Nestled in the hills outside Paderborn, not 10 miles from the ancient "German Stonehenge" rock formation of Externsteine, sits Bilster Berg race way. Built on the bones of a decommissioned British Army base, its four miles of undulating tarmac are an excellent stand-in for the narrow, sharply angled roads that carve through the countryside surrounding the facility (with the notable benefits of no photo radar, holiday traffic, or stoplights). The perfect venue, it would seem, for exercising the new 2018 Mercedes-AMG GT R, the quickest and most aggressively styled coupe to have worn the Silver Star since its predecessor, the gull-winged SLS Black Series, was retired.
I'm sitting in the driver seat of the GT R on Bilster Berg's pit row, listening to AMG Driving Academy chief instructor Reinhold Renger as he goes over the finer points of the bright green monster's high-tech wizardry. Although the R may share its basic shape with the street-oriented GT and GT S editions of the coupe, mechanically this most belligerent member of the AMG family is as different from the base car as a straight razor is from a Schick. Despite his willingness to demonstrate how I can dial in as much or as little traction control as I may desire using the dash-mounted knob, Renger helpfully suggests that, of the GT R's four drive modes, I stick with "Sport+" and avoid "Race" until I've had at least a few laps at speed under my belt.
"You know, because, well, this is a lot of car," he says, looking me directly in the eye. A pause, and then he repeats this for a second time. "A lot of car."
I'm quick to nod my assent, because it most certainly is. Although I've spent the morning piloting the next-quickest Mercedes-AMG GT trim—the GT C—on public roads and unrestricted autobahns, there's a vast chasm between uncorking nearly 600 hp on a straight stretch of highway and corralling that same thunder and fury within the confines of a road course's twists and turns. Overestimating your talent in a vehicle as potent as the GT R, even for a moment, can quickly provide you with a devastating physics lesson. Satisfied that I've both listened, and heard, his warning, Renger taps the roof of my car and heads off toward his own, where he'll lead myself and one other fortunate journalist following behind on a 20-minute stint around Bilster Berg. It's our first session of the day, and the plan is to work up to a speed comfortable enough to be safe, but quick enough to properly evaluate the engineering achievements AMG has wrought with its latest toy.
As brash as the $112,400 Mercedes-AMG GT may be, the $157,000 GT R takes the car's fistfight design formula and stretches it out like Silly Putty. The end result maintains the wide track of the GT S (57 mm greater than that of the base coupe at the rear), but embellishes it by way of an even greater wingspan for the taller deck spoiler, along with a rear diffuser that butches up the back bumper. There's even active aero in the form of an extensible front splitter that adds just a smidge more than 88 pounds of downforce once its fully extended at speed. Splash it all over with matte Green Hell Magno paint and it's the anti-911, a menacing grand tourer-cum-racer that definitely won't fit in at the parking lot of the next dental convention.
While you can already buy two factory-backed competition editions of the GT—in both GT3 and GT4 spec—Mercedes-AMG still confidently refers to the GT R as a "racing car approved for public roads," and in fact uses the R as the template for its GT4 offering. A close reading of its spec sheet certainly seems to confirm that the automaker is far from overstating the coupe's credentials. Perched as far back from the front axles as possible in the Mercedes-AMG is a 4.0L dry-sump twin-turbo V-8 engine that generates 577 horses and 516 lb-ft of torque, output that is sent back to the rear-mounted seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual transaxle via a carbon-fiber torque tube. The GT R rides on a platform hewn from aluminum, steel, and carbon fiber in a bid to maximize strength while chipping away at its curb weight (which checks in at just over 3,400 pounds), and a fully adjustable suspension system as well as active rear-wheel steering are also along for the ride. Top speed for the vehicle is listed at nearly 200 mph, and the sprint to 60 mph can be eclipsed in a mere 3.6 seconds from a standing start.
A reconnoiter of Bilster Berg on the out-lap quickly reveals several sections of track that will challenge the Mercedes-AMG GT R's composure. With maximum torque available from an exceptionally low 1,900 rpm and featuring a 100hp advantage over the base model GT, the turbocharged V-8 is only too willing to pound the pavement through its massive Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, which means the downhill approach into several of the circuit's faster straights represents a true test of will in terms of restraining the right foot and avoiding 180 degrees of disappointment. The GT R's active exhaust baffles growl and bark their way through the gears, the seven-speed transmission proving remarkably capable of pulling the correct cog for each upcoming corner, and within the first 10 minutes I've become comfortable hitting an indicated 140 mph at the end of the longest line of pavement before braking hard into a sweeping left-hander that leads to the glory pass in front of pit lane.
By the second session, I've shifted from being impressed by the authority with which the long-and-wide GT R brutalizes Bilster Berg to registering astonishment at just how easy it is to drive the Mercedes-AMG in anger. Even the sudden, repeated unloading of the car's suspension on the aggressive up-down roller coaster curves prior to the course's trickiest plunging downhill corner are handled with the most casual of squat and wiggle on the part of the coupe. On paper, this is a car that should make all but the most seasoned drivers pause before uncorking its full potential. But at this point, it seems even Renger has forgotten his stern words to me at the beginning of the afternoon and is leading myself and my colleague behind me on an increasingly quick set of laps, each one closer to the ragged edge of the GT R's envelope and yet still nowhere near feeling as though I'm at the risk of over-driving. Snug in the AMG's cockpit after each on-track stint, surprisingly unsweaty and grinning ear to ear, the only word I can muster with conviction is "again."
The question of just how many AMG customers will bypass the street-friendly levels of the GT lineup and snag the R isn't immediately clear. The performance brand does, however, have a better handle on how many of its faithful will actually thrash any version of the GT as I just did.
"It's less than 15 percent of our owners," confirms AMG's Nadine Bottner. "That being said, the GT is one of our most popular options for those seeking both a weekend car and a track-capable performer."
The reign of the Mercedes-AMG GT R as the hottest iron in the AMG portfolio seems destined for a premature end. Two new lights are on the horizon that point toward the future of the performance brand, each of which—the recently unveiled $2.75 million Mercedes-AMG Project One and the upcoming four-door AMG GT Concept—draw their mega-mighty hybrid drivetrains from Mercedes-Benz's Petronas Formula 1 team rather than the turbocharged eight-cylinder engine of the current street car.
It's hard to argue with a thousand-plus horsepower, but then again, with fewer than 300 production models of the Project One sold out before the vehicle even sees its first public road by the end of 2019, there won't be too many people on the planet in a position to debate the merits of a rear-wheel-drive V-8 versus a battery-assisted all-wheel-drive F1 car. Personally, I'll take the manic, deep-throated cackle of today over the warp-speed silence of tomorrow any day of the week—especially if I'm the one making the monthly payments.