The GT S squares up on price, on-paper performance stats and the emotional appeal of it being a hometown derby between two Stuttgart titans. Sophisticated as it may be the GT S is still, at heart, an AMG though. And no real contest for the four-wheel drive, four-wheel steer, four-seat 911 Turbo and its uncanny ability to make wet roads feel like dry ones. If you want a 911 Turbo you're going to buy a 911 Turbo. Even if you didn't want a 911 Turbo there's a good chance you might end up buying one anyway. You might drop by the Mercedes dealership on the way out of curiosity. But your mind is probably already made up.
V8 F-Type Coupe R is the obvious rival, if about £20K cheaper than the GT S's £110K starting price. It's got similar thuggish appeal, a comparable forced induction V8 and likely tickles the same neck hairs as the GT S. A duel with the non-S GT beckons just as soon as they're available.
Our opponent for this test is also British but one with a more interesting link to the Mercedes, given the GT will donate a version of its engine, transmission and electronics to its successor. As it stands though the Vantage is the last hurrah for the raw and untamed Aston Martin, the last one - probably - to feature a normally aspirated engine and a car that flicks a defiantly British V-sign at its high-tech rivals.
Come on, indulge us. This is Deutschland Uber Alles versus God Save The Queen. With the added twist that her family's German roots act as a neat metaphor for the pending next chapter in the Aston Martin story.
There was much agonising when the 911 GT3 went paddleshift only. And then we drove it. There followed a similar bout of hand wringing at the announcement of the much-loved 6.2-litre AMG V8's demise and its twin-turbo replacement. And then we drove it. Spotting a pattern? Nobody doubted the new-age engine would do the numbers. But could it ever match the M156's raw charisma?
It's not loud enough to drown out the fairly mighty tyre roar though. Or disguise the fact the variable mode dampers are pretty thuggish even in their supposedly most supple setting. AMG might have become more sophisticated. But it hasn't forgotten its roots as a builder of unreconstructed muscle cars.
Which leaves the the light, darty steering slightly at odds with the rest of the car. Other AMGs, including the A45 and C63, bin the standard variable ratio Mercedes steering racks and use fixed-rate linear ones. Against type the GT uses a variable one, albeit a mechanical system rather than the fully 'active' alternatives featured in some BMWs and Audis. For the everyday stuff it's light and direct but the inconsistencies of input and output are less satisfying when pressing on.
have told us - the aim was always to mask the forced induction. But there's still a hint of whine as the 'hot-V' compressors spool up. That's about the only clue though, the V8 successfully disguising its reduced capacity and punching as hard as anything ever bearing an AMG badge. It picks up instantly, pulls hard throughout the rev range and sounds absolutely epic throughout. Torque is managed in the lower gears to maintain traction but never does it feel anything other than mighty, barrel-chested and unapologetically macho.
It's a much more sophisticated car to drive than any previous AMG though. The rawness that made the SLS such a thrilling thing to drive has been replaced with a new sense of maturity. Manifested in this instance by traction. The active diff works with the engine and gearbox management, stability control and other systems to meter out the drive torque across the rear axle with incredible precision. 510hp and 480lb ft from 1,750rpm in a short, rear-driven GT should be a recipe for old-school, tail-happy handling. The F-Type gives you that but the transaxled GT capitalises on its more centralised weight distribution and sophisticated drivetrain to put its considerable power to the road with one goal in mind - going faster. Not sideways. Faster. It's not quite as supernatural on a slippery surface as that 911 Turbo we weren't going to compare it to. But for a 500hp-plus rear-driver it's nothing short of remarkable.
Credit due here to the expert calibration of user configurable throttle, steering, gearbox and stability control systems. This is a hellishly impressive car but one that doesn't forget the need to entertain along the way. Can it compete with the raw charms of a V12 Aston Martin though?
Confession time - the V12 Vantage S costs nearly £30K more than the base price of the AMG GT S. The gap between these two cars narrows to £10,000, thanks to Mercedes charging £6K extra for the ceramic brakes Aston throws in as standard and a bunch of other extras conveniently applied to our GT S test car. Close enough to put them in the same ballpark? Debatable. But when you spot a chance to book some time with a V12 Vantage...
Not that you'll be concentrating on any of that once the V12 gets into its stride. Before driving the thing it's worth opening the bonnet and appreciating quite how big this engine is in relation to the car it's been levered into. It's barely contained by the (still gorgeous) bodywork, which, it turns out, is a neat analogy for the way it drives.
There's no point beating around the bush - it feels crude in comparison with the GT. The engine is guttural and, for all its brawn, surprisingly peaky. Don't be fooled into thinking it's ever caught short for pace though. Every millimetre of throttle travel unleashes previously untapped potency, an increase in volume and the sense of the car bracing itself against the onslaught of that monster engine. Which is as fun as it sounds.
The contact points are all satisfyingly solid and feelsome too. The hydraulic steering has more weight and feel than the GT's, there's no slack and the chassis strikes a better balance between pliancy and composure. The dampers are variable too but everything else has a predictable simplicity about it, including the mechanical locking diff.
It's nowhere near as fast as the Merc though, the Corsa tyres skating about on the wet Bruntingthorpe concrete and the limits a lot lower. They're clearly announced though, this V12 a lot more predictable and playful than the frankly evil first incarnation. You might not be going as fast as you would in the AMG. But there's every chance you'll be having more fun. Given that neither is intended as a tenth-chasing track car that's a victory of sorts.
And, by god, the noise...
By any objective measure the GT is the better car. It's faster, the cabin feels bang up to date in terms of design and build and it has all the toys and gadgets you'd expect of a modern luxury sports car. The cachet of being the newest latest counts for a lot too. It's also as close to idiot proof as possible for a car of this potency, without ever feeling dumbed down.
In contrast the Aston could just about scrape the daily grind but requires more thought, skill and bravery to pedal at meaningful speeds. Its limits are lower but it gives more back and you'll never have a dull moment behind the wheel. Familiar or not it's a much more cohesive and timelessly beautiful car than the GT too, which looks assertive at the front but kind of fizzles out into a softer rear.
Head says AMG then, with heart able to agree without any sense of compromise. Wallet also. But for all its flaws the Aston's end of an era poignancy and its rawness still have massive emotional appeal. If that tickles your fancy then it's well worth rattling the piggy bank to see if a bit more loose change falls out. We won't see another Aston like it, that's for sure. But on the strength of the GT nor should we necessarily fear what's to come.
ASTON MARTIN V12 VANTAGE S
Engine: 5,935cc V12
Transmission: 7-speed automated manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 573@6,750rpm
Torque (lb ft): 457@5,750rpm
0-62mph : 3.7sec
Top speed: 205mph
Weight: 1,685kg (with driver)
MPG: 19.2mpg (NEDC combined)
Price: £138,000 (before options)
MERCEDES-AMG GT S
Engine: 3,982cc V8, turbocharged
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 510@6,250rpm
Torque (lb ft): 480@1,750-5,000rpm
0-62mph: 3.8 sec (claimed)
Top speed: 193mph (claimed)
Weight: 1,570kg (DIN, without driver, 1,645kg to EU)
MPG: 30.1mpg (claimed)
Price: £110,495 (before options)
Photos: James Arbuckle