The Chicago skyline—the Sears Tower, Aon Center, Prudential Plaza, and John Hancock Center jutting above a panorama of other skyscrapers—once triggered a certain sense of serenity in me, reminded me I was home. But Chicago isn’t my home anymore, and now being here makes me restless. The heat is oppressive, the traffic thick, and those beloved buildings have become unfriendly, towering ominously over me. Even my gritty little driving sanctuary, Lower Wacker Drive, is near impossible to enjoy due to a half dozen, half-done construction projects.
I’m doing all this self-pitying at a stoplight when the twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 that powers the 2016 Mercedes-AMG GT S resuscitates itself, seeing as how the automatic start-stop system shut it down for some 20 seconds. The exhaust rumble surprises me and scares the girl crossing the road in front of me, who jolts a bit before whipping out her iPhone to take a picture of the car. It’s a common occurrence; it seems Chitown can’t get enough of this long-nose AMG. But I’ve already had enough of the Windy City, so I hastily pack an overnight bag, head east on the Skyway, and burn across Indiana on my way to Michigan.
I hated Michigan, my other home for four years as I got a footing at AUTOMOBILE. Now that we’ve gone our separate ways, though, I can more clearly see its appeal, especially here on the west side of the state. It’s a Midwest mash-up of coastline and farmlands, adorable homes with wrap-around porches, and pop-up stands selling freshly picked blueberries. The roads are straight but smooth, clean, and almost always empty, and the Mercedes-AMG GT S happily ebbs and hops along at a good clip. Suddenly, a couple fawns stroll out into the road and I slam on the car’s optional carbon-ceramic brakes, stopping just short of the baby deer.
I exhale as the road dust swirls around the GT S, then let out a laugh that sets both fawns running off into a big, green field being watered by a giant metal arm. The excess spray creates a small rainbow in the blue and pink sky, the sun sinking below the horizon as fireflies start flashing their lights. I flatten the accelerator, and the AMG GT S shimmies across the road, leaving a trail of rubber as it gets to 60 mph in some 4 seconds. I slow to a crawl through the small towns that pop up along the way—putting the AMG’s active exhaust in its quieter mode and tiptoeing as to not excite the few dozen residents or their bored constabularies—but haul ass the rest of the time, collecting the fluorescent guts of fireflies on the AMG’s steeply raked windshield.
Around midnight I park against the curb in front of Old Harbor Inn in South Haven, head up to my room, and crawl into bed. But before I can fall asleep, an unexpected storm barrages the sleepy lakeside town with cherry-size hail. The ice balls fall so quickly that all I can do is stare through my wooden shutters and watch as the AMG’s almost-entirely aluminum body gets beaten to hell. Fortunately, the morning light reveals the car is in good shape, so I set off for GingerMan Raceway, my favorite 2.1-mile, 11-turn road course just 10 minutes east of the hotel.
Photographer Sandon Voelker and road test editor Eric Weiner are waiting patiently for me when I get to the track, but I tell them to hold tight as I give hugs to Maribeth and Mary, the wonderful women who take care of day-to-day track duties, and Nala, an adorable, 110-pound brindle mastiff. The guys and I head out onto the empty track to do photography and Voelker asks me to get the car sideways for a few shots. I happily oblige. With the AMG in Race mode and traction control turned off, I creep toward a right-hander in first gear, flatten the accelerator as the seven-speed transaxle shifts up a gear, and countersteer to lock, holding the coupe in a steady powerslide while the rear tires roast.
With photography done and the track clear, I start doing hot laps in the Mercedes-AMG GT S. I want to describe how the car felt—its chassis control, its competency—but can’t because back in the pits, I realize I had completely lost myself on track, blissful and existing in the moment, doing what I love, at a place I love, in a car I love, surrounded by people I love. In Chicago, the Mercedes-AMG GT S felt like a restless attention whore, good-looking but out of its element. Here, on these speed-friendly back roads and this fast, groomed racetrack, it feels right at home. So do I.
2016 Mercedes-AMG GT S Specifications
4.0L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8/503 hp @ 6,250 rpm,
479 lb-ft @ 1,750-4,750 rpm
|Transmission:||7-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|Layout:||2-door, 2-passenger, front-engine, RWD coupe|
|EPA Mileage:||16/22 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H:||179.0 x 76.3 x 50.7 in|
|0-60 MPH:||3.7 sec|
|Top Speed:||193 mph|