IT’S A well-known fact, at least to motor company bosses, that luxury sports cars are desired by adolescents but bought by the middle-aged. Young men don’t have the money, and even if they did, they couldn’t afford the insurance.
Take the Mercedes-AMG GT R, for example. It looks as though it has been plucked straight from a poster on a teenager’s bedroom wall. Bright colours, fat tyres, huge scoops and a rear aerofoil as big as a dining table. It’s as if Mercedes were aiming to make the next Bond car.
The £143,245 price tag will restrict it to the wealthy, but Mercedes knows that inside the head of every banker or chartered accountant is a juvenile trying to get out (women do buy these vehicles, but the main market is stubbornly male). Accordingly, this car is packed with features that can only be intended to satisfy adolescent streaks.
The engine sound, for instance, is deliberately loud. Normally, engineers work tirelessly to eliminate the friction that produces noise, because it equates to inefficiency and wear. Far from removing it from the GT R, Mercedes has engineered more of it.
True, other manufacturers do the same (stand up, Ford and Peugeot), with fake electronic noise, but Mercedes has succeeded by using exhaust valves that make the GT R sound, at idle, like a powerboat tethered to a jetty. There’s a button that ups the level from loud to very loud.
The tyres are Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s — the choice of racing drivers — and you won’t ever use their cornering ability on a slog round the M25. Indeed, their stickiness increases fuel consumption. But that isn’t the point — you know they’re there if you need them.
Likewise the clever aerodynamics that increase downforce and improve roadholding, and the traction control system with its eight settings — eight! — allowing you to dial from Comfort to Race mode and everything between. And that doesn’t include Off. I challenge anyone — including Tobias Moers, the head of AMG, Mercedes’ tuning division, whose baby this car is — to undergo a blind test and tell which setting he is in. It doesn’t matter, though. You pick one to go with how you feel.
“It’s big but nimble, like Muhammad Ali. You wouldn’t guess to drive it that it tips the scales at more than 1½ tons”
And so it continues. There’s more power — 74bhp of it — than in the original GT, and it has active four-wheel steering. In other words, the back wheels point in the opposite direction to the front wheels at speeds of up to 62mph, and in the same direction at speeds above 62mph.
The result is that this car is dazzlingly, brilliantly fast on straights and through corners. So fast that it will snatch the breath from your lungs as you launch it down the track. It’s big but nimble, like Muhammad Ali. You wouldn’t guess to drive it that it tips the scales at more than 1½ tons or that the distance between the axles is more than 8ft.
Mercedes is keen to crow that the GT R has set a record on the Nürburgring racetrack for the fastest road-legal rear-wheel-drive car (niche sports cars such as the Radical SR8 excepted). It’s a fact to drop casually at the pub — along with your AMG key fob.
Completing the lap in 7 minutes and 10.9 seconds, it was quicker by almost 11 seconds than the Ferrari 488 GTB and only a couple of seconds behind the legendary Nissan GT-R Nismo. Maybe the GT R’s Kermit colour scheme suited the circuit’s nickname, “the Green Hell”. This, boasts Mercedes, is the hardest-core, most track-focused of its AMG family.
Unfortunately, though, the car has a problem — and it’s the same one as Bruno Senna has. He is a fine driver, but no matter how hard he tries, he will never be Ayrton. In 2009 Mercedes unveiled the SLS AMG, a sports car that took its inspiration from the 1954 Mercedes 300SL, or “Gullwing”, the fastest production car of its day.
The SLS was the first car that AMG’s designers were given a free rein to sketch from the wheels up by their bosses at Mercedes, and the result was a preposterous thundering tyrannosaur of a machine.
Celebrities climbed out of their Toyota Priuses to acquire one. According to Hollywood websites, its fan club included Eddie Murphy, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Al Pacino, Mark Wahlberg, Sylvester Stallone and Tom Hanks.
Jeremy Clarkson referred to it as “the greatest car in the world”, concluding that “it’s more powerful than a Ferrari 458, just, it’s a little bit louder than a Lamborghini and it’s way more fun than the 911 RS GT Turbo 3S, or whatever this week’s ultimate Beetle (ie, Porsche) is called; this is the thinking man’s supercar.”
Of course it couldn’t last. The SLS’s thirsty 6.2-litre engine became a symbol of excess in the austerity years. Bosses in Stuttgart wheeled out an electric version to mollify regulators, but it was like Marlboro offering to sell a few iron lungs to offset millions of cigarettes.
Just five years into production, the SLS was put down and replaced by a decaf GT with an engine only two-thirds the size and no gullwing doors.
Since then, AMG has been trying to use bits of the dead dinosaur’s DNA to make a new monster. The GT R is its best effort yet. It costs £45,000 more than the basic GT but it’s more car for your money and worth it. To keep up with the latest offerings from Ferrari and Porsche, you’ll need the extra power and the four-wheel steering. It’s still no tyrannosaur, but at least it’s a velociraptor. And your teenager will love it.
Jeremy Clarkson is away
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