It begins at a San Francisco stoplight, when a sun-kissed brunette rolls up next to the 2016 Mercedes-AMG GT S I’m driving. “Oh, my God. That car is so beautiful. What is that?”
Not five minutes into our drive, the car has passed its first test: Women dig it.
Mercedes’ absurdly photogenic, long-nosed newcomer gets A’s in other critical sports-car exams, too—from acceleration to clock-ticking laps at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. But the shift-and-brake world is only concerned with one question: Is this German freshman really in the same league as the classic Porsche 911?
In truth, it’s a trick question. As only the second car fully designed by AMG, Mercedes’ performance division, this upstart can’t simply wax away five decades of Porsche glory. Still, that hasn’t stopped Mercedes from painting a bull’s-eye on the 911. The first salvo was the GT S’s departing predecessor, the 583-horsepower, roughly $220,000 SLS AMG, a legitimate, surprisingly hard-core supercar. Consider the GT S a mildly scaled- down, more earthbound and affordable version. It shares the basic aluminum space frame but loses the bravura gull-wing doors and surfboard-length hood.
Still, the GT S is one sleek sports car, with a three-pointed star on its suggestive snout, sprawling hips, and a roof that evokes classic SLs of the ’50s and ’60s. Viewed from the rear, it recalls an ’80s Porsche 928—risky business, but it works.
The GT S we’re hustling down Highway 1 to Monterey starts at about $132,000. It goes on sale in April. Next spring, a roughly $112,000, 462-horsepower GT will grace the pavement.
Both share a front-mounted, 4.0-liter bi-turbo V-8, with the GT S boosted to 510 horsepower. That power courses through a snappy dual-clutch, seven-speed transmission. Every element of the car’s personality—steering, throttle, suspension, transmission, the throaty exhaust—can be adjusted for any type of pavement assault.
Shoving that V-8 entirely behind the front axle does wonders for balance, but it forces a bulging, space-stealing center console inside. The dashboard is lavish: stitched leather, frosted with bull’s-eye vents and a tablet-like screen. But the shifter sits awkwardly near your right elbow, surrounded by a hectic array of dials. Footwells are tight, there’s no backseat, and a gun-slit windshield narrows the view. The effect is like being zipped into a zentai suit and booted onto the runway.
Yet if the cockpit recalls a designer barrel, then the performance is a daredevil ride over Niagara—or the Corkscrew, the half-blind plunge at Laguna Seca. Steering is spot-on and lively, handling limits are high, and optional carbon ceramic brakes halt from epic speeds with no fade.
On public roads, the Mercedes casts the same performance spell, the culmination of AMG’s wizardly engineering and growing confidence in its powers. Coursing down Skyline Boulevard on the spine of the Santa Cruz mountains, the car slingshots from corner to corner with howling arrogance.
So here’s your answer: Twenty years ago, no one could have imagined that conservative Mercedes would ever deliver such a race-bred two-seater. But the AMG GT S, even with a few minor missteps, proves this: The company might not directly outdo Porsche, but it knows how to build a bulldog capable of sinking its teeth into the hindquarters of the 911 and never letting go.
Photos by Mercedes