Mercedes-AMG GT C Road-Trip Review: Two Friends, One AMG, Zero Clue

The best way to blast around the Southwest? Quite possibly.

Earlier this year, myself and my childhood friend Jake decided it had been too long since we hung out. Instead of swapping obnoxious memes and good-naturedly insulting each other over text, it was high time we did that in person, especially considering we live in the same state—me in L.A. and him in San Francisco. A road trip through the American Southwest would be a perfect tonic, and while he sorted shelter and a loose schedule, I would handle the wheels.

It was just the two of us, and it was only for a few days, so we weren't in need of anything four-doored, lifted, or large in any way. The planned route was a circuitous one, starting in Los Angeles to eventually hit the Grand Canyon, spend some time in Santa Fe, loop back to Phoenix, then hit Joshua Tree National Park on the way back to Southern California. It would be a roughly 1,900-mile loop through the desert. That sounded like primetime grand touring to me, so I requisitioned something that seemed purpose-built for the task.

Enter the Mercedes-AMG GT C coupe—it has "Grand Touring" right there in its name, after all. Jake was suitably impressed with the brightly hued, Jupiter Red AMG when I picked him up at LAX, and we quickly made our way tour first stop, The Bruery in Anaheim. We're both big beer dorks, so we had to stock up on bottles of hard-to-find suds before road-tripping in earnest. Never mind our overnight stop was roughly eight hours away, and traffic was only getting notably worse by the quarter-hour.

I only go into such granularity to frame how seat of our pants this monumental road trip would be. Aside from visiting the Grand Canyon and the location of our overnights, the whole schedule was up to interpretation. The only other certainties: some duffel bags of clothes, a few gas-station snacks, and the key to a 550-hp German über-coupe.

Leaving Los Angeles County by road is always a trip, no matter what your destination or the time of day. It's a sprawling, all-encompassing labyrinth of unrelenting traffic that you don't really escape until an hour and a half outside city proper. Despite leaving Anaheim around midafternoon, we were already chasing daylight, so it's a good thing the GT C was just as hungry for the wide-open stretches of the Mojave as we were.

Essentially, the C version of the AMG GT is Mercedes' answer to the popular Porsche 911 Carrera GTS. Like the Porsche, it slots between the tamest and hottest of the available variants; in this case, it tops the GT but bows in supplication to the GT R and GT R Pro. It shares the same 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-8 employed in the entire GT lineup, but with 550 horsepower and 502 lb-ft of torque. Compare that to the GT's 469 horses and 465 lb-ft, and the R's 577 horsepower and 516 lb-ft.

Even more so than the numbers suggest, the 4.0-liter feels incredibly power-dense. There's thrust everywhere, most noticeably from down low. It's happiest when watering eyes and smooshing cheeks during hard pulls, cracking off 60 mph in a claimed 3.5 seconds. Out in the cold, featureless expanse of the Mojave, it felt a whole lot faster than it claims. Even so, predictably, we didn't make it to Flagstaff—our first overnight—before sundown. Not even close, in fact. We didn't arrive until nearly midnight, but that wasn't for a lack of firepower or composure, as the GT C was rock steady and effortlessly charged through the pitch-black desert with determination.

The next morning's hard run to the Grand Canyon was more exhilarating than the previous night's interstate slog. The 80-or-so miles from Flagstaff to the South Rim cut through a series of national parks and sparsely populated areas with wide, curved roads. Like all AMG GTs, the GT C feels low and rides on what feels like a mile-wide footprint. It feels "square" in the best way, offering up gobs of mechanical grip and corner composure, allowing the driver to dive deep into a turn, revector as needed, and explode out the other side with a guttural rumble.

We made quick work of the forested roads, and the GT C began to make slow work of us. Despite having "Grand Touring" in the name pitch-perfect proportions to match, the GT C lives on the rougher side of the GT spectrum. The road noise from its Michelin rubber is noticeable, and even when kept in Comfort setting, the ride is harsher than preferred for daylong stints. Everything is fine over regular, unbroken tarmac, but expansion joints or uneven surfaces cause things to get slightly crashy and jarring. Add to this the thinnish sport seats, and our butts and backs were road weary by the end of the trip, although I'm getting ahead of our story a bit. To put a finer point on it, overall comfort levels are by no means unbearable, it's simply that the car it on the stiffer, louder side of things. I'd gladly hop in a GT C for another multi-hour drive.

For the sake of brevity, we nixed the New Mexico portion of our "plan" and opted to head directly to Phoenix after the Grand Canyon. Chalk it up to our eyes being bigger than the clock when it comes to viewing Google Maps—you'd think two boys born and raised in Texas would know a thing or two about the time it takes to cover wide-open spaces. I'd also guess said Texas blood has long since washed away in the Pacific, because as we made our way into Phoenix, we nervously watched the exterior temp readout climb beyond 115 degrees. During one highway run to lunch, we saw 135 degrees. No sweat for the GT C, though. Cooled seats and icy air-conditioning kept our brains unboiled, and with the rigors of modern vehicle testing in its pocket, the 4.0-liter was completely unphased by the atomized lava being sucked into the intake.

This diversion gave us more of a chance to discover what a stylish and appealing city Phoenix is, at least close to the downtown area, where steel sculptures, bright murals, and architecturally striking houses can be found at every turn. The GT C fit right in; it's an insanely good-looking car, especially with its long hood, short read deck, and Carrera Panamericana-inspired front grille. Against the steel and beige backround of Phoenix, the red supercoupe popped. This is a great car for making an appearance in; it's not so flashy as to offend, but still haute couture enough to be welcome at any red carpet or valet line.

After a few very hot but very fun days in Arizona, we pointed the GT C's wide nose toward Joshua Tree and eventually Los Angeles. Joshua Tree was unfortunately a bit of a wash; we got there after official hours, and even 20 miles or so onto the grounds, we didn't see many of the namesake plants. No matter, we were ready to be back in more familiar territory after 1,000 or so miles on the road.

What a weekend. The much-needed catch-up session was just about perfect—as was, ultimately, making the trip in one of the coolest, sharpest supercoupes on the market. I'd gladly do this all over again, but next time we're going to Arizona in the winter.

2020 Mercedes-AMG GT C Coupe Specifications
ON SALE Now
PRICE $148,295 (base)
ENGINE 4.0L DOHC 32-valve twin-turbo V-8; 550 hp @ 5,750-6,250 rpm, 502 lb-ft @ 1,900-5,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
LAYOUT 2-door, 2-passenger, front-engine, RWD coupe
EPA MILEAGE 15/21 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 179.0 x 79.0 x 50.7 in
WHEELBASE 103.5 in
WEIGHT 3,748 lb
0-60 MPH 3.6 seconds (mfr)
TOP SPEED 196 mph (mfr)
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