LAS VEGAS, Nevada — In the wake of the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren and SLS AMG drop-tops comes the 2018 Mercedes-AMG GT C Roadster, an all-new, soft-top sister to the brutish GT coupe. With extroverted styling, head-turning coolness, and astonishing performance potential, could Affalterbach’s latest creation be a sensuous, open-air sports car we fall in love with? Where better to fall in love than Vegas.
Top off in Vegas
We’re in a top-of-the-line, pre-production version of the coming GT C Roadster with 550 horsepower. That’s 81 more horses than the base model GT Roadster also on the way. (The GT C is slotted between the GT/GT S and the GT R in the pecking order, and it’s possible we’ll see a GT C coupe someday.) Hit the starter button, and out of the two tailpipes come tonalities of a WWI fighter plane fused with the growls of a choir of angry grizzlies. It’s a catchy and chilling beat.
Sadly, we can’t drive the GT C yet, but in the driver’s seat is the head of Mercedes-AMG, Tobias Moers. He blips the throttle and causes the GT C to leap forward from the forecourt of the Cosmopolitan hotel. After five miles in slow-flowing traffic, we notice the GT C has a choppy ride, and so we move to put the adaptive dampers in Comfort mode — except they’re already in Comfort. With 265/35R-19 Michelin Pilot Sport tires up front and 305/30R-20s in the back, the GT C is tuned for grip, not Las Vegas Boulevard cruising. Despite its high-performance intentions, the GT C copes well with high-speed undulations, longer amplitude changes, and porous surfaces as we head east on I-15, sandwiched between semitrucks.
Many convertible manufacturers now allow users to operate their car’s folding top at speeds up to 30 mph, but AMG unofficially raised the bar to 35 mph. Comments Moers: “It’s all about having an edge over the competition, isn’t it?” With the top up, the GT C is a speedy, cossetting cocoon—noisy enough to stir emotions, comfortable enough to eat miles for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The seats are excellent, as is the cabin’s high-end material mix. The curved dashboard is pretty but protrudes deep into the wide-but-short cabin, eating away available legroom. The gear lever sits too far back, the buttons flanking the center console cannot be located without taking one’s eyes off the road, and the shiny, black plastic haptic controller can be confusing to use.
Somewhere more intimate
The straight, radar-infested roads around Las Vegas make for a poor playground, so we veer off into a nature reserve. Unfortunately there’s a frustrating 25-mph speed limit that keeps us from doing too many 3.7-second 0-to-60-mph runs, but soon the open road beckons, and the man at the wheel twists the drive mode knob to Sport. The suspension dampers stiffen up, the chassis drops a bit, and the decibel level goes up. The twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 has a flat torque curve with absolutely phenomenal mid-range thrust that should only be tapped into by those with stable personalities.
The AMG roadster climbs uphill esses with accuracy and verve, and it carves through kinks and over curvy descents with sure-footed confidence. A wider footprint and rear-wheel steering have enhanced agility and controllability. Countersteer is active up to 60 mph; any faster and all four wheels turn in the same direction. Optional carbon-ceramic brakes bite so hard that a standard, stacked, manual fabric top would by now have unwantedly flipped forward and slammed shut as we slowed. An electronically controlled diff lock is supposed to tame any tire spin, but one touch of the stability control button and the GT C turns into a redneck rubber smoker. According to Moers, the steering isn’t quite dialed in, but he seems happy with how this early pre-production car drives. “A complex product like this is always work in progress,” says Moers. “When you think you’re finally done with it, the successor is already well under way.”
What love costs
The 2018 Mercedes-AMG GT roadster aims to fill the gap between two stable mates, the SLC43 AMG and SL63 AMG, and we think it hits the target. The GT C version is expected to cost more than $160,000 — some $22,000 more than the base softtop — but it’s easier to accept that price when you realize that the GT C delivers far more power and will offer more features than the base GT Roadster. And when you consider the SLS AMG roadster started at almost $200,000, and that secondhand prices have gone up, the 2018 Mercedes-AMG GT C Roadster becomes even more attractive. It may be too wide, too heavy, or too raunchy for some, but it goes like stink, is fairly priced, and causes public nuisances in the best ways imaginable. We can’t wait to drive it and see if it really is an open-air sports car we could love.