You’ll hear the phrase “road-legal race car” thrown around a lot, especially when it comes to cars that have sprouted carbon fiber wings and are bursting at the seams with horsepower, like the AMG GT R. But in reality, that descriptor is horribly inaccurate most of the time, no matter the car. Besides, no sane person would even want to drive an actual race car on the road — they are horrible places to be other than on race tracks. Stiff suspensions directly translate every bump and pebble on the track through your body, there’s no sound insulation (not counting your helmet) and brakes and throttle are equally touchy, not to mention they’re hotter than hell, even in the dead of winter. All perfectly fine aspects of a race car. But that is an environment you would only want to experience for a few laps at a time — not hours on end, in commuter traffic. However, the AMG GT R is not that kind of car. It’s still very much the grand touring car its name implies, but has that added “R” and few quirks here and there to remind you it has a sibling that races — and wins.
From the middle of Manhattan, up to northwest Connecticut, back down to Manhattan and then onward to Boston: not a drive I planned to make over a recent long weekend. In fact, I ended up doing it all on one Friday. If the GT R were indeed a road-legal race car, the drive would have been more akin to a sadistic spa weekend spent in a rolling torture device (painted a mesmerizing and lovely shade of blue). Instead, the GT R went out of its way to explain why it still bothers to have GT in its name at all.
“It becomes apparent Mercedes built an honest, old-school sports car in the most modern sense.”
Leaving Manhattan, the ride was admittedly on the stiffer side even in the softest setting, but, then again, city potholes and Chelsea’s cobblestone side streets will make any suspension feel rough. In an urban theater, a massive rear wing bolted to the trunk, a hood that seemingly stretches on for a city block and snarling, cracking exhaust are merely party pieces. They garner head turning, slack-jawed stares but at around-town speeds, can only hint at what the R has to offer.
On the open, undulating, sweeping highway just north of the city is where the GT R is most at home. This is where it becomes apparent that Mercedes built an honest, old-school sports car in the most modern sense. It has all the standard apps and driving aids that you’d expect in a modern Mercedes and they’re all easily accessible, but they’re camouflaged by the car’s spartan aesthetic, not in your face. There isn’t a whole lot going on in the interior; it’s mostly suede, a tasteful amount of carbon fiber and a few splashes of brushed aluminum. It’s not busy, and it’s not distracting. All it wants you to do is sit down and drive. Which, in a world of information overload, is a rare luxury.
2017 AMG GT R
Engine: 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
Torque: 516 lb-ft
0-60 mph: 2.9 seconds
Top Speed: 197 mph
Price: $195,000 (base)
If the city was the bass line, and the highway-driving upstate was the crescendo, circling a damp Lime Rock Park race track was the climax. Wide tires set at the four corners of an already cartoonishly wide and low car, coupled to massive pizza sheets-sized-brakes and a nine-stage traction control (adjusted with the twist of a little yellow dial in the center of the console), combine to produce the very definition of grip. Even on a slick, drying track the GT R never wanted to let go. The same steering that helped guide the car around potholes in the morning with fighter pilot-accuracy was now working in conjunction with nearly one-foot-wide front tires to dive bomb apexes with surgical precision. The car was earning its last initial.
Odds are, though, the majority of this car’s potential will be bottled up for most of its life: any given GT R will likely never see its top speed or its peak cornering g-force. But that’s why it’s not a real race car. There’s no denying that lapping a track in 577 horsepower car is an insanely entertaining way to spend an afternoon — an interesting experiment if anything else. But for once, I was looking forward to the drive back to the city, and in this case, an even longer trip up to Boston after that. The AMG GT R has all the romantic parts of a race car — the wings, the scoops, the sound, the power — on top of being a genuinely pleasant place to spend an entire day. It’s a car that executes so flawlessly the ideal balance between GT and R.