2018 Mercedes-AMG GT Roadster First Drive: A Sexy Summons To Drive... Hard
– Phoenix, Arizona
Sport+ Mode is going to mess around and get me in trouble. I’m on the very last wave of the launch program for the 2018 Mercedes-AMG GT Roadster, and the journalists who’ve driven this way before me – louts to a man – have certainly done their damnedest to alert the local cops. Still, facing down yet another series of switchbacks, I up the tempo on the dance – brake, steering lock, throttle, repeat – that I’ve been enjoying the whole way up this hill. I’m getting brave, and this time the tail kicks out for one squirmy, glorious second, before grabbing the silk-smooth pavement and rocketing me forward. Forget about the dowdy posted speed limits; forget that a trooper was hiding around a corner a few kilometres back just like this one; let’s go.
Before this road turned curvy, I’d almost forgotten what a mean and racy thing this GT could be. When I first drove the coupe version of the model a few years back, I’d been shocked at how alive it felt. Good feeling through the steering wheel, a sensuous exhaust note rising from the fat rear pipes, and an unlikely ability to feel playful by way of throttle application and quick application of steering.
None of that has disappeared with the Roadster – the car may look as serious as a hedge fund manager, but it really rewards you for getting after it. The stiffer, more traditional feeling of big brother SL is nowhere to be found. Moreover, the droptop has the kind of movie star good looks that make me feel pretty special as soon as I drop behind the wheel.
The convertible is lovely, no two ways about it. I’m told that every inch of bodywork, every muscular scoop venting or sucking air, is functional. The low, round, female lines almost obviate that story before I hear it; clearly the Roadster was shaped by the wind, and only assembled by humans. I’m not sure there’s a more beautiful convertible on the road today. Mainline competitors like the Porsche 911 Cabriolet and Audi R8 Spyder are both striking, but neither are so sensuous or classic. Just compare the bustle-back of the Porsche to the elliptical curve that defines the Mercedes rear view; I defy anyone to choose Stuttgart’s offering based on the rump alone.
The droptop has the kind of movie star good looks that make me feel pretty special as soon as I drop behind the wheel.
It’s fairly sumptuous inside the two-seat cabin, too. Mercedes has repeated the same chromed porthole-shape vents and sweeping trim panels here as you’ll recognize from lesser products in the range, along with the same upright infotainment screen that so many commenters don’t care for (no, it cannot retract). Controls are a bit quirky – the buttons and knobs and starter button on the massive centre console take a little getting used to, as does the dinky gear selector… and the very odd ignition inside the cubby under the armrest. Great quality leather and exceptional touch points make up for the slightly weird control layout, I decide. And I can’t be mad at any two-seater that offers the luxury of space for someone as tall as I am (six-feet, five-inches).
Even when the killer Arizona sun forces me to put the top up (there’s not enough sunscreen in the world, man), the fit remains. A triple-layer cloth top not only clears my head, but it snugs up the interior in really impressive quiet. The fact that it can be raised in about 11 seconds is just the cherry on top. Remind me why we need retractable hardtops again?
Mercedes has seemingly no end of micro-segmentations for its model lines, and it’s clear that the GT won’t be an exception. (A pretty defensible position, considering that the market-dominating 911 can be had in dozens of flavors.) The GT Roadster will go to market with two variants in the fall of this year, joining some four versions of the GT Coupe for a full-frontal assault on Porsche.
The base GT Roadster offers 469 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque from its biturbocharged, 4.0-litre V8 engine, while the souped-up GT C gets 550 hp and 502 lb-ft from the same displacement. Driving more than 480 kilometres of suburban, wilderness, and freeway routes, I can report that the C feels quicker, though its little brother is far from slow. The AMG stopwatch calls the difference in 0-60 miles per hour (0-96 kilometres per hour) time just 0.2 seconds between the pair (3.9 seconds for GT and 3.7 for the GT C), while top speed jumps from 188 to 196 mph (302 - 315 km/h) . Both versions use an excellent seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that has rapid manual response, and no-compromise automatic programming. I’ll say boldly that the more powerful car is “better” but by such a subtle margin you’d have to be an output obsessive to truly sweat it.
I’ve mentioned how edgy the car can be in the aggro S+ setting, but even Comfort mode reveals a balanced and grippy machine.
In theory the revised suspension, with rear-steering of up to 1.5 degrees, should give the GT C a significant advantage in terms of fast-twitch handling. Unfortunately those tight and winding mountain roads were a little trafficky when I had my turn driving that car, so I didn’t get many at-speed handling impressions of the more advanced suspension setup. I’ll happily revisit the subject, as soon as Mercedes sends a car to the Motor1 HQ.
The broader handling profile though, is exceptionally pleasant. I’ve mentioned how edgy the car can be in the aggro S+ setting, but even Comfort mode reveals a balanced and grippy machine. When pushed the GT offers up really neutral and predictable handling. Perhaps even more impressive, while cruising around the posh parts of Paradise Valley and Scottsdale, ride quality was excellent, with no untoward bumping or crashing from the staggered 19- and 20-inch wheels (front and rear). If your use case involves a little more “driving to dinner” than “caning it on a canyon road,” you’re in good hands.
When the “Main Competitors” field of your data and specifications sheet lists only the Porsche 911 and the Audi R8, you know you’re a sports car breathing rarified air. Real talk demands that I confirm: you can’t make a bad choice buying any of these three hot-sex-pot sports cars. But in this arena performance is a given, and looks really can carry the day, and Mercedes-AMG has the prettiest girl on the block. It’s hard to see how it doesn’t continue to scoop up market share in this six-figure space.
Official Canadian pricing has yet to drop, but expect that the AMG GT Roadster will kick off around $185,000, and leap up quickly from there as the options pile on. I’d look for the GT C to play right around $200,000 or so, where the 911 Turbo Cabriolet currently lives. My test cars were European models, so clear information on options packages and the pricing of them will have to come in a later piece of review, as well. That’s two reasons for me to drive this car again, for those of you keeping score.
I don’t even really press for pricing info during the day. Call me a bad reporter if you will, but I’m a dogged corner hunter. Face it, every version of the Roadster is expensive, and talking money is so dull, when there’s such good driving to do.