Mercedes-AMG GT Black Series: The beast of the green hell on steroids
The Mercedes-AMG GT Black Series is hungry. Not just peckish, but full-on, stomach churningly, dementedly ravenous. It sits idling in the cold air on the broad expanse of the West Circuit pitlane at Bedford Autodrome, a hint of agitation to its note but surprisingly reserved as it ticks over, while its giant mouth, now even bigger than that of the GT R and GT R Pro models and inspired by the GT3-spec racer, demands to be fed. Air, or a 991.2 GT2 RS for brunch, perhaps? Me, as a tough and tasteless hors d’oeuvres? Glistening Armco with a sodden grass jus for high tea, given the weather conditions today?
I hardly dare contemplate that particular scenario, nor the fact that the Black costs a small fortune.
This superhero AMG GT is the nastiest-looking, most amusingly caricature-like supercar this side of a first-gen Dodge Viper GTS. Its rear wing is as tall as the roof, always the sign of a real troublemaker – see Audi S1 E2, Porsche 935 (the original one) and plenty of others – and when you stand head-on to the front number plate the Black’s footprint and dimensions are wickedly extravagant, verging on the surreal. There’s just… So. Much. Car.
Having said that, there’s one element missing: it simply doesn’t sound like the devil’s chariot, and if you’ve done your homework you’ll already know that the reason for this is what makes this car especially interesting.
It’s known as the LS2, and while maybe the Detroit reference is German humour to throw spies off the scent during the development of this M178 derivative, it’s far from a classic pushrod bent-eight. Consider it a thorough reinvention of the ubiquitous ‘hot-vee’ V8, switching from a cross-plane crankshaft to a flat-plane one, so out goes the traditional rumble and in comes the higher-pitched, harder timbre of a duophonic four-cylinder with added range and bite. Ever heard an AJP8-engined TVR Cerbera blast into the distance? It’s a bit like that.
For this final and ultimate Mercedes-AMG GT, the engineers wanted more power. ‘Don’t they always,’ you might say, and power is hardly something the M178 has been known for lacking in the past. But to hit a 700bhp-plus target they needed to run serious levels of boost – 1.7 bar, as it turns out – and the objective was revs: that hard-edged, aggressive top end that would allow the GT to stand nose-canard-to-nose-canard with the Longtail McLarens, Special Series Ferraris and force-fed GT department Porsches of this world.
The subsequently improved gas flow and the lighter crank assembly contribute to an engine that lacks the smoothness and sometimes the low-down torque of a rumbly, cross-plane V8, but one that typically has a greater appetite for revs. It’s a bold project from Affalterbach, especially for just this one car, although one can’t help but wonder whether a few crates might make their way to Gaydon in due course, particularly given the new man at the top at Aston Martin…
You won’t be surprised to hear that much of the engine’s hardware has been redesigned. The turbochargers themselves are bigger, with the low-friction bearings used on the mighty Mercedes-AMG GT 63 S four-door also used here, while there are bigger intercoolers and completely new exhaust manifolds and camshafts. The result? 720bhp from 6700 to 6900rpm, and 800Nm from just 2000rpm all the way to 6000rpm.
The Black Series is a lot more than just its engine, however. The 577bhp AMG GT R is a terrific thing: a driver-focused supercar with its own individual appeal; far, far more of a car than the regular AMG GT. The GT R Pro took that evolution a stage further, adding a GT3 RS-threatening trackday vibe and scooping 2nd overall in the 2019 edition of eCoty. It was a big car with a massive heart, but also one that communicated clearly: sometimes that was to say ‘watch yourself mate’, but such correspondence between man and machine made it far less intimidating on the limit than anything with its looks has any right to be. But the Black doesn’t even attract the GT R moniker: it’s simply the AMG GT Black Series. A model apart. How very mysterious. How very ‘skunkworks’.
As I roll down Bedford’s pitlane, the Pro comes immediately to mind. Titanium roll-cage? Check. Awesomely supportive bucket seats and spot-on driving position like a GT3 racer’s? Check. Baffling array of driver modes, switches, functionality and what-have-you? Check. Letterbox view ahead over a bonnet that never seems to end, and the driver’s posterior almost on top of the rear axle? Check. What’s more, the Black Series could inadvertently trigger a worldwide shortage in man-made suede, given just how much is plastered over the interior, but that’s no bad thing at all: its tactile qualities make this interior a dark but reassuringly cosy and combat-spec environment, ready for action.
I have a distinct feeling that the first few laps are going to be a wild ride. There’s an extra set of Michelin Cup 2 Rs in tyre warmers currently sitting in the pit garage, but the Rs currently fitted are stone cold and today’s ambient temperature is barely above zero. The 2 R (or, to give this bespoke rubber its full name, the 2 R MO1A) is like the late Keith Flint to the standard Cup 2’s 1990s boy band. It’s essentially a cut slick, with not so much tread as rather a band of slashes on the shoulder and a few smaller cuts towards the inner edge. No idea how that manages to be road-legal, but one thing you can be sure of is that whether your ultimate trackday special hails from Weissach or wherever, its record Ring time wasn’t set on the hardcore Cup 2 but on its much more aggressive twin. They are often a dealer order extra (although they’re standard-fit on the Black Series) and, without any doubt whatsoever, they are the least appropriate tyre for a day like today.
I’ve put the Black Series into Individual mode. I know there are countless levels to choose from, but given we’re solely on track today I’m configuring it exactly how I want it. I’ve set everything to ‘maximum attack’ save the adaptive damping (no manually adjustable units as in the Pro here), which I’ve softened slightly in the name of traction (in its firmest of three settings it adapts to different types of racetracks, apparently), and disabled the ESP completely, switching into the adjustable traction control levels, set via a yellow rotary switch that looks as though it should be part of a missile launcher’s user interface. One cheeky red light out of nine reds and yellows tells me it’s about halfway towards off; a decent place to start.
Down, slowly, to the first hairpin, and turn the nose smoothly in. There’s a cringe-inducing series of thuds, just as there was in the pitlane when the Black was tasked with manoeuvring at walking pace for Aston Parrott’s lens. This is understeer of a visceral, physical nature, so ghastly as to make a driver wince in pain. The front tyres, visibly running massive negative camber, are skating across the surface as though they’ve been tasked with turning in on icy medieval cobbles, and the grip level doesn’t increase on the exit, where the tail swings wide in a surprisingly graceful arc, but generates very little forward momentum whatsoever for what feels like an eternity. The car’s behaviour under braking is even more alarming because, in keeping with the cartoon vibe, it’s as if Bambi has suddenly stumbled on a frozen lake: the ABS goes into overdrive, the nose darts and stumbles, and the braking distance elongates by the split second. It’s an unnerving experience, and I wouldn’t want to be trying an emergency stop on the public road right about now.
It doesn’t get much better as the lap progresses, but already there are some very strong messages filtering back about the Black. I can sense its directness, its rigidity of structure, its sheer unflinching purposefulness. It’s big and bad and scary, but it’s also all-of-a-piece, and unflinchingly precise, and there are numerous reasons why that should be so.
The AMG engineers have worked hard to increase the rigidity of the chassis, an imperative given the mechanical grip and aerodynamic load now generated by the car. There are carbon shear panels at the front, centre and rear, and a lightweight front subframe and carbon transmission tunnel brace. Naturally they’ve sought to shave off every last gram where possible. You’ll find carbon fibre everywhere, from the front adjustable anti-roll bars to the new bonnet with its enormous extractor holes. The roof and tailgate are also now made of the stuff, while there’s lightweight glazing and all sorts of lightened minor componentry. As the engineers confided to evo a while back, save making fundamental and unrealistically expensive changes to the inherent structure of the car, there’s really no way they could have gone much lower than the Black’s quoted 1520kg kerb weight (41kg lighter than the Pro).
What I’m not getting today is much of a sense of the car’s increased downforce, simply because the speeds aren’t high enough to really have the wings biting into the cold Bedfordshire air. The massive front splitter can be extended manually, but the rear wing is something else again: two tiers with a section of the upper wing adjustable by up to 20 degrees via the electronic driving modes, depending on speed, driving style and any given corner.
Coupled with an almost completely flat underside, the Black Series’ aero qualities are considerable. And you don’t need numbers to know that; the sturdy rear wing supports that are located through the boot floor are testament to just how much load is generated at high speed.
The traction control is impressive, but it’s got an almost impossible task working with so little grip – and varying grip levels at that. One moment one rear tyre might be struggling with a mu coefficient approximate to ice, the next – or at the same time – the other might be on a dry line. In the end, the vicious wrenching of grip and intervention across the rear axle is more uncomfortable than rolling up the shirtsleeves, twisting the big dial to ‘off entirely’, and just getting on with it. With all the traction on, you’ll not really be going anywhere fast; with it all off, it’s a revealing test of the LS2’s torque delivery and throttle control, because you quickly realise how linear and progressive its delivery is – more so, I think, than the standard hot-vee V8 with its bombastic torque.
Slowly the circuit begins to dry, the sun that’s broken through battling the dampness and revealing paler cold asphalt underneath. After the tricky direction change of the chicane at Turn 2, the track opens up dramatically and in a powerful car the long left and sudden switch to the fast right are quick corners. Finally there’s a genuinely dry line here, and I suddenly realise that I’m not leaning anywhere near hard enough on the car through this section. With a further squeeze of the pedal the Black’s response is every bit as cartoonish as its appearance. It had felt fast; this is now fast. With zero subtlety, the acceleration suddenly ramps up several notches without any steps in between, like the worst Hollywood car chase scene. The Black bolts forward, and here, finally, is the true ferocity held within. I wouldn’t call it a nice noise, but it’s not entirely without appeal – businesslike, not what you’d call rough, but certainly without the smoothness we’ve come to expect from AMG.
Now that it can find purchase, the Black Series feels wild but for all the right reasons, the thrust generated by the V8 eye-widening at higher revs, the strengthened gearbox able to rifle through the shifts on command from the nicely crafted paddles. It’s still slippery on the exit of the far hairpin, but the surface turns abruptly to dry tarmac halfway along the exit. Sliding at 45 degrees, steam vaporising off the rear, the Michelins suddenly hit grippy (relatively) tarmac and the whole car lurches, squeals, and then smoke begins to pour forth, all in the blink of an eye, the grip level varying wildly in the space of a few metres.
We try the ‘warmed’ 2 Rs, but the effect lasts for barely a lap before they’re stone cold again. Nevertheless the Black Series continues to impress, because it can be thrown around and accept liberties being taken in a way you’d never expect of a 720bhp hardcore track car. No longer do you have the sense, as you do in the AMG GT R, of the extremities of the car being far away, doing something slightly different to each other; no more that almost overwhelming feeling of sitting way back in the wheelbase. The Black Series just feels dialled-in, with an immediate turn-in but admirable stability from the rear, too. I’ve no doubt that the giant carbon-ceramic brakes can complete the package, but they’re the one aspect that seems beyond us today, due, entirely, to the tyres’ lack of grip at the front contact patches.
It’s getting dark, my brain is frazzled and my luck surely all used up, plus the Black needs to be loaded onto a truck to begin its journey back to Germany. I’m fully aware this has been only a brief glimpse of its abilities, but it has revealed enough for us to feel that it is something rather special. The urge to pitch it against a McLaren 765LT on hot, dry tarmac, somewhere with speeds and corners to really do it justice, is strong. Leave those logistics to us, but be in no doubt in the meantime that in the superniche for terrifyingly fast, capable and expensive machinery, AMG has raised its game to a level where the established players should be very worried indeed.