Three hours’ drive north of Frankfurt or a 30-min flight away, Bad Driburg is usually not on most Malaysian stopover itinerary when visiting Germany.
The resort hotel is as plush as its name suggests with rooms that blend tradition with modernity. It is nestled in a 64ha park, which has been voted one of the 10 most beautiful parks in Germany, what with its English-style landscape and carefully maintained spaces that stretch as far as the eye could see.
Today, Count Marcus and Countess Annabelle and their three children live in the centuries-old family house on the grounds, overseeing the park and the hotel and corporate group Graf von Oeynhausen-Sierstorpff.
The richly historical place is certainly a far cry from the sterile business hotel we stayed in Frankfurt. We were in Germany recently for the Frankfurt Motor Show at the invitation of Mercedes-Benz.
After doing the rounds of the static displays, it was time to adjourn elsewhere to try out one of their models. With AMG celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, it was only logical that we sample all that is good and great about Mercedes-Benz’s motorsports division.
And that’s where Bad Driburg came in. We flew into the small town and on the menu was the chance to try out the GT family of sports cars.
Muscle in the genes
The GT cars are not in the same league as the 1,000+hp Project ONE hybrid concept hypercar that made its world debut at the motor show and slated for 2019 production.
But there’s nothing to gripe about. The GT epitomises AMG and lays out plenty of performance choices for a wide customer base – be they driving enthusiasts, poseurs or track racers.
The GT family comprises six series-production cars – four coupés and two roadsters – plus two customer sport racing cars, GT3 and GT4. The series cars are all two-door two-seaters with a conceptual study promising a 4-door 5-seat GT, come 2018.
The GT series starts with the base GT and moves on up with the GT Roadster, GT S, GT C, GT C Roadster and the most extreme GT R. The GT C actually comes in an Edition 50 version to mark AMG’s 50 years, differentiated by special paint finishes and stylistic colour tweaks on the inside and outside.
All use the same 4.0-litre V8 bi-turbo engine in four output ratings from 476hp to 585hp with peak torque from 630Nm to 700Nm.
They are front-mid-engined cars with a 7-speed dual-clutch rear transaxle. All are slightly heavier in the back with a 53% bias.
Bookmarked by a distinctive AMG Panamericana grille and a muscular tail, the 2-seater looks the part of a sports car albeit an oversized one. The low-slung extended bonnet and the “shark nose” make the car appear to sit lower on the road.
The two turbos of the V8 in all variants are in a “hot inside V” orientation, being placed inside the “V” between the banks. This results in a compact engine and there’s instant boost on tap with low gas emissions.
The dry sump lubrication also elevates the sporting character of the GT as the engine can be placed lower to the ground, allowing the car to undergo high lateral acceleration while still ensuring the engine is well lubricated.
While we had the chance to drive the different GT cars on public roads, the highlight was the GT R, which was reserved for the race track.
The track drive came after we had tried out the GT and GT C Roadster. The next day, we had a few hours of road time with the GT S before flying home.
GT R experience
The GT R drive venue is rather special. The 4.2km Bilster Berg Drive Resort is a private race track in the Teutoburg forest.
Opened in 2013, it was created by F1 architect Hermann Tilke, the same man who designed the Sepang track.
The Bilster Berg circuit has a highly technical layout. With 44 crest and dips, it’s akin to riding a rollercoaster ribbon of asphalt.
Of the 19 bends, the most challenging one is the double left-bend “Mousetrap”.
Cars rush downhill at a 26% gradient. The circuit broadens to 13m in the dip, allowing for a number of ideal and fighting lines. The track then goes steeply uphill with a gradient of up to 21%.
Faced with such a daunting circuit, it was reassuring to have a pro-pace car – what else but also a GT R – lead the way.
Three laps was all each media member had. It was hardly enough with a beast like the GT R – and on a tough track like this. It’s like having a few sips of your favourite Lobster Bisque before a cicak lands in the bowl to spoil the moment’s pleasure.
In crafting a sports car, weight is always the enemy of performance. AMG engineers have done everything they could to lighten up the GT R.
They started by using aluminium for the whole body shell and lay on carbon-fibre and composite components to reduce weight further.
A carbon fibre shaft is used instead of steel and is encased in a torque tube of carbon fibre rather than aluminium.
The GT R, draped in exclusive “Green Hell Magno” paintwork, spent much of its development time on the Nurburgring. So you would expect the car to provide an epic ride. It has to be fast, surefooted and offers enough user-adjustable settings for the more advanced drivers to enjoy it on varying road conditions.
The GT R packs a big rear wing, a wider body and track, more torsional rigidity, active aero and rear-wheel steering system (standard also on the GT C and GT C Roadster but optional for GT S).
Unlike the other GT series cars, the GT R has a 9-position AMG Traction Control button aka the “fun dial” that allows a skilled driver to pre-select the level of slip on the driven rear axle. Level 1 is meant for safe driving in the wet, while Level 9 allows maximum slip.
The V8 in the GT R makes a hefty 585hp and 700Nm from a lowly 1,900rpm. It’s the fastest of the GTs, going from 0-100kph in 3.6s and onwards to a top speed of 318kph.
From what we can tell from the brief drive, the GT R does seem to fulfil its mission statement. It goes everywhere fast and not just in a straight line even before the right foot is planted deep down.
Set to Race mode and Level 3 traction, the torque is brutish and the howl from the engine and the noisome exhaust coalesce to generate a raw primal experience.
Rein in the speed in a tight bend and the pop and crackle conspire to tug at the heartstrings.Steering is light and quick, with the GT R cornering almost flat. There were times the rear tyres slip but quickly found their grip without too much drama.
In the main, grip and traction were exceptional and stopping power from the optional carbon ceramic brakes was impressive.
Overall, the GT R’s ample talents inject some degree of driver confidence when navigating a tough track like Bilster Berg’s.
We could see the GT R double up as a grand tourer on the open road and be ready to roll into a track all set for a brawl with the likes of the Audi R8 and Porsche 911 GT3 RS.
None of the lesser GTs are slouches. They are stout, well-balanced sports cars with progressive power delivery on demand. The differences are by degrees of specifications and performance.
The base GT has a more direct link with the tarmac via Multimatic-sourced shocks, while the GT S and GT C Roadster we had sampled sport adaptive dampers.
If the GT S isn’t flashy enough, the open-top GT C could appease the exhibitionist. It’s the sort of vehicle to get noticed in. And for the driver to feel the wind in the hair and listen to the soundtrack up close.
The GT C Roadster still felt cosseting and comfortable when buzzing through rural German roads. With the top down, there’s no annoying vibrations as the wind streamed around and over the car, and you could still hold a conversation with a passenger without yelling. Noise insulation is unusually good with the 3-layer top up.
If you must know, the fabric top opens and closes in 11s when travelling at speeds of up to 50kph.
As magnificent as the GT R is, it’s not for everyone, even those who could afford it. It made its way to Malaysia earlier this month with a starting price of RM1.7mil.
If you don’t need the race ready kit, you could spring for the updated GT S, which is also over a million bucks, and it’s not lacking in performance or the glee factor. These are the only two series GTs on sale locally.
As this is not a convertible market, Mercedes-Benz Malaysia is giving the two GT roadsters a miss. Still if you insists, it could do a special order of either one from Mercedes’ Sindelfingen plant.
Mercedes-AMG GT R has arrived in Malaysia
Behold the Mercedes-AMG Project One
GT C Coupe Edition 50