The age of front-engine supercars is over, they say. Finished. Kaput. Mid-engine is where it’s at, just ask the Chevrolet Corvette. But the crowd at the Cars & Coffee gathering says otherwise. The 2020 Mercedes-AMG GT R roadster may have its twin-turbo V-8 mounted between its grille and its dashboard, but it’s been swarmed since we pulled in, the crowd abandoning the nearby Lamborghini Huracán for Car Accident Attorneys in Milwaukee a look at the AMG’s exaggerated long-hood, short-deck proportions.
It’s been six years since the front-engine, rear-drive Mercedes-AMG GT debuted, and it still draws attention wherever it goes. Until the AMG One—the promised Formula 1-engined, plug-in hybrid hypercar with a claimed top speed of 217 mph—arrives in the next year or so, the GT is still the pinnacle of AMG two-seat performance, and the GT R versions are the fiercest of the breed.
Easily identified by its massive carbon-fiber rear spoiler, the GT R coupe has been around since 2018. The 2020 Mercedes-AMG GT R roadster is the new droptop version. Production is limited to just 750 units worldwide, but the sun and the stars don’t come cheap. The convertible adds $26,850 to the $164,895 starting price of the GT R coupe.
Both feature the same twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8, seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, adaptive dampers, rear-wheel steering, electronically controlled limited-slip differential, and active aerodynamic addenda. The roadster’s folding softtop comes from the GT and GT C convertibles and features three layers of fabric stretched over an aluminum, magnesium, and steel frame.
The 4.0-liter used across the GT range has been dialed up in the GT R models to produce 577 horsepower at 6250 rpm—108 more horses than the standard GT and 17 more than the GT C model. Although that output makes the roadster Mercedes’s most powerful two-seat convertible, it’s far from its most powerful model. Other versions of this engine develop 603 horsepower and 627 pound-feet of torque in certain all-wheel-drive AMG models, including several of its SUVs. Which makes the GT R’s 516 pound-feet—available across a broad plateau of 2100 to 5500 rpm—not nearly as impressive as it once was.
More Power Than Traction
But power isn’t the GT R roadster’s shortcoming. Putting that power to the road effectively is. Off-the-line traction is a serious issue despite a considerable rear weight bias, a rear track widened by 2.2 inches over lesser GTs, and massive Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 summer performance tires, sized 275/35R-19 in front and 325/30R-20 at the back. The Michelins put up a good fight and tag team the onslaught of power with an easily engaged launch-control system. But the GT R still lags behind most of its all-wheel-drive rivals to 60 mph. Even AMG’s E63 S wagon, which can hit that mark in 2.9 seconds, is 0.2 second quicker than the best time we’ve recorded for a GT R coupe.
That said, the GT R roadster—which should post a similar 11.1-second quarter-mile as the hardtop—ain’t exactly slow. Cars & Coffee bragging rights aside, that’s quick enough for plenty of giggles, but its claimed maximum velocity of 198 mph is very serious. That the GT R coupe is in the top tier of the quickest track cars we’ve ever tested at our Lightning Lap event also doesn’t hurt, although the coupe’s even harder-core GT R Pro setup does not extend to the roadster.
With its carbon-fiber front fenders and other lightweight bits, we expect the GT R roadster to weigh about 3750 pounds, about 50 pounds less than a GT C roadster. GT R models also get less sound-deadening materials, dynamic engine and transmission mounts, and an exhaust system that saves 13 pounds versus its tamer siblings.
Just Civilized Enough
Press its start button, and the GT R’s V-8 erupts to life and idles like it belongs in a NASCAR garage. It doesn’t roar, it thunders. Your neighbors will hear you leave in the morning. Tightly wound and intense, the GT R feels like a hot rod, but it isn’t uncivilized. AMG has tightened its suspension, but the edges are rounded off its ride and the suspension soaks up large impacts well. It’s firm, but not unpleasant, handling uneven expansion joints and Los Angeles’s broken concrete freeways better than a Porsche 911 Turbo S. To stiffen its body, the roadster gets additional carbon-fiber bracing in its driveshaft tunnel and under its hood.
You would expect its long, low front end to rub itself raw on every driveway incline, speed bump, and parking block, yet it doesn’t. There’s also exemplary wind protection with the top down, and manageable levels of road roar with it up. Unfortunately, its sizable side mirrors fall right at eye level, blocking your view out the front and side. They not only hide pedestrians and apexes but oncoming trucks. Rear visibility isn’t any better.
With its meaty reserve of low-end torque, it’s almost impossible to catch AMG’s V-8 napping. The GT R roadster is just as enjoyable on a relaxed sunset cruise as it is on a flat-out run through the canyons, which is where it excels with a playful, forgiving balance, hefty and direct steering, and high levels of grip. Standard carbon-ceramic brake rotors are easy to modulate but can be squeaky in city traffic. When unleashed, the roadster’s dual-clutch transaxle feels well geared, responsive, and snappy, helping it explode from corner to corner.
Sport, Sport+, and Race drive modes further stiffen its suspension, sharpen its throttle response, and increase the full-throttle shift point from 6500 rpm to 7000. When the transmission is in manual mode, the entirety of its new digital 12.3-inch instrument cluster acts as a shift light, flashing red in your peripheral vision. Cool touch, AMG. For the 2020 model year, all AMG GT models get a new 10.3-inch touchscreen, a redesigned center console with capacitive display buttons, standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration, and a new steering wheel with redundant controls for the engine, drivetrain, and chassis settings.
The price starts at $191,745, which puts the AMG GT R roadster somewhere in the middle of the supercar price sphere. Most McLarens and mid-engine competitors from Italy cost considerably more, while the Acura NSX, the Audi R8 Spyder, and the latest Corvette can be had for less, especially the Vette. A short list of options, including two carbon-fiber exterior trim packages and color-coordinated seatbelts, can drive the price well past $215,000. That’s about the same as the entry point for the latest 911 Turbo S cabriolet. While Aston Martin also will sell you a fetching, front-engine Vantage, DB11, or DBS, only the Vantage can be had for less than the GT R roadster, but it only comes as a coupe, and none of the Astons is as focused and athletic as the AMG.
Some may say the age of the front-engine supercar is all but dead. But don’t close the coffin just yet. The AMG GT R roadster may not accelerate quite as quickly as most of its mid-engine rivals, but it does deliver a lust-worthy combination of performance, thrills, and drama. And it still draws a crowd at a Cars & Coffee meet.
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