I drive a different car each week 52 weeks a year.
Sometimes it’s more like two or three or four different cars.
It’s rare that I walk away from one with that sinking feeling of leaving a beloved pet behind before a long trip. You know you’re going to miss her in the quiet moments, when you least expect it.
I will miss the 2018 Mercedes-Benz AMG GTR. A lot.
With an exhilarating personality from behind the wheel and a screams-for-attention body that makes even the most calloused garage attendant grin like a 12-year-old, the AMG GTR felt too special to leave behind.
And with a price that starts at $157,000, it also feels like a steal.
The X Factor
For a sports car to be truly memorable to me, it must be greater than the sum of its parts. It should have a powerful, highly tuned engine that provides crystal-clear, immediate, and impulsive performance; an ergonomic, sensible interior suitable for spirited driving on the open road but not uncomfortable for a day of city driving; and a distinctive body style that leaves the viewer with the impression she’s witnessing a true icon in motion.
The performance, interior, and styling should then somehow conjure something that sticks in your head long after you leave the driver’s seat. It should be such a connecting driving experience between you and the car and the road that you feel feelings and think things you continue to mull hours and days later.
Did driving it make you nostalgic for a season or a song? Did driving it on one particular day or on one particular route finally persuade you to create or do that thing you’ve procrastinated about for far too long? Good cars can do that.
I don’t want to get too sappy here, but look to the GT R for achieving this mix. It has a singular personality worthy of your full consideration, if you’re looking to spend six figures on a treat. Consider it your own Mega Mercedes Moment.
Under the Hood
The GT R sits at the top of the Mercedes AMG GT line, with a 4.0-liter V8 bi-turbo engine that gets 577 horsepower and can hit 60 mph in 3.5 seconds. Those specifications beat the next-fastest GT C by 27hp and 0.1 seconds; they beat the GT S by 62hp and 0.2 seconds. The difference in speed and sound from behind the wheel is palpable; the GT R possesses by far the most character of the bunch.
Outside the AMG line, on the other hand, the GT R might compete most closely with the Porsche 911 Turbo S, a boxer-six-engined coupe that gets 580hp and can get to 60 mph in 2.3 seconds. Yes, the Turbo S is the faster and slightly more powerful of the two—and at $190,700, it’s also considerably more expensive.
One car isn’t necessarily better than the other, but there is a difference in style and degree. Where the 911 Turbo S feels more compact, plucky, superfast, and close to the road—it never misses a turn, never has a false step—the seven-speed GT R feels longer, especially at the front, with a looser attitude on slick surfaces. It is a rear-wheel-drive coupe, after all.
I should note: The AMG GT R is very fun to drive—one of the most fun cars I’ve had all year—but that means you’ve really got to watch it when you press the gas. If you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself tangled up spinning out and fish-tailing quick. One moment of distraction or indecision, and the AMG GT R will get away from you.
Where the 911 embodies a staunch German racing design that has withstood the test of decades of fads and trends since it made its debut in 1964, the AMG GT R has a less natural look. This sucker has been enhanced.
The AMG GT R has quite a long nose, with a wide, grinning grill and headlights slightly upturned into a kind of beguiling smirk, the look a person gives you across the bar to make you do a double take. Is there a hint of entitlement behind that grin? Maybe. Is the person giving it to you alluring enough to get away with it? Usually.
Plenty of look-at-me! elements almost make it come off as something for boy-racer types more than a car for serious adults. Sides affixed with blade-like darts, a carbon-fiber spoiler, the carbon-fiber roof, and the bold lighting that advertises “AMG” spelled out on the ground below the doors when they open at night would not incorrectly lead you to that assumption. Push the button inside on the center console to enhance the engine snarl, and you’ve got a bold statement of a car on your hands, to say the least.
But the long, elegant line from the rear to the front, the gentle curve of the hood, the staid effect of the oversize Mercedes badge on the front and sides chiseled like the marble bust of an aristocrat all ground the car. These are the pure Mercedes elements that lend it gravity; they save it from being dismissed as just a toy. They subtly soften it so that the effect is elegant—yes, even memorable—in the meantime. It’s not often a sports car with a near-200 mph top speed can claim that.
The cabin of the AMG GT R is the same as that of the other in the AMG GT family—very good, practical, beautiful, and intuitive, with a few caveats. The power-heated AMG performance seats and AMG alcantara-covered racing-style sport steering wheel are handsome and ergonomic—but do little to mitigate the uncomfortably stiff ride over cobblestones and speed bumps. Inclines, by the way, are the WORST—the car doesn’t have a lift function, so each major mound or inclined driveway becomes what feels like a five-minute test of patience and angles. (It’s not Lamborghini-levels low, but it’s pretty close, and at least the Lamborghini has a lifting front end.)
The AMG GT R affords plenty of visibility at all points except, of course, right behind your outside shoulder, where a huge blind spot exists on either side of the car. And, of course, it’s a potential back-ache for anyone over 5’11’’ or so, all of whom must slouch to look out from the under the roof line to see when the stop light changes to green.
On the upside, it is plenty roomy for heads and feet once you get inside (do your yoga twists for elegant ingress through the small door opening) but the space is close enough to feel intimate. I loved it that Mercedes considered small details such as placing the seat-warmer buttons along the ceiling, above the passengers, rather than adding them to what always has the potential to become a tangled nest of buttons down the middle along the center console.
And the rear trunk hatch is massive—big enough to fit an adult human male back there semi-comfortably for an hour or so, even though it’s not an actual back seat or anything like that.
I want to make clear: Those small demerits are nothing compared with how much joy can be derived behind its wheel. This car is not meant to be everything to everyone, and thank goodness. Driving it is enough to make one uncannily happy. Am I gushing? I don’t mean to. But the old saying may hold true: Absence—from the AMG GT R, at least—does indeed make the heart grow fonder.