by Jared Rosenholtz
To attack an icon, you need a serious weapon. Thus was the case for the Mercedes-AMG department, who decided to build a bespoke car to do battle with the Porsche 911. Simply modifying an existing Mercedes model would not be enough to take down the 911, so the AMG Division started off with a clean-sheet spaceframe chassis and body to create the ideal sports car. The result is the AMG GT, a sports car with enough sub-models to overwhelm even an avid Porsche enthusiast.
Mercedes sent us a 2019 GT C Roadster (the most powerful convertible model available for 2019) to see how it stacks up against the competition. With an ear drum-bashing 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 under the massive hood, the AMG GT C looks like it has the goods to match the 911 on performance. But is it comfortable enough to drive every day? That question is a bit tougher to answer.
The Mercedes-AMG GT and GT C Roadster were first introduced back in 2016 at the Paris Motor Show, shortly after the announcement of the hardcore GT R version, and hit US streets for the first time as a 2018 model. The Roadster features the same active aero as found in the GT R as well as the wider body of the coupe version. While the GT range is slated for a facelift for 2020, the 2019 GT C Roadster remains unchanged.
There's no denying the fact that the GT C Roadster is a gorgeous car. The Roadster manages to look as pretty as the Coupe with the roof up but dazzles when it lets its hair down. The full rear end is wide at the hips to accommodate broad 305/30 high-performance tires on 20-inch alloy wheels, while up front, narrower 265/35 rubber surrounds the 19-inch alloys. The active aero system is borrowed from the GT R and flared sills add to the aggressive appeal of this super roadster. Mercedes-AMG spent some time focusing on the smaller exterior details, and it shows: LED headlights look striking and include daytime running lights and the trapezoid AMG performance exhaust pipes finish off the stubby back-end with a touch of gusto. The AMG specific forged wheels are finished off in a Titanium Gray as standard with a high sheen finish and wouldn't seem out of place on a Le Mans spec race car, while up front, the Panamericana grille design looks aggressive. Differentiating the GT C Roadster from its coupe sibling is a power-retractable soft-top roof.
The GT C Roadster is broader than its GT counterpart thanks to a widened set of tires and flared wheel arches, but shares the same length, height, and wheelbase measurements. Total length comes in at 179 inches, and its highest point sits 49.6 inches off the ground with the roof closed. The maximum body width of the GT C is 79.02 inches, which is 2.66 inches wider than the standard GT Roadster. The car rolls on a 103.5-inch wheelbase, which seems limousine-like when compared to the Porsche 911 Cabriolet's stout 96.5 inches. The GT weighs in at 3,660 lbs, making it 144 lbs heavier than the base GT Roadster and in excess of 300 lbs more than a 911 Carrera GTS Cabriolet.
Mercedes-AMG gives new owners a massive range of exterior color and trim options, which means you'll have no issue finding the perfect look. The GT C Roadster is available in Black at no additional cost, but any of the other ten options ask a premium. Additional cost options include Magnetite Black Metallic, Iridium Silver Metallic, Brilliant Blue Metallic, and Selenite Grey at $720 each. The palette of special colors offers striking options are certainly worth the added cost: Designo Cardinal Red Metallic is priced at $1,080, Designo Diamond White is the easiest on the eye but heavier on the wallet at $1,515, while the most expensive choices are Designo Iridium Silver Magno and Designo Selenite Grey, both of which available at a $3,950 premium. New owners will be able to choose from three soft-top colors: Black, Beige, and Red.
Our tester was finished in a special color called Solarbeam Yellow Metallic, which was strangely excluded from the options list when we viewed them on the Mercedes website. In our opinion, this shade helps the AMG GT stand out from the crown and is the best option available, especially when matched with a yellow-stitched interior.
With a particular Porsche in its sights, the folks over at AMG have done their best to ensure that the GT C is able to hand out spankings, and it does, but it also manages to retain some of its grand tourer roots. In a straight line, the GT C will hustle from zero to sixty in a blistering 3.6 seconds, 0.6 seconds slower than the rear-wheel-drive equivalent Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet. However, the Porsche is all-wheel-driven, something not offered by the strictly RWD AMG. The 4.0-liter bi-turbo V8 offers truckloads of torque throughout the rev range, making in-town driving an absolute pleasure, while out on a track, it'll keep on pulling all the way up to a top speed of 196 mph.
At the heart of the beast lies a twin-turbocharged, 32-valve, aluminum block V8 measuring 4.0 liters in capacity. To minimize turbo-lag and improve throttle responses, the turbocharges are mounted in a 'hot V' configuration, both located between the two banks of cylinders. This, along with direct injection and trick timing technology allow it to punch out 550 horsepower and a bone-crushing 502 lb-ft of torque, available from only 1,900 rpm in GT C guise, while the base GT Roadster makes do with 469 hp and 465 lb-ft. Power is sent to the rear wheels via a seven-speed transaxle dual-clutch automatic with manual shifting mode.
The AMG M178 V8 is among our favorite engines on sale today due to its ferocious power, spine-tingling exhaust note, and ability to operate normally when you just want to cruise in traffic. This iteration of the engine is no less impressive but unlike the nine-speed automatic found in other AMG models, the seven-speed DCT isn't quite as smooth when operating in stop-and-go traffic. The transmission rips off blisteringly quick shifts during performance driving but lacks the civility found with Porsche's PDK.
It is clear AMG wanted the GT C Roadster to combat the Porsche 911 on the race track and so it does. The steering offers far more feedback than other AMG models and the grip from the wide tires will give your neck muscles a workout. Even with only two driven wheels handling 550 horses, the GT C rarely struggles for grip but still possesses the ability to shred its rubber if so desired. Drivers can select from five drive modes - Individual, Comfort, Sport, Sport +, and Race - which change the characteristics of the car such as the suspension, throttle mapping, exhaust mode, transmission calibration, and traction control. All of these parameters can also be toggled individually if, for example, you want loud exhaust with comfortable suspension.
But although the GT C is remarkably quick and agile, it lacks everyday usability. Even in its comfort suspension mode, the car crashes and vibrates over even slightly bumpy road surfaces. The AMG racing bucks do a great job holding you in during hard cornering but they only make the car feel even less comfortable during normal driving. AMG should just change the name from 'Comfort' to 'Normal' because there is simply nothing comfortable about the GT C. We would be interested to try the base GT Roadster to see if the suspension is more livable.
If you are reading this section, you are likely not interested in buying a GT C Roadster; you just want to see what it takes to quench the thirst of a twin-turbocharged V8 with 550 hp. Well, it takes surprisingly little: Mercedes-AMG quotes an EPA-estimated 15/21/17 mpg city/highway/combined, down from the standard GT Roadster's 16/22/18 mpg. A 19.8-gallon gas tank services the AMG GT C, and with a full tank of premium unleaded on board, the GT C Roadster can theoretically manage a range of 337 miles in mixed conditions. But, those figures are all in theory, and out in the real world, things are a little different. We averaged around 15 mpg combined, likely due to all of the unnecessary downshifting and acceleration we did during the week.
The interior of the 2019 Mercedes-AMG GT C strikes a balance between performance-minded utility and luxurious grand tourer. The most notable feature is the shifter console that pays tribute to the V8 that lies beneath the hood with four control buttons flanking each side of the V-shaped design. The rest of the cabin follows a clean and straightforward layout, which is reminiscent of Mercedes sports convertibles of old. The list of interior features isn't as extensive as that of an E-Class convertible, but offers class-leading functionality and comfort, more so than the likes of the 911 Turbo Cabriolet. Power racing buckets with memory function and four-way lumbar support keep occupants glued down, while the Mercedes-AMG Airscarf system keeps exposed necks hot or cold depending on the weather.
The 12.3-inch hi-resolution driver display can switch between classic, sport, and supersport modes depending on the mood. Other features on the list include push-button start, automatic climate control, and a gorgeous flat-bottomed AMG steering wheel with mounted paddle shifters. It is also worth noting that 2020 AMG GT models receive an updated interior with a digital gauge cluster, larger central screen, new steering wheel, and improved center console.
The AMG GT is strictly a two-seater but Mercedes does offer a four-door model with the same name, offering two additional seats in the rear. Mercedes only offers the GT with stiff racing buckets, which are phenomenal on the track but less comfortable everyday. The large bolsters are adjustable but larger drivers may find it difficult to squeeze into them comfortably. There is also a large center tunnel, which may make the interior feel crammed for drivers with long legs. Although the racing buckets are a bit extreme, we think they feel far more at home here than they did in the E63 sedan.
While the interior feels remarkably upscale, some of the trim pieces aren't fitted to the degree befitting of a nearly $200,000 car. We could hear a few pieces squeak over rough pavement and the whole car creaks when you drive over curbs. These issues may just be relegated to our tester though, as the rest of the interior is beautifully appointed with leather, Alcantara, and carbon fiber. Buyers can choose from a variety of leather colors including black, brown, red, and silver. Ours was finished with a black leather interior with contrast yellow stitching.
What can be said about the GT C's trunk space that cannot be surmised purely by looking at it? Space is limited with 5.8 cubic feet of space, significantly more than the mid-engined Audi R8, which can only muster four cubic feet. There should be no reason why two people shouldn't be able to pack at least two changes of underwear and a few bottles of Moët & Chandon. It is worth noting the GT Coupe is more practical with 10.1 cubic feet of storage due to its liftback design.
Small-item storage is limited to a few storage nooks, which will hold a set of keys and a phone, and Mercedes-AMG was gracious enough to include some cupholders placed awkwardly in front of the climate controls.
Other than the all-out performance-orientated GT R models, the GT C sits at the top of the Mercedes-AMG GT range, which means it benefits from a wide range of standard features. On the outside, there's a keyless access system with automatic trunk opening, electrically folding and auto-dimming mirrors that project the AMG logo when entering the vehicle, and active front air control that controls the flow of air to the front brakes to aid in cooling. Automatic LED lighting can be found at the front and back and includes daytime running lights.
The rear-end of the GT C features some impressive tech: the rear aerofoil extends at higher speeds for increased negative lift and retracts when cruising at lower speeds while the exhaust system gets an electronically controlled valve that is able to vary volume according to the occasion. The interior of the GT C offers heated power seats with lumbar, and side bolster adjustment, neck-level air heating and cooling, a 12.3-inch driver info display, and a dual-zone automatic climate control system. Driver aids are few though, with only a rearview camera made standard, while adaptive cruise control, blind-spot assist, and lane-keep assist are optional.
For 2019, the AMG GT still relies on the last-generation Mercedes COMAND infotainment system. 2020 models will receive an update version featuring the new touchpad from the updated MBUX system, though it will still be tied to COMAND. In just a few short years, COMAND has been outclassed by other systems and it lacks the usability and customizability found in its successor. Many of the important functions are buried in confusing sub-menus, making the system difficult to navigate and nearly impossible to master.
Highly specialized performance cars tend to have a few niggles and growing pains at the start, and the GT range of vehicles is no different. Since 2017 the Mercedes-AMG GT has been recalled several times, however, only two recalls were applicable to the GT C Roadster. Both pertained to the airbag systems, with ten 2018 GT Cs being affected in which the airbags might not deploy correctly. The 2019 version has not been recalled. Mercedes-AMG offers a substantial warranty that covers the GT C for four years or 50,000 miles. This includes a corrosion, drivetrain, and roadside assistance warranty.
With a top speed closing in on 200 mph, Mercedes-AMG had to make sure that the GT C would keep its occupants safe in case of some serious high-speed crashes, and by looking at the safety features list, it seems that they've thought of every possibility. As with most high-end performance cars, neither the NHTSA nor IIHS have had the pleasure of smashing one into a concrete wall, but we'll believe the team over at AMG when they say that the 2019 GT C is a safe car.
Extensive is the list of safety features on the 2019 Mercedes-AMG GT, especially on the GT C, which gets only the best as standard. The brake system on the GT C consists of 15.5-inch composite discs in the front and 14-inch discs in the rear, slightly larger than the standard GT's system. Standard safety tech such as traction control, driver and passenger front and knee airbags, and ABS is present, but the list goes on with more advanced systems making a feature. Automatic braking with hill start assist, priming, and wet/dry modes keep things straight while a driver attention system makes sure that the pilot does not fall asleep behind the wheel of a 550 hp supercar. Other notable safety features include cruise control, front and rear parking cameras with parking assist, and traffic sign recognition.
Summing up the 2019 AMG GT C Roadster is tough because it truly depends on what you define as "a good car." In terms of speed, the GT C is bonkers but when it comes to everyday livability, the car falls flat on its chiseled face. AMG offers plenty of similarly-priced sedans and coupes with greater practicality, so if you don't plan on attending many track events, you are probably better off with one of those. Although, the GT is far more eye-catching than the rest of the AMG cars, which are based on more mundane Mercedes models. The decision is up to you but for us, the GT C Roadster simply fails as a daily driver and we'd only consider it as a second or third car designated for the race track and smooth backroads.
A starting price of $125,625 might be a hard pill to swallow, but for most shopping in this league, that price will seem entirely palatable, especially when compared to the likes of Audi's R8, which starts at $177,100 or the Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet at $174,100. Additional options will see the asking price creep closer to the $200k mark, and purchasing a GT C Roadster will start off at $158,850, but for a high-end vehicle such as the GT C, optional extras are reasonably priced. The starting price of $158,850 excludes a destination fee of $925.
The 2019 GT C forms part of the Mercedes-AMG GT series of cars and is the most potent Roadster in the lineup - at least until the limited-run GT R Roadster arrives in 2020.
The GT C borrows some of its most notable party tricks from the track-focused GT R: active aero and super wide fender flares hiding wider tires give the GT C the edge over the regular GT as does the power increase of 81 hp over the standard GT. As the range-topping roadster, the GT C offers the most comprehensive features list, including an upgraded brake system, Burmester surround sound with ten speakers, heated power seat adjustment with neck-level heating, dual-zone climate control, and model exclusive AMG alloy wheels finished off in Titanium Grey.
Starting from the outside in, AMG offers a $5,300 Carbon Fiber Package that sees the side mirrors, front air-dam splitter, front vents, side mirrors, and rear apron wrapped in the grey stuff. A $750 Exterior Night Package adds jet-black accents and sees the tailpipes finished off in black chrome. Both packages have interior alternatives as well that apply the same carbon or black-out embellishments to the cabin for are carried over to the interior, with the latter being an $800 option while carbon fiber accessories are individually accessible.
For those despise the sound of a turbocharged V8, there's a Burmester surround sound system featuring 11 speakers and enough bass to justify spending $4,500 on a sound system. On the performance and safety side of things, Mercedes-AMG offers a ceramic composite brake kit for $8,950, semi-autonomous driving assistance for $2,250, or a carbon-fiber engine cover for a cool $1,500. The available Lane Tracking Package adds blind-spot monitoring and lane-keep assist for $875.
For 2019, there are only two AMG GT Roadster models to choose from. We were only able to sample the GT C, though the base GT offers similar performance (with 81 less horsepower) for around $34,000 less. If you don't plan to take the car to a racetrack, we say save the money and just go for the base car, which is more comfortable.
The Porsche 911 is the benchmark many manufacturers pit their latest creations against, and for a good reason: the 2019 911 is more accomplished, capable, and comfortable than ever; put simply, it's rather magnificent, but how does it stack up against the best Mercedes has to offer? Power in Turbo guise comes from a twin-turbo 3.8-liter flat-six producing 540 hp and 486 lb-ft of torque, which is comparable to the Merc, but the Porsche manages to put its power down more effectively with standard AWD, sprinting to sixty in three seconds flat while returning a far superior 21 mpg combined. The Porsche is noticeably smaller but offers a functional interior space and a premium if somewhat austere cabin design that can seat up to four. The GT C provides a more comprehensive features list as standard, though. In the end, the Porsche offers understated performance, unlike the GT C, which yells, "look at me!" every chance it gets. Picking one over the other will boil down to your personality.
The Audi R8 Spyder laughs in the face of turbochargers with its 5.2-liter naturally aspirated V10. This sonorous powerplant might not be able to match its competitors in terms of torque delivery, but 532 hp and 398 lb-ft has never sounded so good and matches the GT C in terms of sprint times and gas mileage. The R8 Spyder is shorter, sits lower to the ground, and looks every bit the supercar of teenage dreams, unlike the GT C, which adopts a more traditional convertible coupe look. The GT C trumps the R8 in terms of features and practicality (the R8 Spyder doesn't really have any cargo space worth mentioning), but when it comes to sheer presence and sense of occasion, the R8 wins every time.