► AMG’s wildest convertible tested
► Track-focused chassis in a soft-top roadster
► A whopping £179k, 577bhp and 516lb ft
Before the V8 thunder and talk of damping rates, a moment to consider AMG’s two-seat range – and apologies if you’re one of the elite in Stuttgart (Merc HQ), Affalterbach (AMG HQ, where bowls of complementary apples for staff and guests abound: fact) or Milton Keynes (Merc UK HQ) who knows and understands the AMG GT range perfectly.
AMG’s compromised but lovable and strictly two-seat AMG arrived in 2014 in coupe form, a kind of cut-price successor to the SLS and only AMG’s second-ever sports car. Never a sales smash, it’s nonetheless flourished into something of a range. That range, in coupe form, starts with the £96k Edition 476 and runs up through the mid-level C (not for convertible or cabriolet; £138k) and R (£154k) to the R Pro (£188,495; a GT3 lookalike). The C and the R are also available as Roadsters, and you’ll pay £149.5k for a C Roadster and £179k for your drop-top R, the car tested here. This test car also wears the optional ceramic brakes at £5995.
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Right, got it. I actually came for a Mercedes AMG GT R Roadster review?
Sure. First, though, you must familiarise yourself with a cockpit grizzled fighter pilots would describe as ‘busy’. Like every other AMG GT, the R Roadster’s cockpit is chaotic like a mad scientist’s lab, though – like that mad scientist – within a couple of drives you’re able to lay your hand on exactly what you wanted, regardless of the apparent ergonomic mess.
It feels like control system has been layered upon control system in an effort to make the user experience more intuitive, when what was needed was a blank-sheet re-think. AMG’s working on that, in the form of the all-new next-gen AMG GT, but that’s some way off.
Set all your parameters (roof down, Sport or Sport+ drive mode but with a more relaxed damper setting, manual shifting) and you’re good to go. The ultra-wide transmission tunnel may nestle into your left ribs but this is a thrillingly purposeful driving position, an effect heightened by the GT R’s tank-slit windows, low-slung stance and endless bonnet – albeit a purposeful driving environment luxuriously upholstered in saddle brown nappa leather.
Get moving and the GT R Roadster’s an overtly mechanical device at single-digit speeds, the V8 grumbling as the cold front rubber scrubs viciously under full lock. But there’s promise, not least in the engine’s obvious potency: you’re underway and up to urban speeds on a fraction of the engine’s potential, as you’d imagine given the V8’s 577bhp reach and mighty 516lb ft of torque (more than an M5 Competition, in a lighter car).
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On your side or out to get you?
You’d be forgiven for thinking the latter, so clearly unimpressed is the AMG with six-tenths cruising. The ride never really convinces, even when you cut the adjustable dampers some slack (because – well, because you live in the United Kingdom and our road network’s crumbling like an Aztec temple), the car feeling too short of wheel travel, lacking in rigidity and outside its intended operating window, even on mildly lumpy roads.
This is also a wide car (more than two metres across, thanks in part to the broader track widths imposed by the active rear axle), while the hot rod-style, rear-mounted cockpit also does little to help you gel with the car, unlike, say, a mid-engined McLaren 570S or less intimidating Porsche 911 Carrera.
But the GT R Roadster feels better the faster you go. Find a smooth, sinuous stretch of road and the AMG doesn’t want for speed, either between corners – the V8 is a weapon, its might (more than any 911 south of the new Turbo S) firing it from corners like a struck puck and sending you rampaging towards the next braking zone with scarcely credible violence – or through them, thanks to the sheer rubber footprint the AMG presents to the road. And contrary to its muscle-car silhouette, the Roadster changes direction with an almost comical agility, helped by that sweetly calibrated rear wheel-steering system.
Fun, though? Of course. With the roof down (it drops in 11 seconds) the V8’s efforts flood your senses, and the fact that the R isn’t a pussycat to drive quickly, asking that you work to make the right inputs at the right time to mitigate the car’s shortcomings, is undoubtedly part of the fun…
But it all feels a bit silly – the R Roadster’s is an oddly unrewarding kind of sports car fun. This is, you’re forced to conclude, due in no small part to the fact that the GT R Roadster makes very little sense. Short of the Pro, the R is the AMG GT at its most wickedly intense and focused, its chassis tuned to chase tenths and make like a GT3 racer on trackdays.
It is AMG’s 911 GT3, with the Pro as its GT3 RS equivalent. But Porsche doesn’t offer a convertible version of either of those cars, and with good reason. Why, when you’re hellbent on creating the most capable and involving GT yet (and you don’t have an ultra-stiff carbon tub like McLaren), would you compromise its chassis stiffness and sling a load of unwanted weight in its direction? Why indeed.
If you love the AMG GT R’s vibe – and you’re not alone – and the idea of an open-topped V8 with a sports car’s heart, the more affordable GT C Roadster is the way to go. It’s a far more sophisticated and elegant machine (the R’s wing looks plain daft on a soft-top) and nearly £30k less expensive than the R. Or go for the R in Coupe form and, relative to the soft-top, save yourself the price of a new Golf.
Elsewhere, there’s the 911 range to check out (choose from 444bhp, £104k Carrera S or £165k Turbo S Cabriolets), McLaren’s dated but phenomenal 570S Spider or, for the AMG V8 experience in a more elegant body, Aston’s Vantage, either in coupe or recently unveiled Roadster form.
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