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First Sight: Mercedes-AMG GT

Wed, 10 Sep 2014 00:00:00 -0700

“If I was to buy any sports car that wasn't a Mercedes, it'd be a Porsche 911,” says Mercedes' head of design, Gorden Wagener. “But when you see the two cars together, we think ours has the edge.”

He's talking about the new Mercedes-AMG GT, a front-mid engined, two-seater sports car that's unashamedly aimed at higher-end 911s, and we've come to see it at Mercedes' Sindelfingen studio. 

The GT replaces the larger SLS, and is seen by Wagener as the best example yet of his 'sensual purity' design philosophy: “The SLS is very much [he gestures] line, line with a surface in between. With the GT we started with the surface and worked to refine and reduce the number of lines.”

Elements of the SLS's platform have been carried over, so the GT measures the same 1,939mm wide. The new car's domed roof is 27mm taller, at 1,289mm, while the overall length is down by 92mm, to 4,546mm. The wheelbase is 50mm shorter, at 2,630mm.

As it retains the same width but has a shorter nose, the GT certainly appears stockier than an SLS from the front, while the new car's broad haunches would certainly ease the transition from 911 to GT ownership for a prospective buyer.

The curved lower intakes and grille shape link the car to the rest of Mercedes' line-up, reinforcing the connection between the GT and each other model from the Wagener era, from the A-Class upward.

The face also shows a step forward, with a better-resolved relationship between lamps and grille, although the rear is less successful – the windowline and lamp design appear just as you might expect from Porsche's rumored future resurrection of the 928. Perhaps another sign of Gorden's appreciation...

It's interesting to note that Wagener's favorite feature is the way the front screen and base of the A-pillar tuck under the hood. Despite distancing his work from previous design chief Bruno Sacco – including switching Mercedes design studios from modeling in clay rather than plaster – this feature is an expanded version of one used by Sacco the seminal Mercedes 190E.

Inside, the cabin exaggerates themes established by the SLS, with overt air vents leading to a proliferation of over 20 circular items, from buttons to gauges to badges, including the eight on the center console designed to remind you that that one of AMG's hand-built V8s is sitting under the hood.

That theme compromises ergonomics somewhat, necessitating the buttons for the hazard lights and seat heaters to be moved up above the rear-view mirror. Meanwhile, the shape running back from the HVAC controls to the gear selector is intended to be reminiscent of a NACA duct, albeit one that's facing in the wrong direction.

Function has dictated form in other areas, however. Chief interior designer, Jan Kaul, tells us that an early prototype of the GT had its infotainment screen mounted higher on the dash. He says "when [AMG CEO] Tobias [Moers] drove the car at the Nürburgring, he found that the screen obstructed his view of the apexes of right-hand corners and said that it had to be moved down.

"This caused us a problem, as the HVAC tubing ran under the screen at an upward angle. The design team solved the problem by flipping the vents over so the tubing pointed down, allowing just enough room for the screen to be mounted above."

The GT marks another step in Mercedes' rapidly evolving plan to place design at the forefront of its mission to become the world's top-selling premium brand. As our time with the GT was somewhat limited, we look forward to reacquainting ourselves at the Paris motor show next month and giving a more detailed appraisal of that car that Mercedes hopes will lure sports car buyers away from the firm's rivals across town in Weissach.
When Wagener talks about the car, there's a genuine sense of pride that transcends the stare of the PR people standing close by, and you believe that he really would pick the Mercedes over the Porsche. Only time will tell if this trend is adopted by the sports-car buying public.

Related articles:
Gorden Wagener on how Mercedes is "moving from a traditional luxury brand to a modern luxury brand"

By Tom Phillips