► Most powerful production AMG tested
► Hardcore Black Series returns in AMG GT
► Is it worth the £335,000 asking price?
With 730bhp under its phallic bonnet, the low-flying stance of a widebody skate board and that towering double-decker wingwork, the latest AMG Black Series is itching to conquer a circuit near you.
This new AMG GT Black is the flagship of flagships for Merc’s AMG sports car range and comes absolutely loaded with racing-spec technology. Even in the farthest flung corner of the animal kingdom where the meanest beasts lurk and display behaviour, the new GT Black Series stands out from the other alpha males by radiating a mix of aggression and ability, of risk appetite and combat readiness.
At a glance, the winged coupé appears wider than an Actros truck, every bit as mean as an LMP2 racer, vulgar like a custom-built wannabe pace-setter and stuffed with the steroids of a drag racer. The stacked rear wings look like superfast launch pads for a pair of synchronised albatrosses (top) and two dozen aerobatic starlings (bottom). While both planes can be fixed at three different angles, only the top level boasts an integrated adjustable flap governed by the drive mode selector.
To enhance the front-end ground effect, the Black Series is furthermore equipped with a pull-out carbon fibre undertray attached to the grille via two prominent chrome fasteners. A quick walkaround reveals too many deflectors, winglets, slats, fins, diffusors, flaps, ducts and louvres to count. In sum, these devices are said to create up to 500 kilos of nicely balanced downforce along with that coveted badass scarface look designed to make the blood of the competitors freeze in its veins.
What’s underneath the bonnet?
Between 6700 and 6900rpm, there is 720bhp rattling the carbon fibre cage. From 2000 to 6000rpm, a whopping 590lb ft of twist force plays havoc with the seven-speed dual-clutch auto, the carbonfibre propshaft inside the carbonfibre torque tube, the wizard rear diff and the special-compound Michelin supersofts which are, turn by turn, assuming a stickier marshmallow-ish state.
The 0-62mph stunt is a 3.2sec knockout session, the 0-125mph experience is a raucous 8.9sec blitzkrieg, the 0-188mph (200kph) time-warp exercise is pure somatic overkill in a still-TBC 25.4sec. This is seriously ballistic stuff, period. After all, the partly redesigned dry-sump flat-crank 4.0litre V8 puts out 145bhp more than the GT R unit, which is not exactly undernourished either at 577bhp. In combination with around 50 kilos of weight savings through material substitution, the lower centre of gravity and the more extreme aerodynamics, the Black Series is promoted out of the box from supercar to hypercar status.
Let’s get driving!
After a couple of warm-up laps, the blat-blatting black-over-orange test car grinds to a sweating, smelly and sizzling halt in the pit lane of the Oschersleben Speed Park. While the minders flitter in like a flock of uniformed doves, the person next in line is still processing small measures of strength and courage in a last-minute attempt to fuse the outwardly stoic physique and the close to hysterical inner self. The routine which follows is meant to have the same effect as 100mg of Prozac, but on a day like today this theory is as grey as the alcantara trim of the beckoning workstation. Would you please take off the glasses, put on the face mask, decide on a helmet size and shove the spectacles back in before pulling the chin strap tight.
As always, the field of vision does not look quite right anymore: the bottom end of the visor divides it like a horizontal meridian, the acuity is okay on the left but gin and tonic blurred on the right, and the goggles are steaming up faster than Manfred and Toni can tighten the safety belt origami over where it hurts. When everything is locked in place, the claustrophobic headroom, legroom and bumroom set the scene for the things to come. Bernd Schneider, multiple DTM champ and leading instructor, sticks his head through the window. 'Stay within your comfort zone, don't overdrive the front tyres, be careful when deactivating ESP.' I promise by all saints to comply.
The long run to the first corner is much too short to prioritize the do’s and don’ts, file first impressions, recap the track layout, take a quick glance at the key settings and coax the stressed body into making peace with this vicious screw clamp of a racing seat. Bernd wastes no time speeding up the action because not going full whack from the very first left-hander means picking up plenty of marbles which are even harder to lose than that vertical whale-teeth grimace of car number three in the rear-view mirror.
Despite the initial zeal and enthusiasm, the search for the ultimate flow is still far from complete at the end of the first stint. While the transmission responds to energizing Sport Plus inputs like a hungry brown trout to the mayfly, the suspension keeps snapping at the uneven Lausitzring turf like a lab puppet mauling his master´s slippers. There is too much front-end interference disturbing the trajectory through the third- and fourth-gear sections, and too much rear axle kickback when accelerating out of the slower corners. Also, the pressure of the front tyres has already gone up by three tenths, suggesting we should pit again and make further adjustments. While the mechanics do their job, Bernd Schneider recommends a slightly different set-up.
‘Try the dampers in Sport for improved compliance. Leave Dynamic Select in Race and switch ESP off completely, but don´t go higher than three on the nine-step traction control scale.’ ESP off, are you sure? ‘Absolutely. The so-called Master mode locks the rear wing in the most upright position for maximum downforce while Ride Control caters individually for each wheel, minimizing understeer and thus further honing the handling balance.’
Did that work?
Once more, we go out in convoy, and this time car #2 and its driver click almost instantly. Now that the front-end bites with riveting vigour and hangs on to the trajectory as if guided by a hidden induction loop, you can begin to wind off lock while the diffusor is still busy straddling the kerbs. Turn-in is faster and more positive, too, so that laying on extra torque with added confidence soon becomes second nature, also thanks to fresh high-tech knacks like that magic friction coefficient calculator and the integrated drive torque cum diff lock control unit. Despite ESP Off, fishtailing is rarely an issue as long as the jester inside does not reach for the slidemeister thumbwheel. Thanks to the massive contact patches established by the four Michelin Cup tyres - 285/35 ZR19 and 335/30 ZR20 - traction, roadholding and cornering grip are, at least in the dry, almost Playstation-like surreal. Ten out of ten is also the score to be awarded to the huge carbon-ceramic brakes which combine telepathic bite with brutal execution.
The Black Series feels like a remastered evolution of the GT R we drove on the Hockenheimring. It is incredibly fast, showing an indicated 169mph at the end of the start-finish straight and 203mph on the fact sheet. Despite all that weight, mass and inertia, the McLaren 720S and Ferrari 812 rival is amazingly stable through the esses and that flat-out double-apex right-hander before you exit the in-field. At all times it does hold the line like a super-elastic mega-leech, turbo-muscling through any radius with a blend of high-mech and multi-byte prowess, never requiring more than a flick at the wheel or a flinch of the throttle to hang in there with a vengeance. Secondary stimulants include a billowing soundtrack which keeps flooding the cabin with fifty shades of bass, a brief revolt of the neck musculature which never before declared its existence, recurring whiffs of melting rubber and even spicier brake dust, not to mention the progressively receding angst which used to pivot around the g-point of the seat of the pants. This could be the point in time to move up one more step on the drift ladder, from the last white to the first yellow LED...
Mercedes-AMG GT Black Series: verdict
What exactly is it that turns the Black Series into a street-legal race car capable of driving circles around the remarkable GT R? One key decider is the extended adjustability, and the partly reengineered lightweight chassis elements are now attached to the body via solid aluminium mounts and much firmer bushings. These measures enhance the integral rigidity of body and chassis while resulting in a less choppy ride, more accurate steering, positively magnetic roadholding and, most importantly, truly memorable driving pleasure.
Which leaves us with only one question still to be answered: does this exuberant tech pack, the staggering performance and the fat street cred bonus really justify such an enormous list price? The answer is no if it were to spend its life on public roads where it would be wasted. On the track, however, the massive girth does not matter that much, the vulnerable aero add-ons make a great drive even more sure-footed, and any social acceptance issues should be easily neutralized by a shake-hands in the winner circle.