Mercedes-AMG GT Black Series | PH Review
Most extreme Black Series yet has huge performance – and the price tag to go with it
By Mike Duff / Sunday, October 4, 2020
The complicated logistics of organising international media launches means carmakers often set embargoes on delivering driving impressions. These are intended to ensure everyone has a fair crack of the whip, and that we don't all throw together stories as quickly as possible to try and scoop each other. But it also means you don't always read about new cars in the order we actually experienced them.
Normally, this doesn't matter. But in the case of the new Mercedes-AMG GT Black Series it absolutely does. Because two days after experiencing it at the Lausitzring in eastern Germany I got to have a go in the new McLaren 765LT at Silverstone – just before matinee idol Dan nipped in to make his video.
Even with a gap of 48 hours and on separate racetracks in different countries, the difference was striking. The Black Series is a hugely fast and exciting car in its own right: a savage, snarling beast on a racetrack. But the Macca makes it feel leisurely and lardy, even old-fashioned. That's not necessarily a major surprise given that, when it comes to race-track fanging, the whole front engine versus mid engine thing was largely settled in the 'sixties, and it's not as if that killed sales of sports cars with their powertrains at the front.
The problem comes with the Black Series's price, and the fact it has been designed to be excellent on a circuit. Because costing just over a third of a million quid means that its price is actually £55,000 higher than kick-off for the almighty LT. That's a chunky supplement for a car that's likely to get comprehensively bounced at the first senior track day its owner takes it to.
The GT is the seventh model to carry AMG's elite branding – although the original SLK Black Series was so underwhelming it deserves to be forgotten. But even compared to the previous highlights of the genre – the CLK and SLS Blacks – it has a much harder core and a much blacker heart.
A new engine is the standout feature, the most powerful AMG has fitted to a road car so far. The company has gone to the trouble and expense of creating a flat-plane crank version of its 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8. This hasn't turned it into a strato-revving screamer, the 7,200rpm redline is only just higher than that of the regular 4.0-litre. But it is more responsive, sounds angrier and – thanks to a firing order that always alternates between cylinder banks – creates more efficient gasflow. It also gets puffier turbochargers, delivering up to 24.6psi of boost, taking peak output to 720hp and, equally important, delivering a 590lb ft torque plateau all the way from 2,000rpm to 6,000rpm.
The other side of the scale has been trimmed, too. Wings, bonnet and tailgate are all made from carbon fibre, as are various underbody reinforcement pieces and the vast rear wing. The net saving is a modest 35kg, but mass has also been added with various upgraded components. The suspension uses lots of motorsport grade components and allows serious adjustability beyond the switchable dynamic modes; camber can be tweaked at both ends and the anti roll bars have three levels of stiffness.
Aerodynamic changes are even more extreme. The Black Series is covered with scoops, vents and winglets, including shark gills style intakes on top of the front wings reminiscent of those on the 911 GT2 RS. The huge diffuser that underhangs the front bumper is big enough to get tension ties, the rear wing incorporates both user-adjustable and active elements. With everything turned up to full peak downforce is quoted as a huge 400kg at 155mph.
The Lausitzring is much more crashable than the sort of generously gravel-trapped circuits normally used for media events. Originally built as a 2.3-mile tri-oval in the 1990s it was Germany's Rockingham, designed to bring the excitement of U.S. speedway racing to Brandenburg. It only managed to do this a coupe of times times, and was where Alex Zanardi had the huge crash that cost him his legs in 2001. Our drive is on the tighter infield course that was recently used for two rounds of this year's DTM championship. But it still includes a high-commitment final turn onto the start-finish straight guarded by nothing more than scratched-looking concrete barriers.
COVID restrictions limited the number of launch attendees, meaning much more time on track than is normal for such events. I managed 25 laps over five stints, trying to keep up with multiple DTM champion Bernd Schneider in an identical pace car each time. This was hugely exciting, but not much use at discovering what the Black Series will feel like in the real world. I can confirm that even at the gentler pace of sighting and cool-down laps it felt properly racey, the exhaust loud even through the noise insulation of a crash helmet, the suspension ultra-firm even with dampers in their softest setting and with carbon brakes grumbling protest when asked to deal with lower thermal loads.
The discs didn't have to complain for long. By the second lap of each stint Schneider was convinced everything was up to temperature and those following him knew the track as well as they needed to, so dropped the hammer and headed off into the middle distance. Trying to keep up was both fun and futile – Schneider would ease off occasionally to collect the pack – and it soon proved the Black Series needs a very different driving style to the one used by its direct rivals.
Although the GT's official 9-second 0-124mph time is two seconds off the barely credible pace of the 765LT, it never felt subjectively short of acceleration. Full throttle delivers something close to painful G-forces, the engine pulling relentlessly to the redline and the twin-clutch transmission punching in new ratios almost as quickly as fingers can move the change paddles in the punchiest Race mode. Braking performance is similarly huge, and in faster turns the aero-assisted turn-in is phenomenal; it takes several laps to build trust in what feels like impossible high-speed grip into the first corner.
There's a 'but' of course. In the Lausitzring's slower and tighter turns, without the invisible help of the Hand of God, getting the Black Series to rotate feels considerably harder. Mass distribution is pretty much as good as it can be with an engine at the front – the V8 sits entirely behind the axle line, the transaxle gearbox is at the rear to optimise the weight on each end. But at 1640kg the GT weighs a chunk more than even a porky junior supercar, and the positioning of the bulk fights against it being turned. There's a reason its easier to spin a bowling ball than an equally weighted dumbbell.
By my second stint on track I've realised that the problem is the nut behind the wheel: pushing further is getting the midfield apexes further away. Getting the best from the Black Series requires a change of style and a history lesson, readopting the slow-in, fast-out technique long favoured by those who race with engines at the sharp end. In the case of the AMG that means trusting in the tireless brakes, using basic geometry to pick an apex to maximise the quantity of following straight and then, with most steering lock wound off, unleashing hell.
This is great fun. The Black Series finds phenomenal grip from its vast 335-profile rear Michelin Cup 2 tyres, even with the stability switched off and the variable traction control – as seen on the GT R Pro – allowing progressive rear-end slip. Beyond the limits it's much less snappy than a senior supercar would be. Or, put another way, I got away with a fair amount of silliness in the AMG; I span the 765LT on my last lap in it.
Barring the outlier that is the Rolls-Royce Phantom, the GT Black Series is set to be the most expensive front-engined production car in the world. For many buyers the fact it isn't a mid-engined supercar will be a big part of the appeal; it does stand out from the crowd of price point rivals. But while it is hugely fast and hugely exciting, it does feel like the furthest point down an evolutionary dead end.
SPECIFICATION | MERCEDES-AMG GT BLACK SERIES
Engine: 3982cc V8, twin turbocharged
Transmission: Seven-speed twin-clutch, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 720 @ 6700rpm
Torque (lb ft): 590lb ft @ 2000-6000rpm
0-62mph: 3.2 second
Top speed: 201mph
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