In an automotive world eagerly anticipating an updated Mercedes-AMG E63, while also embarking on a new cycle of Audi RS6 reverence, it's easy to see how this pair might be forgotten about. Hopefully it isn't much of a spoiler to say they shouldn't be.
The Mercedes-AMG GT 63 S 4-door has always been an intriguing machine since its launch a couple of years ago; after all, there are CLS equivalents for those after a slinkier E-Class experience lower down the range, and there can't be many left unsatisfied by an E63. Still, it wouldn't be a Mercedes without occupying some kind of tiny niche, and we're glad it exists - four-doors with the power of supercars aren't hard to admire.
Let's not forget, either, that Audi and Mercedes-Benz are far from the only manufacturers to be ploughing this narrow furrow; the Porsche Panamera has been around for more than a decade now, and BMW has replaced the M6 Gran Coupe with the larger, plusher, more powerful M8 variant. Into that mix the RS7 throws in all that has made the RS6 (and, to a larger extent than you'd think) the RS Q8 so immediately impressive. There's the mild-hybrid V8 churning out 600hp, a chassis brimmed with technology like four-wheel steer and a Sport Differential, underneath the sort of moody look that Audi Sport seems to do better than anyone else.
They really are quite the pair to behold in a gravel car park, which is presumably the point - anyone who didn't want people to gawp could have bought the more affordable saloon or wagon variants. And, rest assured, people are going to gawp. The enamel white Mercedes gets as close as any modern car to a swagger, its chunky three-pointed star a veritable sheriff's badge on that vast Panamericana grille. Few four-door models carry off 21-inch forged wheels - the GT 63 does. It doesn't even flinch at the odd fixed rear wing its maker has optioned. You might not call it pretty, but it doesn't want to be called pretty. It wants to be brutal. And boy is it.
Like its Avant compeer, the RS7 has moved from a relatively modest look (for the performance on offer, at least) to something a little more aggressive. This newfound pushiness arguably suits the coupe more than the wagon, because these are statement cars rather than slaves to practicality - and the RS7 makes a statement. It's a twin-turbo V8 basking shark, huge hexagonal grille and sport quattro-esque bonnet lip doing uberholt prestige just as well - if not a tad better - than the mighty Mercedes. Perhaps the RS7 can claim a more cohesive look overall, too, the rear light bar adding drama stylishly without having to resort to tacky spoilers. As static objects, they both do what coupes must do first and foremost - take your attention in a chokehold, and not let go.
And as driver's cars? Well, it should come as little surprise given Affalterbach's recent run of form that the GT 63 isn't far short of tremendous. It feels like the director's cut of an AMG four-door saloon, with everything denied to the other releases - in this case engine power and chassis technology - suddenly laid bare to show what might be achieved if there were no budgetary constraints. The GT 63 isn't far off combining the feral dynamic energy of an A45 with the malevolent charm of a C63. Factor in a level of performance beyond even the E63 and you're left with quite the car.
The hot-V V8 does what it's done now for many years: namely, pick up from zip, bully its way through a bountiful mid-range and then cannon into its upper reaches like a boss. Only now, with 639hp and an enormous 664lb ft (a C63 makes 516lb ft, by comparison, and the Audi 590), the GT consumes revs and road like no other AMG four-door, even allowing for its two-tonne kerbweight. It's a monster in the finest mad Mercedes tradition, though ably (and notably) contained by its nine-speed automatic and 4Matic+ chassis.
The keen will know the importance of that '+', it denoting the rear-wheel drive option permitted for those with no respect for the life expectancy of tyres. Setting the GT free in its Drift Mode feels about as sensible as an indoor firework display; it was on for about eight seconds (after taking 30 to set it up), showed the 63 breaks traction a lot later than predicted given the power and torque on offer, then very swiftly disabled again.
Why mention it? Because the GT remains a great driver's car, and a great AMG, even with its four-wheel drive functioning as usual. It's taut, tense and aggressive, even with powertrain and chassis set to their most mellow of six modes from Slippery to Race - not ideal for its luxury car cred perhaps, although it makes for an absorbing vehicle to be in control of. Confidence is the key; the rear axle steering lends an extra degree of agility to the car denied to other AMGs, and is more seamlessly integrated into the steering's response, the feel more natural than the Audi. The chassis' tautness also means complete, unwavering faith in its movements, even as speed and commitment increases, and the 4Matic is the perfect complement; throughout a bend, from turn in to exit, the car feels authentically rear-drive, only with additional traction on the way out. There is ferocity aplenty then - but never without a kernel of control.
Somewhat inevitably the RS7 feels just a tad plain against this rowdy backdrop - if 600hp can ever be regarded as plain. Even wound up to Dynamic, the most aggressive of the drive select modes for engine, transmission, air suspension and so on, the RS7 never quite delivers the precision or exhilaration on offer from the AMG and its deluge of noise, theatre and excitement.
But here's the familiar rub: you're going just as fast. Sure, the Audi's steering might not connect the driver to the experience as keenly, the ride might always seem less dialled into the road surface and the gearshifts up and down might not be as decisive in this eight-speed as the Mercedes' nine-speed, yet there's no doubting the car's underlying ability to spirit you toward the horizon. Tellingly, it's comfortable and cosseting - more so than its slightly fraught rival - and offers a similarly enhanced four-wheel steer nimbleness to its unimpeachable traction. And it has its own imperious V8, deceptively subdued by its 48-volt mild-hybrid system, but more than capable of keeping up with its rival. It's hard to imagine going faster on four wheels, in all four seasons and with four people onboard, than in either of these two.
The differences, then, are in the details. The AMG is a richer, more generous steer, from the way its gearshift paddles click to its subtly throttle adjustable balance. The brake pedal is firmer than in the Audi's, the noise of greater depth and volume - even the steering wheel better thought out. The spoke-mounted mode dials make a lot more sense than the Audi's fiddly drive select, even if there is a concession to usability in the RS pre-set buttons. The RS7 feels like an Audi made fast; the GT feels like an AMG more than a Mercedes, which is a crucial difference however minor it sounds. Part of that comes from its unique bodystyle, though much more from the vividness and intensity of the experience.
However, the RS7 feeling like an Audi is not damning it with faint praise. You get the feeling its maker has declined the opportunity to turn up the wick beyond where it currently stands, and the model is supremely accommodating as a result. Its interior is newer and sharper and easier to use than the Mercedes' and while it doesn't dwell on the finer points of driver interaction, it doesn't subject its occupants to a fairly unapologetic low-speed ride either. It assumes you want to go very fast, whether there are corners in the way or not. It's a world away, dynamically, from the recalcitrant and ponderous Audi saloons of old, yet it never forces the driving experience on its keeper much - even, it must be said, when they go looking for it. But it is supremely, eerily proficient and as convenient to live with as... well, any high-spec Audi. Anyone not migrating from a GT 63 is going to find themselves won over quicker than you can say 'Torsen'.
Where does that leave the AMG? As a tougher sell, to be honest. It's significantly more expensive, only quicker on an autobahn or a track, with an older interior and more divisive styling. For the casual fast saloon buyer, the GT doesn't make a great deal of sense; especially so given the close proximity of the E63, an issue not faced by the RS7 (its nearest four-door rival is a diesel S6, after all).
Instead the 63 4-door is best considered, despite its vast size and laudable cruising refinement, as a saloon in the Aston Rapide mould, with a two-door chomping at the bit to get out. It remains a memorable, multi-facetted, compelling AMG experience, one that operates on a level of driver reward the RS7 barely aspires to. It would be daft to suggest there's a tangible common thread running between it and the half-a-tonne-lighter GT sports car, but this is so much more than a rebodied E63. Even if that's all this was, it would still be a fine machine, because the E63 is brilliant - that the GT feels both more opulent as well as more entertaining is a huge credit to AMG, and shows what a fantastic prospect the 4-door is.
Of course, rationally speaking, it falls at several hurdles. It is vastly more expensive (you could buy an A35 AMG with the difference) than the RS7, and while that might not matter much to those in the position to spend six figures on a niche car in the first place, the Audi's superiority in several notable functions ought to give anyone pause to properly consider it. The RS7 is every bit as good as its more famous wagon-shaped sibling, and anyone in the market for an M8 Gran Coupe or Panamera Turbo would be doing themselves a disservice not to try it out first. In terms of outright ability and canny enjoyment, it is another step forward for Audi - one that doesn't throw out the baby with the bath water.
AMG, to its eternal credit, doesn't appear to care about the baby, the bath or the water. It seems a more uneven purchase compared to the RS7 because that's precisely what it is. Audi wants to be in the business of building supremely rounded, autocrat-pleasing fast cars; Mercedes has apparently let its performance division aim for a buyer so niche they could hardly be said to exist at all. Does anyone need - or even want - a luxury saloon endowed with the savagery and belligerence of a sports car? To most people, the concept almost defies reasonable explanation. Which must be why we love it. For anyone else obsessively into fast cars, the AMG GT 63 S 4-door is worth every extra compromise and each additional pound that has to be paid to acquire it. It's absolutely fantastic.
SPECIFICATION - AUDI RS7 SPORTBACK
Engine: 3,993cc, twin-turbo V8, MHEV
Transmission: 8-speed tiptronic, permanent four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 600@6,000-6,250rpm
Torque (lb ft): 590@2,050-4,500rpm
0-62mph: 3.6 secs
Top speed: 155mph (174, 189mph optionally)
Weight: 2,065kg (without driver)
Price: £97,090 (as standard; price as tested £110,520 comprised of Black styling pack for £800, Red brake calipers for £520, Audi music interface in the rear for £175, RS sport exhaust system for £1,450, Panoramic glass sunroof for £1,750, Manual sunblind for rear window for £1,350, 22-inch alloy wheels for £2,000, Black exterior mirror housings and Audi rings for £300, Bang & Olufsen advanced sound system with 3D sound for £6,300.
SPECIFICATION - MERCEDES-AMG GT 63 S 4-DOOR COUPE
Engine: 3,982cc, V8, twin-turbo
Transmission: 9-speed 'multi-clutch' transmission, 4Matic+ 4WD
Power (hp): 639@5,500-6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 664@2,500-4,500rpm
Top speed: 196mph
Weight: 2,045kg (without driver)
Price: £145,495 (as standard; price as tested £149,685 comprised of design diamond white bright metallic paint for £1,695 and AMG Aerodynamics package (fixed rear spoiler in high gloss black, "further optimised" rear diffuser, deflectors on the rear wing and optimised front apron with larger splitter)
Image credit | Harry Rudd
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