What is it: With its high-output V8, bone-rattling suspension, rather assertive widebody look and fixed rear carbon-fiber wing, the GT R is the undisputed king of the road-going AMG GTs. This is as wild as it gets before you step into bona fide race car territory — although if that’s where you want to take it, AMG will happily outfit you with a track-only AMG GT4 (or, if you really want to make your money vanish quickly, an AMG GT3).
Key Competitors: Porsche 911 GT3 RS; Jaguar F-Type SVR; Audi R8; Chevrolet Corvette ZR1
Base Price: $157,995 As-Tested Price: $187,345
Full review: 2018 Mercedes-AMG GT R
Highlights: Thanks to a 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 cranked up to 577 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque, the AMG GT R is more powerful than the GT and GT C (469 hp) and GT S (515 hp) — and also substantially more powerful than its racing counterpart, the GT4. But despite a suspension setup that clues you in to every, and I mean every, pebble, expansion joint and groove in the road beneath you, it’s also a well-trimmed tourer inside. And that’s before you add the red seat belts ($500) and Burmester sound system ($1,300).
Our Opinion: I’ve never been able to pin down the reasons, but the AMG GT has always left me a little bit cold. Call me jaded. It checks all the right boxes: dramatic proportions and styling, a nicely done interior, great balance, all the performance a mortal could reasonably want. Its aluminum bones are worthy ones. I’ve had a really memorable drive or two in an AMG GT S. There’s no manual transmission option, but such is life.
Yet even though it’s all there on paper, it’s never really clicked. Could it be me? I’ve long wondered. Am I beyond hope?
Nope. Turns out I just needed to drive the AMG GT R again. The GT R is different. The lesser AMG GTs are almost too refined and calm by comparison and, lacking that assertiveness and edge, you sometimes lose sight of the fact that you’re behind the wheel of something special. The GT R never lets you forget you’re piloting a really spectacular machine. If I were leading product development at AMG — which I am not, because AMG actually wants to make money — this is the 577-hp blow I would have lead with, with the rest of the line basking in the glow of its halo.
This is not exactly Affalterbach’s replacement for the dearly departed Dodge Viper; even in the winged wildman getup, it’s too fundamentally restrained and calculated to fill that low, wide hole in the automotive space (and in my heart). There’s a yellow knob plonked right on the center of the dash that lets you dial down traction control, tick by tick, to whatever degree you desire, but only after you’ve disabled stability control (and probably voided all warranties and any ability to claim insurance in the process).
This is an approach to cutting loose that is so German it almost hurts, but it works! The GT R will smoke those 325/30 ZR20 rear tires as readily as any Hellcat when it’s in the right mood. Bless it for that. And it will let you make an idiot of yourself at the track almost instantly, if that’s what you’re after. Take that, electronic nannies!
We weren’t able to get the GT R to the track this time around, but there is something satisfying about using a track toy to get to work, which I did for a few days. It was glorious overkill, but that’s part of the joy of it — and why I liked it so much more than the typical AMG GT. The best thing about the GT R is that you know that, if you really want to go for it, you could at any moment drop the hammer and wind it all the way up to 198 mph (or until you run out of road, whichever comes first), and the car would be cheering you on the whole way. It’s goofy, unnecessary fun.
You get this sort of feeling in an MX-5 when you whip it around a corner feeling like you’re got two wheels off the ground (but in reality are going no faster than the speed limit). And you get it here every time you cut through traffic like a dogfighter or switch it into manual-shift mode and downshift a little sooner than was, strictly speaking, necessary just to make the engine snarl and cackle.