One of the wonderful parts of living in Northern California is the variety of terrain, scenery and driving routes within easy reach of San Francisco.

On a late Summer evening with the long light dappling through the trees, it is here that I find myself winding my way through the ancient redwoods in the Mercedes AMG GT C. The Panoramic Highway is a breathtaking stretch of road, starting at around 2,000 ft near the base of Mount Tam. The serenity of the Muir Woods National Monument is broken only by the growling, snarling GT C and its crackling exhaust. There isn’t a lot of traffic on a weekday evening, and I am not sure if it is the fire-engine like red color of the GT C, the sound of the V8 as I wind up and down the rev range or its striking road presence, but everyone seems to very courteously pull over to let me through. 

Reflecting years of Mercedes dominance in motorsport, particularly Formula 1, the AMG GT series is a pure-bred derived from the brand’s iconic motorsports and AMG performance heritage. First introduced in 2015, the GT was designed and developed entirely in-house by AMG. Today the range comprises of 6 variants, with the GT and GT C available in both coupe and roadster form and the 585hp GTR, which is used as the Formula 1 Safety Car, and the more extreme GT Black Series that delivers 730hp and is the most powerful Mercedes V8 to date.

Exterior

The first thing that strikes you about the Mercedes AMG GT C is the powerful, purposeful look with its long hood, muscular rear end, wide track and big wheels – it is long and low, all engine and entirely uncompromising. The design is elegant and timeless and looks sensational from every angle. Our car came in the Cardinal Red metallic, which beautifully accentuates the sleek lines and garnered plenty of attention and admiring glances. 

For 2020 the GT gets a series of design updates, including new LED headlights and tinted tail-lights, side skirts, new rear diffuser and quad exhaust with the AMG logo, which is a small detail and a really nice touch. On the interior the tech updates include the new 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and larger infotainment display.  

The GT C Coupe is the perfect blend of performance and refinement, with 557hp it has plenty of power and it’s also well-equipped retaining many of the convenience and comfort features that the track focused GT R dispenses with. The GT C is also 2 inches wider than the base GT, with wider tracks and arches that add to the more aggressive athletic appearance and allow for more rubber.

Interior

Nestling into the driver’s seat, the high transmission tunnel and low seating position make you feel incredibly connected to the car. The optional AMG performance steering wheel, finished in Dinamica and carbon fiber is grippy, beautifully designed and perfectly positioned with a full range of extension enabling you to get the wheel nice and close as your feet are extended way out in front of you. The dash is finished in black Napa leather and Dinamica with silver stitching which is tastefully done and really accentuates the silver trim of the console, instruments and the air vents, which have a lovely retro look. The optional silver seat-belts on our test car were also a nice addition.

The digital instruments and entertainment system are seamless and intuitive, easily controlled from the touchpad, though still use the Command system rather than the new MBUX infotainment system. Everything in the cabin feels close-to-hand and accentuates the feeling of being at-one with the GT C.

There has to be a compromise of the long hood and design and that is the trunk space, which is although very accessible through the rear hatch only has 10.1 cubic feet. However, this was easily forgiven every time I looked at the beautiful glossy carbon-fiber cross-bar connecting the rear pillars, which in itself was a $1,600 option.

Drivetrain

Mercedes make such great V8s and firing up the GT C unleashes the growling 4.0 liter twin-turbo. There is plenty of low-end power with 502-lb-ft of torque on tap and the twin-turbos are seamless, producing smooth and responsive power delivery all the way up to the redline of 7,000 rpm. The rumbling engine sounds fantastic and rapidly coming off the power or quickly downshifting produces a wonderful cacophony of crackling and popping notes from the exhaust.

The conveniently placed mode selector on the steering wheel allows you to switch between Comfort, Sport, Sport Plus and Race modes. Dialing into Sport and Sport Plus the GT becomes immediately more alert with faster throttle responses and more rapid shifts. The seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is fantastic, particularly in the Sport modes, it feels intuitive holding on well up into the rev range with smooth transitions and zealously downshifting when braking hard. 

Chassis

As I wind my way up Highway 1, it is in the tight turns where the GT C is really impressive. Sitting well back, almost over the rear axle with the hood stretching way out ahead you have the impression that the GTC might be nose heavy and unwieldy. Far from it, the engine is mounted well back, technically it is front-mid engine, and the car feels incredibly balanced. The standard rear-axle steering on the GT C accentuates the handling and precision in cornering, making the GT C extremely agile and making me forget that the GT C is really quite a big car as I slice through the tight turns towards Stinson Beach and Bodega Bay. 

The chassis is tight and composed and the GT C feels extremely flat on cornering, the wider track allowing for the bigger Michelin Pilot Super Sports, staggered with 260/30R19s at the front and 305/30R20s at the rear. With the power delivered to the wheel with the most traction via the electronically controlled limited-slip differential, this provides an incredible amount of grip, literally catapulting the GT C out of the bends as the V8 Twin Turbo spools up. 

It is a hugely fun and rewarding car to drive, the power is well balanced and in Sport Plus mode the car will drift but the electronics won’t allow you to over-do-it and the GT C remains nicely controllable and manageable, instilling a lot of confidence. 

Our car was fitted with the optional ceramic-composite brakes, these are an $8,950 upgrade but they work incredibly well and if you are going to drive the GT C as it was intended, then they well worth it. They also look superb with the gold calipers.

The only downside of the car is the interior noise on the highway, which can be a little loud when you are driving over long distance, irrespective of the excellent Burmeister sound system. But then again, I just had to remind myself that this was designed by AMG for performance and I only had to dial it into sport mode and listen the symphonic twin-turbo V8 and that wonderful burbling exhaust, which is really the only soundtrack I need.

Routes

There are so many great driving routes that are so easily accessible from San Francisco and our Exclusive Resorts homes at the Fairmont in Ghirardelli Square. One of my favorites is over the Golden Gate and picking up Route 1from Mill Valley, Up through Stinson Beach, Bodega Bay and to Point Reyes. The lighthouse is spectacular, you can then drop back to Point Reyes Station and visit the wonderful Cowgirl Creamery. From there you can head back through the quaint little town of Nicasio, through Lagunitas for an IPA and then back along Lucas Valley Road to pick up the 101 back to San Francisco.

Other great day trips from San Francisco are Healdsburg, Sonoma and Napa to the North and of course Half Moon Bay, Carmel and Pebble Beach to the South, all relatively easy day trips.

Price & Specifications

The base price of the GT C is $150,900 plus destination and delivery. Some of the optional features on our car included ceramic brakes, ten spoke wheels, active distance control and carbon fiber trim which brought the final price to $173,695.

The AMG GT C is beautifully designed and feels really iconic, turning heads everywhere you go. The twin-turbo V8, transmission and chassis are superb and it is incredibly engaging and fun to drive. The GT C feels very special and even just that little bit unusual. This to me is what motoring is all about.

For more information: http://www.mercedes-amg.com

Photographs by James Henderson.