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The Mercedes-AMG GT S Is Seriously, Ridiculously, Absurdly Underrated

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author photo by Doug DeMuro September 2016

I recently had the opportunity to drive a Mercedes-AMG GT S. This opportunity came about when a local reader here in the Philadelphia area sent me an email and asked, "Do you want to drive my Mercedes-AMG GT S?" Why yes, sir. Yes I do.

Obviously, I said yes because I say yes whenever someone is willing to throw me the keys to a 6-figure sports car on a Tuesday morning. But I also wanted to check out the GT S for another reason: because nobody is really talking about it.

Think about it. Mercedes has created this 500-horsepower, dual-clutch, 2-seat sports car with a 0-to-60 time of 3.5 seconds that seems tremendously impressive on paper, and the collective response seems to be roughly the same as if they had just announced they're coming out with a special edition of the C-Class called the C-Class SE and its primary selling point is heated cupholders. "So why is that?" I wondered. "How has Mercedes managed to screw this thing up?"

After spending the morning with this thing, I've discovered the answer: They haven't. In fact, I think this is quite possibly the most underrated car I've ever driven in my entire life.

I'll start with the design. I personally think the Mercedes-AMG GT is gorgeous -- though I try not to talk about styling too much, because I remember that styling is subjective and everyone has a different opinion. For example, there are some people out there who walked into a Buick dealer in roughly 2002 and said to their spouse, "Oh, this Rendezvous is beautiful! Let's buy it!"

So I don't want to get into a debate about styling, because there's some chance you're one of those people. But regardless of your opinion on its overall look, you have to admit that the AMG GT has the right aggressive, attractive sports-car styling cues, such as the huge rear wing, the giant exhausts and the front intakes that look like they could provide shelter for midsize forest creatures during a hailstorm.

It's the same situation inside. You know how you think Mercedes is all about plush interiors, where everything is heated and soft so the occupants don't have to feel the slightest bit of discomfort unless their post-opera tilapia isn't sitting right? Not this thing. This thing has tight, grippy, Porsche-style sport bucket seats and a center console devoted to performance-oriented buttons. There is, for example, a button to adjust the suspension, a button for race mode and (my personal favorite) a button that adjusts the exhaust.

Ah, yes, the exhaust. From the moment you hear the AMG GT S fire up, you know it's a serious car. It's loud even when it's stopped. It sits there, gurgling, doing nothing but idling, and it still scares children. "Mommy," they say. "That car is going to eat me!" Little do they know the vehicle's mouth is busy providing shelter for midsize forest creatures.

That gurgling comes from a 500-hp twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8, which is mated to a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic. The result is 0 to 60 miles per hour in 3.5 seconds, rear-wheel drive and a lot more than just gurgling. At full throttle, with the exhaust activated, the AMG GT S sounds like a German muscle car -- the kind of German muscle car that even a German might hear and say, politely, "I don't know about zis!" while silently stewing because the car has disturbed his sense of order. There is no Porsche 911 in the world that sounds like this car.

So you're thinking, "Fine. They've got the engine, the styling and the interior right. But this is MERCEDES we're talking about. Surely there's no balance, no poise, no sports-car excitement."

After all, we've seen this before with Mercedes. Remember the AMG SL65? The theory was: Take a regular SL-Class, throw in a massive powertrain, and call it a day. The result was all engine, no balance and driving enjoyment only in a straight line. This is probably what you're expecting.

This is what I expected, too. But this is wrong. Driving the Mercedes-AMG GT S is the best part.

The car truly handles as well as any sports car I've ever driven. It's absolutely on the level of a Ferrari, a Porsche or the Audi R8. The AMG GT feels stable, planted and ready to take on any curve you could possibly imagine at just about any speed you could possibly imagine. I drove this car without the owner present, which gave me a little extra confidence to take it on increasingly technical back roads, at increasingly high speeds, in increasingly aggressive drive modes. It handled everything, every time, without a hint of drama.

Acceleration is even more amazing. I challenge you to floor the accelerator in the AMG GT S for the first time and not let loose some sort of expletive. You simply aren't expecting the power. This is just a Mercedes, you think. With a 4-liter engine! And then you stomp on the gas pedal, and ... "#$*&@!!!"

Then, when I was done, something amazing happened. I put the AMG GT back into normal mode, loosened up the suspension and drove through a couple of suburban towns in utter comfort, like I was cruising around in the new C-Class SE and those cupholders were doing an excellent job warming my drink.

2017 Mercedes-Benz AMG GT

It's as if the car has two very distinct personalities. There's the AMG GT you can bring to dinner in the city, cruise around in comfortably and hand the keys to the valet without anybody noticing it or fawning over it. Then, there's the AMG GT you can vigorously drive home on your favorite back roads and pretend you're a race-car driver speeding around Watkins Glen and going for the AMG-powered lap record, the tachometer rising, nobody around to stop you -- until you come up next to a minivan at a traffic light.

A Ferrari cannot do this. With a Ferrari, there is no "cruise around comfortably" mode. There is only handing the keys to the valet and spending the rest of the night worrying like a new parent who just hired a babysitter for the first time.

And then there's the best part: the pricing. A regular AMG GT, with 450 hp, starts at $112,000. The AMG GT S, with 500 hp, starts at $132,000. These are not small figures, until you compare them with rivals. The 540-hp Audi R8 V10? That'll be $164,000 with shipping. The 540-hp Porsche 911 Turbo? $161,000, before options. The 550-hp Ferrari California T starts at over $200,000. Even the far less exciting Maserati GranTurismo, with only 450 hp, starts at $134,000 before options.

In other words, the AMG GT isn't only amazing to look at, sit inside, listen to and drive -- it's actually kind of a good deal.

So why is it so unknown?

To me, there are three problems. One is undoubtedly the brand: When people think of exotic cars, Mercedes is last on the list. You don't generally go out looking for an exotic car and come home with a Mercedes, unless your imagination is such that you go out looking for a fun late-night snack and come home with Nilla wafers.

The other is the name: Mercedes-AMG GT S may simply be the most boring name I've ever heard of for an exotic automobile. "Mercedes" is attached to millions of cars a year. "AMG" is attached to thousands. And there are so many cars called GT that I can't possibly name them all. This car is named so badly that it feels like it's missing the actual model name, as if it was a Toyota LE or a Subaru AWD.

And I think the AMG GT's last problem is its predecessors. The first modern exotic Mercedes was the SLR, which was an insane, ridiculously pricey, ultra-fast competitor to the Ferrari Enzo and the Porsche Carrera GT. It had absurd styling, wild performance and a hood so large that you could, in an emergency, use it as an alternate place to land a Life Flight helicopter -- not to mention, the doors opened upward. Then there was the SLS, which was also awesome, exciting, ultra-fast and head-turningly gorgeous (once again, the doors opened upward).

And then there's the AMG GT: not as fast as its predecessors relative to its rivals. Not as exotic. Not as insane. Not as unusual. "Just" a Mercedes with a boring name. But if you get past all that and judge the AMG GT not by its brand, its name or its predecessors but by how it drives, I believe you'll find that it's one of the most exciting, impressive and all-around amazing sports cars currently being manufactured. Even if the doors don't open upward.

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