by Gerhard Horn
The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GT is the best example of what the AMG division can do when given a blank cheque. This twin-turbo V8 coupe beast was not the division's first attempt at building a standalone car, however. That accolade belongs to the bonkers SLS, which remains the most veracious interpretation of an AMG, but only in the sense that it had too much power. Which in AMG-speak translates to just enough. The SLS's lifespan was short-lived, and though Mercedes-AMG will never admit it, chances are it was simply too ridiculous. The AMG GT replaces the SLS, but takes a new direction. It brings less power to the table, with 523 horsepower in base form from a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 engine, and gone are the gullwing doors. Instead, this has an air of finesse about the design and engineering, which is just as well, since its number one competitor is the Porsche 911.
The GT gets some rather stunning upgrades for 2021. The GT's power output is increased to 523 hp and 494 lb-ft, finally taking it above that 500 hp psychological barrier. This means the base model can now sprint to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds and on a top speed of 194 mph. AMG Ride Control with adaptive damping is now standard fitment, including a "Race" drive mode. The 2021 GT also has red aluminum brake calipers and an electronic limited-slip rear differential. A Stealth Edition has been added to the roster as well, with bespoke styling elements comprising blacked-out brakes, wheels, front grille, a carbon fiber roof, and three stealthy black or grey paint options.
At the time of writing, Mercedes-Benz has still not yet confirmed the price of the Mercedes-AMG GT range for 2021 in the USA. However, we do expect an increase in price for the new model year when it goes on sale, particularly given the increase in power heaped upon the base model. For reference, in 2020, the price of the AMG GT was $115,900 while the GT C Coupe had an MSRP of $150,900, both excluding destination fees. For 2021, the latter cost has been increased to $1,095. Options will add to the price quickly, so we envision top-spec models being fully loaded to nearly $200k in value.
See trim levels and configurations:
Compared to the SLS, the GT is a revelation. The former had a rather rudimentary traction control system and would simply cut the power. So you turned it off, and it would refuse to drive in a straight line. The SLS was so much of a handful that AMG had to dial back the track-focused model's torque.
The AMG GT is a beast of a sports car but much easier to tame. Both models now come with AMG Ride Control as standard. In addition to that, you get Dynamic Select and three-stage traction control. Comfort is for everyday cruising, while Sport allows you to hustle with all the safety nannies on. Sport+ opens all the valves in the exhaust system, puts the damping in its firmest setting, and reduces the hydraulic power steering assistance. In Race mode (standard from 2021, the stability control is switched to sport handling mode, which is a fancy way of saying it will let you slide around a bit but keep you from killing yourself.
The brakes are mighty, offering tremendous stopping power, but getting used to the dimensions is the trickiest part of the GT driving experience. The car's front feels a mile away, and it's disconcerting sitting so close to the rear axle. Once you get used to it, you'll notice how beautifully the wide track and sticky tires work together. It attacks corners with confidence and provides loads of feedback via the steering wheel. This alleviates many of the stresses related to the front being so far away because you at least know what it's doing.
One could easily live with the GT daily, which, to us at least, makes it a better car. Yes, the SLS provided a savage driving experience, and there is a particular time and place for that, but the GT competes in a segment where the competitors need to do it all. You can't go up against the mighty Porsche 911 with "going sideways is fun" as a unique selling point. Sadly, the GT falls short of the 911's levels of comfort and composure, and instead of adjusting to the road surface, it tries to beat it into submission, something it doesn't always succeed in doing.
There's this belief that AMG was finally allowed to let its hair down with the GT. Other AMG products have to fulfill multiple roles, while the GT has the simple task of being the most AMG model. In other words, the perfect storm of speed, brutality, noise, and pantomime. Erm, no. That was what the SLS was, and look how that worked out. Perfect car, if you were a suicidal nihilist. And let's not forget, the SLS was a $200k plus car.
The GT competes in the 911 bracket. It's called that because the 911 is the yardstick by which all other cars in the segment are measured, much like large luxury saloons are measured against the S-Class. To even be considered a competitor, the GT has to be comfortable enough for daily driving yet savage sufficient to provide the kind of thrills you expect when paying more than $100k for anything. Like a $100,000 boat or $100k worth of cocaine. The AMG GT has a firm ride and trunk space is limited, but it managed to build quite a 911 competitor in every other area. And the engineers did so without losing too much of what made the SLS so epic, like the brutal soundtrack and the beautiful long-hood design.
We were already fans of the base GT even before the recent upgrades. Now that it has more than 500 hp, an adaptive suspension, and an electronic limited-slip differential, it's an even bigger bargain. Relatively speaking, of course. We'd order it in Cirrus Silver with the 19/20-inch black forged cross-spoke alloy wheels for contrast. Add Red Pepper/Black Nappa leather and a Burmester sound system, and it's a job well done.
The Lexus LC is a compelling alternative to the GT. They are very alike in some ways, completely different in others. First, all the things Lexus gets right. It's more affordable than the GT. We know at this level affordability doesn't factor in, but $20,000 is a huge saving. As a cruiser, the Lexus is more accomplished. Yes, you lose some of the more entertaining handling characteristics, but the upside is a ride that's silky smooth and an interior that's much nicer than the Merc's. The Lexus may have a smaller 5.4 cube trunk, but it has unusable rear seats where you can also put some luggage. Engine-wise it has a 5.0-liter naturally-aspirated V8. It's not as fast, with the 0 to 60 mph sprint taking 4.4 seconds. However, that's only half the story. When it comes to character, the 5.0 is more than a match for the twin-turbo V8. If anything, it sounds even better. And it's not a fake noise either. It's real induction noise, visceral and angry.
The AMG offers a better driving experience as a sports coupe, but the Lexus is a better daily car. It's too close to call and we recommend you drive both to find out which one suits your particular needs best.
The 911 Carrera range is four models strong, but for the same price as the Mercedes, you can buy an S or a 4S. Both models have the same twin-turbo six-cylinder powertrain delivering 443 hp, which seems silly compared to the GT. Still, the 911 makes better use of its power, as it can sprint to 60 mph in a blistering 3.2 seconds. This is for a 4S AWS model with the optional Sports Chrono Package included.
That's not even the best part. The 911's secret to success has always been its split personality. It's light, luxuriously equipped, relatively spacious, and easy to see out of. A 911 is no harder to drive than a Hyundai Accent. And somehow, it can also provide the kind of driving experience many manufacturers have tried and failed to replicate. The 911 is as good as sports cars get.
Still, there's an argument to be made for the GT, if only because it's so wonderful to look at, and its V8 gives it a charming bravado. Some people will buy it simply because it's not a 911, therefore not the obvious choice. The unfortunate truth for Mercedes is that the 911 is hands down the best car. But we completely understand why somebody would rather have a Mercedes-AMG GT - after all, sports cars are an emotional buying decision.
The most popular competitors of 2021 Mercedes-AMG GT: