TESTED 19.9.18, TEXAS ON SALE OCTOBER PRICE £135,000 (est)
It’ll unleash 630bhp, handle sweetly or luridly, dispatch continents and, Mercedes-AMG hopes, trounce Porsche Panameras, too
There can’t be very many other car makers that would try it on quite as spectacularly. The Porsche Panamera was given its own model identity: even though it looks a bit like a supersized 911, it wasn’t called a 911 GT. And even though Audi likes to think that every new car it launches these days can be made to look a bit like its 1980s four-wheel-drive icon, it won’t re-christen the next RS7 the Quattro Touring. BMW won’t hint that its next 8 Series Gran Coupé is a proper sports car underneath. They just wouldn’t have the brass neck.
So is Mercedes-AMG setting us all up for disappointment by deliberately picking an identity for the new ‘GT’ 4-Door Coupé that suggests there is a meaningful technical similarity between this and the other ‘GT’ it currently makes: you know, the two-seat spaceframed sports car?
In one or two ways, perhaps. But overall, however unlikely this may seem, I reckon AMG just about gets away with it; that the GT 4-Door is worthy of it. It may not look like a sports car, either on the spec sheet or in the metal, but it has handling that very few cars of its size and weight can match.
Unlike in other big GTs, you don’t seem to be able to drive the GT 4-Door too hard or too luridly
Not that you’ll believe that at first. Once you clap eyes on this car, its design quickly betrays the lie that its model nomenclature is covering up. Underneath the GT-alike design details and surfacing language is Mercedes’ MRA monocoque passenger car platform – the same one that’s used for the C-Class, E-Class, CLS and others – rather than the lightweight spaceframe construction that makes the GT sports car handle like it does. The GT’s cabin-rear silhouette and its wide-haunched stance are both notable by their absence. So you’re not left in much doubt, by the time you climb in, that the car you’re about to drive is technically any different from its key rivals.
You may wonder, to begin with, whether it’s even much different from its closet siblings. Quiz AMG’s engineers about what it is exactly, besides a low, swoopy roofline, that makes the GT 4-Door meaningfully different from a current E63 and they’ll point first to the 630bhp, 664lb ft twin-turbo V8: an engine equipped with new turbochargers with what the Affalterbach firm has intriguingly called ‘anti-friction’ bearings. Sounds rather like an innovation of the sort that the space industry might be interested in – although I suspect it’s actually just a bad bit of German translation.
Next, they’ll point to the local stiffening they’ve carried out to the GT 4-Door’s body-in-white; and there’s plenty of it, mostly between and around the car’s suspension turrets. And then they’ll flag up the four-wheel-steering system they’ve fitted here, only thus far applied elsewhere to the GT sports car.
“For me, it’s actually the way the car’s chassis and drivetrain systems [4Matic+ four-wheel drive, eDiff, adaptive air suspension, four-wheel steering and electronic stability control] interact that puts the GT 4-Door on a different level to our performance saloons and coupés,” says Demian Schaffert, one of AMG’s driving dynamics managers (who also says he has personally done a sub-7min 30sec Nordschleife lap in this car, which is going some).
“The way everything’s networked together is something special. You can tailor the car’s handling precisely as you like it, to your own preference, from everything from steering weight and exhaust noise to high-speed stability, cornering stance, throttle adjustability and more. Trust me, this isn’t possible in an E63.” Don’t worry, Demi: we’ll trust anyone who can make two tonnes of metal lap the ’Ring in less than seven-and-a-half minutes. That’s Carrera-GT-level pace.
What really matters about this car isn’t anything to do with Nürburgring lap times, of course. All that anyone getting out of an AMG GT will care about is how much easier the GT 4-Door is use. Can grown adults sit in the back seats? Is the boot a proper size? Can I get in and out without slipping a disc? And can it handle a slightly icy roundabout at midnight in February, on my way home from wherever, without frightening me halfway into a Porsche 911 Turbo?
The answers to those questions are all pleasingly positive. AMG supremo Tobias Moers likes to make bold claims about his cars, but when he says the GT 4-Door has a breadth of ability that, he thinks, is unmatched among four-seat sporting GTs, he is to be believed. Stick the suspension in Comfort mode and the GT 4-Door rides very nicely, but for a bit of low-speed damping bristle. The gearbox is smooth and slick; the sports seats are bolstered – more so than in most performance saloons, true – but they’re comfy and accommodating; the rear cabin is big enough for six-foot adults to be pretty at ease in it when travelling and the boot is bigger than you get in most family hatchbacks. It may have more torque than most supercars but this car needn’t come close to scaring you on the road. And, more important, it needn’t worry, frustrate, discourage or annoy you with any high-strung histrionics, either – which you couldn’t say of an AMG GT.
But that’s all to do with only one end of the car’s broad spectrum of ability – and to explore the other, access to a venue such as Austin’s Circuit of the Americas, where Messrs Hamilton, Vettel, Ricciardo et al will be headed next month, is a handy thing to have. On the road, because the GT 4-Door is more dynamically rounded and civilised than a normal GT, it is perhaps a little less exciting than its two-seat ‘relation’. But you’d take that, and you certainly wouldn’t complain: because when you go looking for real excitement in the GT 4-Door, in the most appropriate sort of place, you find it in abundance.
This is a big car with the agility, balance, body control and indulgent adjustability of something much smaller and lighter – but, as we know, it’s not alone in being like that. In terms of outright lateral grip and braking power, it’s great, but not really in a different ballpark from, say, a BMW M5 or a Panamera Turbo. But even when you’re driving the GT 4-Door flat out and you’re making it corner more neatly and quickly than a two-tonner ought to be able, its dynamic voodoo is perfectly hidden.
There must be all sort of things going on at all four corners of this car to make it handle so sweetly mid-corner, and to stop from high-speed with such stability: sizeable changes in suspension setting, eDiff setting and drive torque distribution, and polar switching of the car’s four-wheel steering logic. They’re things that Mercedes-AMG’s rivals have either to allow you to perceive or to mask with over-assistance.
But the GT 4-Door covers its tracks sensationally well. Leave it in four-wheel-drive mode and although you can drive it as hard or as badly as you like, and be aware that the car must be continually adjusting in so many ways to keep it on line, you just don’t feel it. The steering stays tactile and consistently weighted; its throttle-on handling balance stays just the right side of neutral; its stability control is working away, but you wouldn’t know it; its lateral grip level is utterly constant; and the damping of that heavy body, as it changes attitude and direction, remains surprisingly natural and effortless. Engage Drift mode, meanwhile, and that sense of poise, precision, adjustability and close control steps up again.
Unlike in other big GT cars, you don’t seem to be able to drive the GT 4-Door too hard or too luridly. It’s with you every inch of the way on your journey through initial surprise, through intrigued exploration and into delighted exuberance. And it stays right there with you, communicating the bounds of its remarkable limits better than most cars of its type, and keeping its poise and benign controllability considerably better than a regular GT manages in some ways.
Which is why, if you’re anything like me, although you might start your acquaintance somewhat bothered and baffled by the idea of the GT 4-Door, you’ll become utterly convinced by its dynamic execution. You might not like what the car is but, when you really get to know it, you’ll love what it does.
Even AMG boss Tobias Moers was heard to remark that he doesn’t like the primary model nomenclature of this car, choosing always to call it the ‘GT 63’ because GT 4-Door is too bland and confusing. Have to say I agree with him. MS
Price £135,000 (est)
Engine V8, 3982cc, twin-turbo, petrol
Power 630bhp at 5500-6500rpm
Torque 664lb ft at 2500-4500rpm
Gearbox 9-spd dual-clutch automatic
Kerb weight 2045kg
Top speed 196mph
CO2, tax band 256g/km, 37%
Rivals BMW M5 Competition, Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid