MERCEDES - AMG GT63 S 4 - DOOR. It’s Merc’s M5
Don’t get distracted by the semi-coupe body and the complexities of the Merc-AMG hierarchy: this is a head-on rival for BMW’s big performance saloon. By Georg Kacher
EXIT THE CLS SHOOTING Brake, enter the new AMG GT 4-Door. Seems like a fair exchange in the upper reaches of the Mercedes model line-up. The sort-of estate version of the feisty coupe was always an agreeable oddity,
whereas the four-door version of the high-performance GT coupe has a very clear USP: tackle the BMW M5 at its own game.
The super-powerful, super-fast, super-expensive four- or five-seater market is starting to look a little crowded, with the Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid already established, the BMW M8 Gran Coupe on its way to join the M5, and Audi set to keep turning the dial up until the A7 becomes the RS7.
If you’ve understandably succumbed to the considerable potential for confusion as to what the awkwardly named GT 4-Door actually is, here’s a quick refresher. You know the GT? The aluminium-intensive two-seat coupe and convertible built from the ground up to be Merc’s performance flagship? Well, the 4-Door is not as closely related to that as Mercedes might like you to think. Its underpinnings are actually closer to those of the CLS than to the other GTs, and it’s no lightweight like the other GTs.
But nor is it a mis-badged CLS, even though the new CLS line-up conspicuously lacks a 63 version, which must be to avoid direct comparisons with the top two versions of the GT 4-Door.
Best just to think of the GT 4-Door as a thing unto itself, developed by AMG boss Tobias Moers and his team as a new four-seater king of the fast lane.
Pity they didn’t bother to find a suitable name for it. Solitude (Stuttgart’s historic former racetrack) was a candidate, as was Sportcruiser, and it could have been simply GT-4, but that was nixed because the punter would allegedly confuse it with the GT4 race car. Give us a break, please. This four-seater coupe which turns heads even before you start the engine deserves a catchy badge on the tailgate.
We get three versions, all of them all-wheel drive. The GT53 AMG gets an entertaining 429bhp out of its straight six, plus 22bhp from its mild hybrid electronics. There are two versions of the twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 to choose from. While the 577bhp 63 edition has already got what it takes to twist the driveshafts dizzy, the 630bhp S variant is the real tarmac-peeling McCoy. It dishes up 644lb ft of explosive torque, can play an extra bunch of chip-induced tricks and is kitted out even more flamboyantly.
Trouble is, the prices (at least in mainland Europe; UK prices have not yet been announced) are significantly more than even the Competition version of the key rival, the M5.
What do you get for your money? A proper four-seat coupe body, for a start, with enough room in the back for sixfooters.
Having said that, entry and exit are compromised by the bulging sill, the bulky front seats and the sloping roofline. The wide and flat boot holds 461 litres of luggage, easily expanded by playing with the split bench.
The infotainment controls seem unlikely to please either digital natives or analogue silver-agers. The flimsy swipe buttons on both spokes of the steering wheel are an object lesson in hit and miss, while the touchpad that replaced the Comand controller between the seats just isn’t sufficiently intuitive. The new A-Class makes it easier to access its talents than this flagship coupe, and that’s even before we turn our attention to the complex second display on top of the centre stack. You can waste a lot of time in a car park with the engine running, singlefingerdly scrolling, swiping, zooming, pushing, grinning, despairing and cursing through this haptic maze.
But this fades into irrelevance when you get out on the road, ideally in the 63 S, which is the version that really delivers the goods. Why the S? For a start because of the extra poke and grunt, but also because of such high-performance enhancements as the tauter air suspension, quicker rear-wheel steering and six remarkably clever driving modes complete with the marque’s trademark drift mode.
All these features are, incidentally, available for the lesser models. While the two-door GT coupé comes (in R form) with a bright yellow drift mode thumbwheel, which takes eight steps to remove the safety net, the fourdoor has a different set up, coming with 4Matic+ all-wheel drive as standard.
Just like the M5, it deactivates frontwheel drive when it’s sure that’s what the driver really wants. First, you must select Race. Next, choose manual gear selection. Now switch off ESP completely. At this point, a screen pops up instructing you to simultaneously pull both shift paddles. The final move is to confirm this setting. To do so, hit the right paddle one more time. At this point, blood pressure and pulse rate should match the unhinged driftability, the adrenalin flow rate may have doubled, and the palms are bound to be moist.
On the racetrack, hard cornering is a totally different ball game now, primarily because you look at most apexes through a side window. After only two laps, the tyre pressure sensors begin to beep for mercy, but after a brief pitstop we’re back out again, burning rubber with absolute dedication.
The main handicap is its weight With a full tank of petrol and the driver on board, the S rolls off the scales at an almost obese 2120kg – that’s normally a big-SUV figure. Shifting all that mass and bulk is, however, amazingly effortless. The two most important pub-ammo numbers – acceleration from 0-62mph and top speed – are 3.2sec and 196mph, so congratulations for bewitching the law of physics. You’ll pay the price at the pumps, though. In addition to familiar adjustable parameters like ESP and damper control, the S version comes with a further enhancement called AMG Dynamics. This feature bundles the actions of stability control, 4Matic torque distribution, rear-wheel steering actuation and limited-slip diff calibration in four fixed attitudes labelled Basic, Advanced, Pro and Master. Sounds confusing, but works a treat. Every level becomes more challenging as you move up the ladder.
AMG Dynamics can be personalised. While it is not possible to activate ESP in Master, it is for instance worth trying ESP off in combination with Basic. It works really well on road and track, where it makes it easy for the driver to adapt without compromising confidence.
It’s not long since the days when the Comfort setting in some AMG saloons was synonymous with an almost total lack of compliance. The new slantback takes no prisoners in Sport Plus and Race, but there is enough spring travel and shock absorber mercy in Sport, even on some quite poor surfaces.
With Master activated, body movements are kept extremely well in check, cornering is encouragingly flat, and waywardness is kept to an absolute minimum. As always, tyre temperatures can spoil the fun, but even on hot rubber our test track’s most challenging section, involving three successive high-speed fourth-gear esses, is wide enough to let you play with the line, tweak the entry speed and connect to the following right-hander without losing too much momentum.
Add to this the Loctite roadholding, the dobermann cornering grip and the robust manners at the limit, and you get a good idea of how speed and control join forces in this remarkable sports coupe. The optional carbon-ceramic brakes generate one punch of counterthrust after the other, which is essential on the circuit and extremely reassuring elsewhere. Despite all the stabilityenhancing trickeries, the 295-section tyres don’t take a lot of persuading to leave a souvenir on every second- and third-gear turn.
The engine asks a lot of the ninespeed twin-clutch transmission. The initial escape from first into second gear can be a tad jerky, even in Comfort.
But it’s a different story when you’re pushing hard. The way chassis and steering interact with the torque flow builds up your confidence, and you get to choose how wild you want the ride to be, from mild slides to tyre-smokers.
When the car turns in and the stubby rear end swings round, you can leave it ridiculously late before feeding in the power along with a matching dose of opposite lock.
Mercedes will almost certainly do the lion’s share of GT 4-Door business with the 3.0-litre model. It’s a compelling car for sure, advanced in concept and a great all-rounder. But it doesn’t come even close the outlandishly fast and wholly awesome GT63 S.
Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid Merc’s mighty V8 tops the hybrid; they’re equal on awkward names
BMW M5 But we’ll need to drive them back to back to be sure
BMW M5 The smart money will wait until the M8 and RS7 arrive
Chassis and engine in harmony
H A T E
Fiddly switchgear, high price
V E R D I C T
Power and passion in a remarkable package
★ ★ ★ ★ ★