► GT S Roadster
► 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8
► 3.8 sec from 0-62mph
Five years since its debut, Mercedes has refreshed its AMG GT sports car for 2019, and this is the first time we’ve tested it in GT S roadster spec in the UK. The 515bhp S sits between the entry-level GT and GT C in the range, with the soft-top priced from £129,175. That represents a £11.5k premium over the coupe, and makes it £25k more expensive than the (444bhp) Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet, or £7.5k cheaper than an (562bhp) Audi R8 Spyder.
Quick re-cap of the AMG GT S’s spec please…
It’s a pretty exotic brew, with aluminium spaceframe construction and a front/mid-mounted 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8, transaxle transmission (a seven-speed dual-clutch) and rear-drive layout with an electronically controlled locking rear diff. Suspension is by double wishbones all-round.
The roadster gets a beefed up structure, including extra struts between the dashboard support and windscreen surround, an additional strut brace between the soft top and fuel tank, and a cross-member behind the seats to support the roll-over protection system. It also gets a lightweight composite bootlid (the coupe’s is steel), and impressively a roadster weighs just 35kg more than the coupe at 1625kg.
In S trim, the direct-injection hot-vee V8 (so called because the turbos nestle in the middle of the engine’s vee shape) makes a healthy 515bhp and 494lb ft, which is good for 3.8 sec from 0-62mph and a 191mph top end. That compares with 469bhp/465lb ft for the entry-level GT, and 549bhp/502lb ft for the S, though all those figures are unchanged from the pre-facelift models, as is the rest of the mechanical hardware.
So what are the big changes?
Big is probably the wrong adjective, but there are worthwhile updates. Exterior changes include new head- and tail lights (the former to strengthen the link to the AMG GT 4-door, the latter given a darker, moodier background), new rear diffuser and exhaust trims. Revised alloy wheel designs are also available, including a lightweight forged option.
The interior is refreshed with a new 12.3-inch instrument cluster and 10.25-inch central display, just like the 4-door. The centre console now features eight hidden-until-lit TFT buttons to select functions including suspension, exhaust and gearbox settings (four per side, laid out like a V8, see?), and there’s also AMG Track Pace ‘virtual race engineer’ as standard. The latter can map out new race circuits or recognise those that are familiar, then display information including lap, sector and reference times.
A new flat-bottomed steering wheel gets a circular drive mode controller for scrolling through Slippery, Comfort , Sport, Sport+, Individual and Race modes. These settings are complemented by AMG Dynamics, a more precise ESP system with Basic, Advanced, Pro and Master modes divided between the drive modes.
What’s it like inside?
There are no shortage of sports car theatrics as you climb in the AMG GT S. The sports seats are mounted low and far back in the chassis, a by-product of the front/mid-engined layout, and the broad centre console rises up to your left with the slim glasshouse wrapping round the cabin like a sniper’s lookout. You definitely feel slotted in and ensconced.
There are flaws, though: firstly, the wing mirrors create a huge blindspot, which makes it all too easy to miss a biker on a roundabout. Secondly – and this is perhaps exaggerated by packaging the fabric roof when stowed – I wanted the driver’s seat to go further back to accommodate my six-feet-one frame, which seemed faintly daft given how much of the car was ahead of me.
Even with the seat pushed right back, elements like the tiny little gear shifter are still too far back to be reached comfortably, as are some of those TFT buttons (though you can just use the steering wheel controller). And you lose a little boot space in the roadster too, with the minimum falling to 165 litres from the coupe’s 285 (though both have the same 350 litres maximum)
The new flat-bottomed steering wheel is tactile with its microfibre (in the bits where you hold it) and leather (in the parts where you don’t), but it’s a shame the new drive-mode controller feels so wobbly and cheap, because it is a handy addition.
The new digital instruments are well integrated, being recessed in twin cowls for a more sporting appearance than contemporary Mercs. The TFT buttons on the centre console complement the digital update, though I’m less sure of the touchpad controller mounted in the middle of it all – it definitely works better than a Lexus equivalent with its well judged rate of response and sensitivity and looks pretty slick too, though a rotary dial remains – for me – more intuitive.
How does it drive?
If someone had taken the GT S away after 30 minutes, I’d have said it was pretty average. The ride can feel really quite brittle and busy even in the adaptive dampers’ Comfort setting, and on undulating B-roads the suspension travel is at times too abruptly curtailed. Squeaks around the centre console also raised a red flag.
On the plus side, the V8’s a peach, the infotainment excellent, and there’s impressive refinement with the three-layer Z-fold roof in place, and it drops in just 11 seconds to leave the cabin bluster free too. It’s just that we didn’t click straight away.
Dig deeper, though, and the AMG GT S’s strengths come into sharper focus. There’s no mistaking the front/mid-engined layout, simply because the nose darts so eagerly for corners, with the weight of the V8 feeling stable and centred in the chassis, and minimal body roll too. It’s a sensation supported by the super-alert, fast-paced steering, though if anything a little extra weight to work against would be welcome. The rear-wheel steering that’s standard on the GT C isn’t available here, and nor does it feel necessary.
In the dry, there’s impressive traction even with the rear tyres worked hard, and the GT S will eventually slide quite progressively in the looser stability control settings (AMG Dynamics certainly seems to work subtly on the road at least). These are very strong brakes too, though we’d have preferred a less binary rate of response from the pedal.
Nonetheless, the AMG GT soon eases you in to a fast rhythm, because you feel confident to load up the front tyres aggressively on the way in to corners, and accelerate early on the way out, so nicely is the GT balanced. Even the damping soothes with speed and I found myself enjoying the extra control of Sport on the road, though it’s definitely very surface dependent – choppy on a B-road near the CAR office, much mellower on another favourite 40 minutes north, where some cars can ace both.
The V8 is a fabulous engine, with bristling throttle response, a seriously exciting muscle-car soundtrack, and a rampant rate of acceleration when you really gun it; it’s an exciting, fast and emotive engine, and there’s no doubt this is one of the very best forced-induction motors currently in production.
The dual-clutch gear shifts aren’t as snappy as a Ferrari or Porsche dual-clutch if you go for the paddles, but they are quick and extremely well mapped if you leave the cogs in auto.
If anything, I’d say the AMG GT S is a little too hopped up and hyper, and it’d be interesting to try one with everything dialled back just a shade, including steering, throttle and brake response, so you’d have a wider operating window to feel out what the GT S was up to rather than adjusting to the rather sudden sensations it often feeds back.
There’s no doubt the AMG GT S drives like the bespoke sports car that its exotic ingredients and layout suggest it should, and the facelift’s relatively superficial upgrades only enhance that appeal. As a roadster it is not without significant compromise, including a cramped cabin for taller drivers and a smaller luggage area. The ride quality is also questionable, and while not universally poor it can become distractingly busy and brittle on more challenging surfaces. We’d also prefer a slightly more languid rate of response from some of the controls, albeit without dampening down the GT S’s impressive energy.
Despite the criticisms, there’s no doubt the AMG GT S Roadster is a seriously exciting sports car. But as ever, the elephant in the room here is the Porsche 911. A Carrera S Cabriolet might not offer as much performance, but it’s still searingly rapid and represents a better-resolved, more affordable and more practical sports car.