Return of the classic

S Muralidhar | Updated on January 25, 2018

Return of the best: The new AMG GT Roadster shares its compact regular hinged doors and the fabric top with the 300 SL Roadsters

Flying on the road: The GT Roadster is a modern-day super sports car; it is capable of doing a top speed of 302 kmph

One look at AMG’s new sports cars — the GT S, GT R and the GT Roadster — and it is clear that all of them have inevitably been nfluenced by the 300 SL

The Mercedes AMG Roadster is a fitting tribute to the old classic Benz W 198

The Mercedes-Benz W 198 was an icon like no other. It has been called many things including the sports car of the century. But, one word that would describe it is ‘perfection’. For those who are less comfortable with classic car jargon, this was the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing of 1954.

Like a Beethoven symphony, there is an everlasting beauty about the 300 SL. It is almost so contemporary in its design and execution, that even after six decades it can hold its own against many of today’s sports cars.

Ode to yore

Clearly, it is the sort of benchmark that even Mercedes-Benz can only keep striving to match, never beat. Even though the SLS AMG is considered to be the spiritual successor to the 300 SL, one look at AMG’s new sports cars — the GT S, GT R and the GT Roadster — and it is clear that all of them have inevitably been influenced by the 300 SL directly or indirectly. Those new AMG sports car proportions — the long bonnet, rear set passenger cabin and that shapely rump — are all reinterpretations of the original’s features. The 300 SL was launched in a roadster body style too by 1957.

As I admired the new AMG GT Roadster, with its fabric-top folded down, it was the 300 SL roadster that was swirling in my head. And like the SLS AMG’s gullwing doors it shared with the 300 SL, the GT Roadster shares its compact regular hinged doors and the fabric top with the 300 SL Roadster. The GT Roadster is a modern day super sports car; it is capable of doing a top speed of 302 kmph. You may not be able to reach that number with its fabric top folded down, but if you don’t mind getting your hair all knotted, blasting through the wind into the high 200s shouldn’t be a problem for this roadster. The racetrack, though, is the GT Roadster’s natural tarmac. It is the kind of car best enjoyed tackling the corners of a circuit.

Standing tall

And so one balmy September afternoon I took the Mercedes-AMG GT Roadster to the Buddh International Circuit (BIC) near Delhi. It is disappointing to see the Buddh Circuit being deprived of Formula One action, but seeing cars like the GT Roadster and its slightly more edgy sibling the GT R roar down the grand stand straight truly makes up for that loss. The GT Roadster’s first introduction to the onlooker is that wicked-looking ’30s inspired AMG Panamericana grille. It adds that mean streak and enhances the sense of width to this large sports car. There are a number of active elements in the front fascia that enable the GT Roadster to leverage its design for even better aerodynamic performance. Vertical louvres located just behind the front fender open and close automatically depending on the cooling needs of the power train mechanism, set-off against the aerodynamic performance needs of the car. There is also the air panel active air management system, the large rear aerofoil and the new rear fascia with a double diffuser for improved aerodynamics. A lot of the aero performance has simply been built into the design of the GT Roadster.

Designing and engineering the car to meet its super sport-car performance promise also means that the GT Roadster gets built with wider rear wings to liberate more space for a wider rear track and even wider rear tyres. All of this adds up to great grip on the track and an optimum transfer of all that traction on to the tarmac. Tackling turns four, eight and 10 at the BIC reminded me of that big servings of grip, traction and braking force that the GT Roadster affords. Though there is such a thing as optimum contact of rubber to tarmac even on a racetrack, the general rule is lesser contact for regular road cars to optimise fuel efficiency and higher for race cars for better performance on the track.

Cruising experience

The GT Roadster shares its 4.0-litre V8 biturbo engine with the GT R. This hand-built AMG petrol engine with its dual turbos delivers a 100 horses lesser in the Roadster, but it is still a very respectable 476 hp at 6,000 rpm. Peak torque is also about 10 per cent lesser than the GT R, but, at 630 Nm being delivered from a low 1,700 rpm to 5,000 rpm, it is still enough to rattle a lot of the competition. This is AMG’s top-of-the-line V8 engine and it just keeps rising up to the challenge, delivering controllable but beastly amounts of torque to the rear wheels every time I work the throttle to power out of BIC’s famous corners that have the additional challenge of fairly steep gradients — turns three and 14.

To better enjoy the guttural exhaust note of the GT Roadster, I eased off the throttle after a few laps to put the fabric top down. You can do that while coasting under 50 kmph and all it takes is the press of a button and 11 seconds to convert it from a coupe to an open-top sports car. The experience in the car changes with the roof folded; peeling away the relative isolation of the cabin. The AMG Speedshift dual clutch sports transmission is the other part of the GT Roadster that really excels with its supremely quick shifts. The new rear axle steering system is optional and assists during fast cornering by turning the rear wheels in the opposite direction at speeds of over 100kmph and helps in better manoeuvrability in slow city driving conditions by turning in the same direction of the front wheels.

The AMG GT Roadster’s suspension has obviously been tuned for a sporty setting, though in comfort mode it doesn’t feel too firm. Though a drive on the track is not the best experience to understand the suspension, together with the amount of road contact the wide tyres offer, the ride will be firm. The GT Roadster is also a low slung sports car, so driving it on regular city roads will be a challenge if the surface quality is poor or dotted with tall speed breakers.

But the GT Roadster with its retractable three-layer fabric rooftop is not meant to be a practical car for Indian conditions. It is a Halo car that has gotten even better than its predecessor. At about ₹2.2 crore, the GT Roadster is positioned in a segment with a fairly elite bunch of competitors. But for sheer presence, performance and pleasure, the AMG GT Roadster’s package roars ahead of the others.

Published on January 24, 2018

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