AMGs in Miami: We drive a GT S and ride in a Cigarette Boat
The Cigarette and the GT S have good looks in common. This year's collaboration took its cue from AMG GT3 race car. The Cigarette's matte-gray hull matches the livery of Mercedes' endurance racer, and Mercedes design chief Gorden Wagener penned the boat's overall color scheme and the marine-grade leather interior.
We're confident Miami didn't intentionally design its roads as a vehicle endurance test. More likely, the city just neglected them long enough so that their divots, potholes, and lumpy patch jobs highlight the best and worst of any car. That's not bad news for the AMG GT S, it's bad news for the people inside AMG's muscular missile. The GT S is a fantastic track rat and lifestyle object, but a grueling road car.
It does hit high notes. Clean lines and uncluttered bodywork create a savage appeal. The shape draws the eye at the same time as it warns it won't be trifled with. The elongated nose confirms its lineage to the SLS AMG, but bodywork that emphasizes grace over the SLS' bluntness makes it appear shorter than it is. The SLS was 182.7 inches long on a 75.5-inch wheelbase, the GT S is only 3.7 inches shorter on a wheelbase two inches shorter. The GT S dimensions are still exaggerated, though – there is a wide shelf of plastic cladding between the front bodywork and the front-mid mounted 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8. The engine is mounted way back in the bay. To give a mechanic room to work on it, Mercedes designed the hood to stand up at almost a 90-degree angle when fully open.
You won't find a cockpit sensation this pronounced short of exotics and supercars. The GT S sits an inch lower than a Porsche 911 GT3 RS, with a high shoulder line that puts the instrument panel relatively high in relation to low-down AMG sport seats. Although two inches wider than that Porsche, the GT S cabin is cozier thanks to the wide, V-shaped ramp of controls rising from elbow height to the center console. Our most comfortable driving position put the flat-bottomed steering wheel close to us, with our arms up and elbows bent at an acute angle. The driving pose is suggestive of a ball turret gunner, albeit one that travels in high German style.
Zeus created thunder, AMG attached a steering wheel and seats to the thunder and called it "GT S." There are five Dynamic Select driving modes – Comfort, Sport, Sport+, Race, and Individual – that adjust the throttle mapping, the speed of gear changes, suspension firmness, and the exhaust volume. Even in Comfort everyone knows when you're nearby. You can hear the exhaust rumble at 100 paces. That rumble switches to a bellow when you turn the Dynamic Select knob to Sport. Sport+ emits a louder bellow, and in Track the coupe barks so fiercely you want to send it to anger management classes.
When the GT S is parked, you admire the way it looks. When you drive it hard on track, you admire the way it accelerates and corners. In congested Miami traffic, however, the GT S lacks grace. The seven-speed dual-clutch transmission makes clunking sounds when shifting between reverse and first, with noticeable lag before either gear engages. Stop-start activation is rough. The coupe shudders when the engine comes to life, then you wait a couple of beats for the GT S to grab first gear. Thankfully you can deactivate the engine shut-off. The brake pedal controlling the optional carbon-ceramic stoppers is touchy. When we had a passenger, we repeatedly apologized for jerky stops.
The GT S behaves like a 503-horsepower track car that happens to be on the road, not a track car refined for the road. When you demand gobs of power the car hustles like it's on fire. The steering is meaty and direct, the front tires track beautifully in response to your inputs. The suspension is so firm, though, that the coupe hops over sharp bumps instead of rolling over them. A few knots or cavities in the tarmac flusters the front end and gets the back end jumping around. If we saw a bad stretch of road ahead, we tried to slow down to speeds more appropriate to a parking lot. If we couldn't slow down, we endured the jarring ride. In a GT S on Miami roads, jarring rides happened frequently.
The AMG GT S has a superb design, makes outstanding noises, is a monster at the track. Even sitting in it feels special. If the AMG engineers in Affalterbach would only make it a little more forgiving on US roads, the GT S would be just as rewarding during everyday driving as it is when doing 100 miles an hour on a circuit. Or when it's parked – as it was when we hopped in the Cigarette Racing Team 41' SD GT3.
The GT S's choppy manners make it the antithesis of the SD GT3. We stood at the center console under the boat's hardtop canopy while pilot Bud Lurow slowly motored out to the Intracoastal Waterway. Once we passed beneath the flyover bridge separating the harbor from open water, Lurow ran the 11-ton day-tripper up to 90 mph before slowing down to an easy 70 mph. The absurdly powerful stern-drive was as smooth as melted chocolate at every speed. The wind at 90 mph gave our face a workout even though we stood behind the plexiglass screen atop the center console. Sitting in the seats at the back of the boat was worse – it felt like being in a hurricane. On the other hand, we could have done 70 mph at the console all day.
After our Miami Vice moment we put the GT S in situations that showcase its strongest off-track side. We stopped by the Fontainebleau hotel, a celebrity staple where it's not uncommon to see $1 million worth of car in the valet circle. Taking the key from us, the valet said, "I love your car," then gave it pride of place in front. Leaving the hotel to attend a Van Dutch yacht party, we growled in the fast lane over a relatively smooth stretch of I-95. We parked the GT S among rows of six-figure automotive toys stationed outside the River Yacht Club. It looked right at home.
- Most and least efficient car companies
- Fastest-depreciating cars in the United States
- Find and compare 2017 Models