- The Mercedes-AMG GT R represents a turning point for Mercedes-Benz, as the company drives to compete with its sports-car rivals while grappling with an electric vehicle revolution in the industry.
- Mercedes-Benz confirmed plans to electrify its entire lineup before the end of the decade, but currently offers no purely electric model.
- Mercedes’ roots lie in motorsports, and performance runs in its blood as a German company.
- One solution for Mercedes is to follow in the steps of the all-electric Porsche Taycan: Create an entirely new electrified performance car that’s sold alongside its gasoline-powered models.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The Mercedes-AMG GT R is a heavily modified version of an already fast automobile. Ranked in the high-end sports car category, its level of performance borders the exotic car class thanks to a full battalion of race-inspired components.
But the GT R also represents a pivotal moment for Mercedes-Benz: It’s a gas-guzzling V8 surrounded by an EV revolution that’s about to determine its faith.
At the root this car’s evolution, there’s above all a desire to compete against its rivals. The AMG GT’s original mission was always to offer consumers an alternative to Porsche’s iconic 911. While wildly different from the 911 on a technical level, the AMG GT’s purpose is very clearly the same: offer mind-blowing performance and a driving experience only the best sports cars in the world can provide.
And to be fair, on the road and on the racetrack, the AMG GT and GT R have proven that they deserve the “911 slayer” nickname. These cars have the speed, the reflexes, and most importantly, the character — mostly generated by the V8 engine nestled underneath their long hood — to take on Porsche’s sports car.
Some technical background
The AMG GT R might look refined, but it’s important to know the mind-blowing numbers that hide behind it in order to better grasp how it fits within the AMG GT’s multiple variants.
See it as a direct competitor to a Porsche 911 GT3, or if you prefer, a lighter, more focused, track-ready alternative to the standard model. Like the race-inspired Porsche, this AMG borrows many go-fast toys from Mercedes’ own GT3 race car — things like a nine-mode traction control system, which conveniently allows its driver to modulate its resistance according to their skills.
Power is rated at 577 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque from a twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8, leading to 0 to 60 mph time of about 3.3 seconds and standing quarter mile time of just over 11 seconds. More importantly, in 2017, the GT R set a Nürburgring lap record of 7:10.92, making it the fastest production rear-wheel drive sports car in the world at the time, but also a faster machine than the Porsche GT3.
Evidently, Mercedes-AMG has Porsche beat in the performance war. Except, Porsche is still ahead— not by virtue of transforming one of its historical products, but by introducing a new vehicle and, more importantly, a new form of propulsion altogether. The all-electric Porsche Taycan proved that a sport sedan can still be fast, fun, and most importantly, still a Porsche without relying on gasoline.
So what does this all mean for Mercedes-Benz? The German giant has confirmed its plans of electrifying its entire lineup before the end of this decade, but as I write this, it currently offers no purely electric model — an irony given its massive resources and, well, seven consecutive Formula One constructor wins.
Perhaps the most important question should be what an electric future means for the AMG performance division, which has centered its image on large-displacement V8 engines for over three decades.
A well-founded resistance
Carmakers very rarely talk about their future products, which is why Mercedes remained unsurprisingly tight-lipped about what it has in stock for its big electric turnover. It did, however, hint at the entire AMG lineup potentially converting to some form of electric propulsion.
“Since the AMG GT family represents the pinnacle of what AMG has to offer in terms of driving dynamics and precision, whatever an electrified future will bring in detail: the GT 2-door family (Mercedes also sells the AMG GT 4 door) will take the lead in terms of agility and driving performance for AMG,” CEO of Mercedes-AMG Philipp Schiemer told Business Insider.
At this point, it’s important to underline that Mercedes is also currently developing its very first hypercar called the AMG One, a machine that promises to fuse a plug-in drivetrain with a 1.6-liter turbocharged V6 sourced from the Mercedes-AMG W07 Formula One car. It’s that same technology that will undoubtedly trickle down to the rest of the Mercedes streetcar lineup.
But while the AMG One will surely be a mind-blowing halo car when it eventually hits the market, its hybrid technology won’t exactly be ahead of its time. Remember, we’re heading into a world where a 1,000-horsepower GMC Hummer will run on lithium-ion battery packs. Mercedes needs to go full electric — and fast.
It’s easy to observe a resistance from the German auto industry as it attempts to let go of gasoline. And with reason — because in Mercedes’ case, the eight-cylinder thermal engine sits at the center of its performance heritage.
After all, it was hugely thanks to a 6.3-liter V8 that a massive Mercedes-Benz 300 SEL — a car that was never originally intended for racing — or, as the history books like the call it, the “Red Pig,” won second place (and then was banned) at the 1971 Spa 24 Hours race, marking AMG’s first real implication in racing.
How can Mercedes honor such a strong motorsports legacy with an electric car? How will the diehard AMG fans receive the news that their beloved snarling exhaust tone has been replaced by a permanent-magnet synchronous motor that emits less decibels than a vacuum cleaner? Unlike Tesla, whose entire business was built on the promise of zero-emission powertrains, Mercedes’s century-old history has its feet deeply forded in petrol.
And it goes even further than that: For Germany, a country which hosts some of the world’s top race tracks, offers its citizens highways with no speed limits, and gave birth to some of the most respected top-shelf premium car brands in the world — Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Porsche — performance runs in its culture’s blood. The death of the AMG V8 is just as sacrilegious for Germany as if America lost the 6.2-liter LT2 in the Corvette.
Build another car, reboot the legacy
Perhaps the solution for Mercedes is to go down a similar route as Porsche. The Taycan may be a fantastic take on electric German performance, but it’s also a whole new car altogether. It doesn’t try to replace the 911 because it doesn’t deserve its heritage. It needs to create its own. Porsche could have stuffed batteries underneath a 911’s floor and installed an electric motor over its rear wheels, but it chose not to. Instead, it left it alone as it sits next to the newly developed Taycan in the showroom.
A similar phenomenon needs to happen with the AMG GT lineup. Whatever electrified performance car Mercedes will cook up next should and most probably will be sold alongside its gasoline-powered models.
As a matter of fact, when asked if the V8 engine’s days are numbered, Schiemer simply said it isn’t going anywhere — at least, not anytime soon. Like the Porsche 911 then, the faith of the AMG GT R needs to be decided by consumers, not by the company that builds it.
As I sat behind the wheel of this Robert Lešnik-designed German performance machine, running laps around Sanair Super Speedway like there’s no tomorrow as the addictively loud biturbo V8 ran full boil, emitting satisfying exhaust thumps while I shuffled through the gears from paddle shifters carved out of aluminium, my pupils fully dilated from the thrill of the experience, I too felt a resistance to transform these cars into battery powered, emissions-free super rockets.
Because I’ve driven the electric cars. I’ve strapped myself behind the wheel of a fast Tesla as it warped me to triple digit speeds faster than I could blink. Yet, it never provided this kind of engaging driving experience.
While I’m confident electric technology will bring us more speed than we can handle, I’m not convinced the next-generation of electric sports cars will convey the same kind of euphoria as this front-engine, rear-wheel drive “Beast of the Green Hell” provides.