pitted and wrote in my notepad, “This car is not for herbivores. Driving it makes you crave raw meat!”

Emotion seems to erupt around this car. Upon exiting it, editor-at-large Arthur St. Antoine exclaimed, “Holy Mother of Affalterbach! With that long hood and all that V-8 up front, I never expected this brute to turn in like Baryshnikov. But it does. Brilliant on its feet!” social media editor Billy Rehbock echoed, “Holy hell is this thing good!” Executive editor Mac Morrison climbed out, stared at the GT R hard for a good 10 seconds, and performed a little head shake. “I’m absolutely blown away not only by how well this car handles and attacks this racetrack but also by how easy it is to drive quickly and aggressively,” he said. “This is one of my favorite cars in years.”

Later in the day, temperatures warmed up a bit, so I grabbed another run. The driver setup is excellent in terms of pedals, steering wheel placement, and a well-bolstered driver’s seat. It is a superb driver’s office and extremely comfortable.

The engine makes 577 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque, sending it all to the huge 325/30R-20 rear tires in a flash, pulling hard all the way to redline in a most unturbolike way. The sensation of unrelenting acceleration is aided by a brilliant dual-clutch gearbox, which I felt shifted as quickly as the latest Porsche PDK. The brakes are exactly what you would expect from a car like this, superbly effective with loads of feel. Engine sound is a growling V-8 rumble that is a little reminiscent of old American big-blocks to my ears.

The GT R’s on-track performance makes it just as much fun as, perhaps even more than, every other high-priced supercar we had at our disposal. Frankly, it was kind of ridiculous how late I could leave my braking and then how I could—while still trailing the brakes heavily—almost violently rotate the R into an apex then immediately get back to the gas with almost zero steady-state throttle time. The excellent traction control allows as much power to the tires as they can take while still pulling massive cornering loads. Nothing but impressive.

Later I found something interesting in my notes to possibly explain why I and others felt so comfortable aggressively manipulating the 577-horsepower R through every turn. “I think the long hood, a more rear-placed driver position, and a superbly connected steering feel combine to give a unique driver perspective out the windshield. It felt like I had extra time to get the car sorted on turn-in, almost like changes were in slow motion. This perspective also seemed to give me a really early indication of when the car was even thinking about getting out of shape.” The result was immediate trust and confidence driving the GT R at the limit. I wasn’t the only one. As Tahaney declared with enthusiasm, “Oh my God, it’ll make a rock star out of anyone—even me.”

Cabin controls are typical Mercedes quality, and the infotainment system seemed a little more user-friendly than most. Cabin noise was surprisingly quiet, especially when compared to most of the other quick cars we had rolling on huge rubber. There is an impressive amount of storage room in the GT R as well. The rear trunk is plenty big enough for a couple of sets of golf clubs and bags for the weekend. This all adds nicely to the car’s case for being a great daily driver, too.

The GT R might be the best example of brute force with no ignorance I’ve ever had the pleasure of driving. Now all many of us can think about is, when do we get to have another go?

2018 Mercedes-AMG GT R Specifications

PRICE  $157,995/$187,345 (base/as tested)
ENGINE  4.0L DOHC 32-valve twin-turbo V-8/577 hp @ 6,250 rpm, 516 lb-ft @ 1,900-5,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION  7-speed dual-clutch automatic
LAYOUT  2-door, 2-passenger, front-engine, RWD coupe
EPA MILEAGE  15/20 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H  179.0 x 79.0 x 50.6 in
WHEELBASE  103.5 in
WEIGHT  3,650 lb
0-60 MPH  3.3 sec
TOP SPEED  198 mph