The track-honed Mercedes-AMG GT R gains power, agility and poise, to the benefit of lap times of course, but also its ability on the road. We've driven the mighty coupe on both, just to be sure.
In the metal
Just a few numbers and sponsor decals away from its GT3 racing relative, the Mercedes-AMG GT R is unashamed in its intent as the most focused and exciting model in the expanding AMG GT line-up. Differentiating it is the Carrera Panamericana SL-aping front grille, its vertical strakes framed by new headlights, which, in time, will be adopted in the GT S (the new GT Roadster already features the new face). There's a wider track front and rear, in which a larger wheel and tyre package lurks, while the front wings are built of carbon fibre - the rears are aluminium as before.
Carbon fibre features more extensively in its structure elsewhere in the form of additional bracing in the transmission tunnel and more besides, allowing a standard GT R to weigh in at 15kg less than the standard GT S. That might not sound like a huge saving, but it's been achieved despite the addition of elements like active engine and transmission mounts, a rear-wheel steering system and an active aero package that directs cooling and stability increasing airflow under and through the car. Its track focus is as clear inside, where fixed back bucket seats hold you firmly, while the centre console contains a yellow dial for nine traction control levels - an element borrowed directly from AMG's racer.
Introductions don't come more intimidating than being sat in the pit lane at the Portimao circuit in Portugal and hearing five-time DTM champion Bernd Schneider's voice cracking on the radio saying: "let's go". Usefully, the circuit's the same as we drove only a few weeks ago in the Mercedes-AMG E 63 S, but we also know that Bernd doesn't hang about, and the GT R's a more serious proposition. Obviously there's an increase in performance; that's thanks to revised turbos in the 'hot' V blowing with greater pressure and so the entire induction system has been revised to suit. The result is a heady 585hp and 700Nm from AMG's familiar 4.0-litre biturbo V8. The engine is mounted on dynamic mounts, as is the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, all the better for the GT R to manage its mass and, ultimately, improve its agility.
Bernd suggests we use Race mode, with ESP turned off and that trick traction control rotary clicked around to the mid-point for these early laps. The GT R's greater focus is immediately apparent from the noise it makes. The GT S is hardly a quiet car, but the R exudes a new level of authority from under its long bonnet and active exhaust. For a forced induction engine, the AMG's 4.0-litre is surprisingly hungry for revs and while it's quick everywhere, it's at its best in the final portion of the rev-counter's sweep. Chase that redline and the gearshifts punch through with conviction, though it's not quite as decisive on downshifts. The blaring crackling and popping that accompanies them is compensation for the occasional double pull of the left-hand paddle.
We've established before that the GT S is fast, and the GT R is faster still. However, it adds a level of sophistication to the mix over the sometimes uncouth GT S. The wider track, that active front aero and the rear-wheel steering system bring with it greater stability, both down the long start-finish straight and the fast sweeping corners that bookend it. The steering is sharper, while turn-in is aided by those rear wheels' movement. The brakes, optional carbon ceramic items that shave 15.3kg of mass and a large number from your bank balance, are mighty.
Standing repeatedly on the brake pedal from the 265km/h that's possible at the end of the longest straight sees no let up in their stopping power, while the GT R's ample grip allows us to trail brake into the corner with confidence. The steering's greater turn-in precision is obvious, the wider track's increased stability and the greater contact patch from the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s allowing the GT R to carry its greater speed with ease. It'll move around under you, depending on that traction control setting, though the shift from neutrality to needing some corrective lock is more accessible and exploitable than in its GT S relative. That greater level of information is clear throughout the entire car's make up, so it's less challenging, yet hugely engaging to drive hard around a circuit.
The clearer information and higher limits are evident on the road, too, where the GT R's greater sophistication shines through. That's particularly true regarding the suspension, as the coil-over set up - with variable dampers - exhibits finer control on the road, allowing the GT R to ride with relative civility even in its tauter Sport and Sport+ settings. The GT R lacks the fidgety, sometimes spiky nature of the GT S as a result of the suspension and that rear axle steering, making for a more engaging, exciting and enjoyable car on the road.
What you get for your money
Although we don't have an official Irish price, we know that there's a sizeable premium for the GT R over a GT S, but then the GT R's technical changes are rather revelatory, and they create a more exciting, faster track car, but also a better road one. If you're even considering a GT S, the GT R should be on your radar too, as it is well worth the extra.
AMG's most track-orientated car might come with a Nürburgring lap record shattering promise, but the changes that allow it to achieve that are to the benefit of the overall package. This is Mercedes-AMG's best GT model yet, by a sizeable margin.