The New Rivalry: 2016 Mercedes-AMG GT S vs. 2015 Porsche 911 GTS
Same orbit, new orbiter.
Silvretta Alps, Austris -- The dark blue 2016 Mercedes-AMG GT S, unleashed here for the very first time, is the baddest Benz ever made, even meaner than last year's SLS Black Series and more awesome than the mega-expensive yet underwhelming McLaren-engineered SLR. But the 503-hp AMG GT S, which arrives in dealerships early next year, is not satisfied with merely beating its corporate forebears. It wants to club the competition. That's why, for this exclusive drive of the 2016 Mercedes-AMG GT S, we've brought along a Guards Red Porsche 911 in its new GTS trim.
AMG's newest creation announces itself loud and clear. Its angry part-throttle exhaust rumble makes heads swivel, its full-throttle low-gear acceleration borders on indecent behavior, its hard cornering inevitably produces some serious tire squeal, and the flat-out roar is bound to reach your ears long before the car comes into sight. You call up these extroverted antics from an imposing cabin that is largely inherited from the SLS. The passenger cell is short and wide, rear three-quarter visibility is compromised, and the driving position is defined by the towering instrument panel, wide transmission tunnel, and too-close-for-comfort rear firewall. The AMG's imposing environment is garnished with a battery of large air vents; a high-definition in-dash color monitor; a pricey blend of optional soft leathers and matte carbon-fiber inlays; a center stack loaded with buttons, knobs, switches; and a stubby joystick gear selector. It's a stage set for stardom, but it falls short in terms of legroom, airiness (even with the optional panorama roof), outward visibility, and ergonomic clarity.
To the uneducated, the Porsche 911 GTS is just another Nine-Eleven. In reality, however, the latest wide-body iteration wants to be the sportiest model this side of the halo specials. It comes with unique black 20-inch wheels, blacked-out bi-xenon headlamps, selected aero kit elements, low-drag mirrors, a custom rear apron, four black tailpipes, and two lines of solid black badging on the bumper below the adjustable tail rudder. Our test car has rear-wheel drive to match the 2016 Mercedes-AMG GT S, but all-wheel drive is available. Snug-fitting sports seats, an Alcantara-wrapped helm, and tasty GTS cues dress up the interior. What you notice in contrast to the AMG is the Porsche has a more spacious cabin replete with (tiny) rear seats, despite its more compact dimensions. It doesn't take long to get used to the overdose of rectangular pushbuttons on the center console, but it's more difficult to excuse the absence of a true multi-function steering wheel and driver assistance systems such as blind-spot monitoring and lane-departure warning.
On the lightly trafficked Munich-to-Lindau autobahn heading to the Austrian-Swiss border, the low-slung 2016 Mercedes-AMG GT S is the king of the fast lane. Relish the lane-clearing prowess that comes from the gleaming cinemascope grille and the piercing triple-reflector headlights with LED eyebrows. Feel the kick of the explosive twin-turbo V-8, which sends to the seven-speed dual-clutch transaxle 479 lb-ft of torque between 1,750 and 5,000 rpm (with the optional AMG Dynamic Plus package). Enjoy the irresistible midrange acceleration or treat yourself to the full urge of the 503-hp 4.0-liter engine by revving it through the gears all the way to the 7,200-rpm redline as the GT hurtles toward its electronically limited top speed of 193 mph.
Bold and brash: The Mercedes-AMG GT S is smoother and subtler than the old SLS, but it's still wild looking, both inside and out.
The 911 GTS musters extra horses compared to the Carrera S, but it only does so above 6,300 rpm, when a vacuum flap opens the second intake tract. Peak power of 430 hp comes on at 7,500 rpm versus 400 hp at 7,400 rpm for the Carrera S. Maximum torque is an unchanged 325 lb-ft, but it takes 5,750 instead of 5,600 rpm to manifest itself. Redline is a lofty 7,800 rpm, 600 rpm higher than in the AMG. Wring it out, and the 911 will storm from 0 to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds and from 0 to 125 mph in 13.8 seconds. That's slightly faster than a Carrera S but is still slower than what Mercedes-AMG quotes for the GT S: 3.7 seconds to 60 mph and 12.5 seconds to 125 mph.
On the autobahn, the higher-revving Porsche 911 GTS is able to stay in the slipstream of the 2016 Mercedes-AMG GT S and displays all the confidence-inspiring honesty and transparency we've come to expect from the new-breed 911. It won't bite, even when driven at nine or ten tenths. At the end of the long straight leading down to Lake Constance, the Porsche topped an unrestricted 191 mph. It is almost as fast as the Mercedes, although it takes notably longer to squeeze out the final 15 to 20 mph. Shod with extra-wide tires—245/35ZR-20 (91Y) P Zeros in the front, 305/30ZR-20 (101Y) in the back—the latest 911 handles predictably and breaks away progressively.
High-tech hammer: The GT S has 21st-century lighting and chassis electronics, but its long-nose proportions recall classic sports cars.
Before heading for the mountains, we stop to fill up and run the two beauties through a car wash. This is easier said than done in the AMG GT S, which is 76.3 inches wide with mirrors folded, eclipsing the Porsche by some 3.4 inches. The Mercedes is also thirstier in our real-world testing. Over 504 miles, the turbocharged V-8 averaged 15.6 mpg while the Porsche's naturally aspirated flat-six managed 16.9 mpg.
The northern climb to the Silvretta summit favors the Porsche. It begins with a series of about two dozen first-gear switchbacks. As the elevation increases, the road's radius expands, but the pavement remains so narrow that oncoming trucks and buses often create impromptu single-file situations. Above the tree line, the landscape opens up. The terrain is still tricky, though, thanks to the glassy, low-grip surface. The approach from the south is better suited for the AMG GT S. You can see for miles, the blacktop is generous and unruffled, and most curves can be taken in third or even fourth gear.
Stop 'n' go:
AMG's new 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V-8 has power to spare at any speed. Opposed-piston brake calipers bite 15.4-inch front rotors, and even larger, carbon-ceramic brake rotors are optional.
With stability control in handling mode, our brilliant blue Mercedes is virtually invincible on the fastest stretches of this panoramic spiral staircase. Once the turns get faster, the Mercedes licks up the road. The 47/53 percent front/rear weight distribution, the electronic diff lock, suction-cup-like Pirellis, low center of gravity, and aluminum double-wishbone suspension make this car feel agile, involving, inspiring. You really want to be in Sport Plus on demanding turf like this for its firm and meaty steering, lightning-quick gear changes, and hair-trigger throttle mapping.
The Porsche cannot pull off quite as many electronic tricks. Furthermore, the 911 commands a surcharge for goodies such as variable-effort steering, sport
suspension, and dynamic chassis control. Carbon-ceramic brakes cost extra whether you shop at Porsche or Mercedes. You also pay up for the dual-clutch transmission, but Porsche has a shift-it-yourself option Mercedes doesn't. While the 911 runs on wider footwear than the Mercedes, it actually rides better on these lumpy off-camber twisties with their crumbling shoulders and ancient repair patches. The Porsche also turns in with even more vigor, and the front sticks all the way through the corner. At the same time, the rear end carves around in g-force-defying fashion until stability control eventually steps in.
Who would have thought that the AMG would be less composed overall than its rear-engine rival? The chassis of the Mercedes could do with more compliance. When you're really flying up the hill, vertical body movements occasionally throw off the handling balance, requiring ultra-quick action at the wheel. This comes as a bit of a surprise because, like the Porsche, it rarely leaves you in doubt as to its riveting road holding and the inherently fail-safe
handling. But since there is no engine sitting on top of its driven wheels, breakaway is easily induced at lower cornering speeds.
Don't I know you?
Wider rear fenders, black wheels, and Alcantara trim distinguish the new GTS variant. But it's still a familiar 911.
At the dawn of a new era devoted to downsizing, hybridization, and electromobility, V-8s will soon be condemned as fossils from a wasteful past—so get one like the charismatic, turbocharged direct-injection, dry-sump 32-valve 3,982cc unit that is the essence of the AMG GT S while you can. A similar hymn of praise can be sung of the flat-six in the 911. The 3,800cc engine, connected to the throttle pedal via a live wire, makes all the right noises and begs to be revved hard. When the updated 911 enters the scene late next year, turbos will be mandatory. For fans of naturally aspirated, high-strung 911s, it's now or never unless your budget stretches to the GT3.
Before we wrap up, the red 911 and the blue GT S trumpet down the hill in a loose convoy one more time, landing at the bottom of the valley with crackling exhausts and sizzling brakes. What's the verdict? The Porsche is an emotional masterpiece. It combines the physique of the Carrera S with the heart of the GT3. It has lovely steering, impeccable brakes, a chassis engineered for an amazing ride-handling balance, and a quick-shifting transmission. Oh, and it has an engine that howls enchantingly, performs well, and revs to the moon. In this particular company, however, it could do with a bit more power. It also needs to offer the driver more control of its sophisticated electronics rather than grouping them in take-it-or-leave-it Sport and Sport-Plus modes.
The 2016 Mercedes-AMG GT S is a compelling autobahn stormer. The transmission is intuitive, the brakes perform with the finality of a guillotine, and the engine develops an incredible physical thrust. About 250 pounds heavier than the Porsche, the GT S is more lavishly equipped and oozes presence. But the big coupe needs space to shine. That's space as in wide roads, flowing curves, third- and fourth-gear sweepers, and smooth surfaces. Its main weaknesses are the compromised packaging and the debatable suspension tuning, which should be calmer at high speed and better buttoned-down on bumpy roads. In consideration of these flaws, the Porsche 911 GTS is the purer, more focused, and ultimately more dynamic choice. The new Mercedes-AMG is neither the perfect GT nor the perfect sports car, but it straddles the two categories with addictive appeal and ability.
2016 Mercedes-AMG GT S Specifications
- Base Price: $130,000 (est)
- Engine: 4.0-liter DOHC 32-valve V-8, 503 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 479 lb-ft @ 1,750-5,000 rpm
- Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
- 2-door, 2-passenger, front-engine, RWD hatchback
- L x W x H: 179.8 x 76.3 x 50.2 in
- Wheelbase: 103.5 in
- Weight: 3,450 lb (est)
- EPA Mileage (city/ highway): 16/23 mpg (est)
2015 Porsche 911 GTS Specifications
- Base Price: $115,195
- Engine: 3.8-liter DOHC 24-valve flat-6, 430 hp @ 7,500 rpm, 325 lb-ft @ 5,750 rpm
- Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
- 2-door, 4-passenger, rear-engine RWD coupe
- L x W x H: 177.5 x 72.9 x 51.0 in
- Wheelbase: 96.5 in
- Weight: 3,186 lb
- EPA Mileage (city/ highway): 18/26 mpg (est)