All over New York — and other upscale megalopoli like London and Vancouver — slender residential glass towers sprout, like some pernicious invasive reed. Each one touted as an order of magnitude more expensive than its predecessor, the apartments these buildings contain are outfitted with features so exclusive, the ordinary consumer will not even recognize their significance: book-matched Croatian walnut travertine, hand-polished Ecuadoran bocote, Grand Palais enamel ranges.
They are also empty. Generally devoid of permanent residents, these buildings and the apartments they contain act as transitory housing — pieds-a-terre — for the global one percent, who light upon their $50 million dwellings when the mood or season suits.
Those same economics have spawned a new thatch of elite sports cars. All-new or significantly updated two-seaters like the Jaguar F-Type, Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, and (forthcoming) second-generation Audi R8, as well as slightly older and ostensible two-seaters like the Porsche 911 and Nissan GT-R, now duke it out for the AmEx Centurion Cards, and rear ends, of the beau monde as their second (or third or fourth or fifth) vehicles; something to keep at the house by the ocean, or the mountains, or the vineyard. Call them pieds-a-car.
Entering into this gilded fray this coming spring is the all-new, 503-hp Mercedes-AMG GT S (a less potent and “S”-less 456-hp variant will follow in mid-2016). Powered by a twin-turbocharged, 4-liter V-8, and transmogrifying its spirit to terra firma through an updated version of the 7-speed dual clutch transaxle, the GT S will rip its way to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds, on its way to a terminal velocity of 183 mph. That’s comparable to its aforementioned competitors, and likely quicker than a major insider commodity trade.
This is a marked achievement, especially when considering that this is only the second complete car (after the rare SLS) built by Mercedes’ in-house performance sub-brand, AMG. Despite having dispensed with its older brother’s vital (and thirsty) 6.3-liter naturally aspirated V-8 and gullwing doors, one can see clearly the influence of SLS’ design on the GT S. It has a similar Olympic lap pool of a hood, squinty ovoid tail lamps, and tersely grimacing Bender the Robot mouth.
This isn’t surprising, because it shares a good deal of its aluminum sub-frame/mid-front engined/rear transaxled underpinnings with that previous model. Though we imagined it in our minds as much smaller and lighter, it also shares much of that outgoing model’s horizontal and gravitational dimensions, coming in at just 3.5 inches shorter and 175 lbs lighter the SLS—that means about 15 feet and 3,500 lbs.
This doesn’t serve it well, in our opinion. Whereas competitors like the F-Type look much smaller — and much better — in person than they do in photographs, the opposite is true of the GT S. Like a wide-eyed, pumpkin-headed starlet, who looks great projected at 60 feet but like a bonsai sunflower when spotted in the wild, the GT S has awkward proportions. We really like its broadly toned rear end and muscular quadriceps. But as much as recent Benzes like the S-Class and C-Class have reclaimed a sense of grace, we couldn’t locate the same in the GT S. We kept trying to come up with positive templates for its appearance, but all we could think was: cheesecake lollipop, extruded robot teardrop, or round of windswept boursault impaled on a butter knife.
Inside, our feelings are similarly complicated, and we mean that quite literally. As in other contemporary Benzes, the materials are beyond reproach: metal, leather, carbon fiber, and piano black (or something like it in argent matte which we’ll call “synthesizer silver”) are expertly applied. And the new sloping center console is, as on modern Porsches, quite dramatic. But, as if in homage to 1980s Alfa Romeos or 2010s Aston Martins, the controls are placed in improbable — and in the case of the joyless joystick that acts as the transmission knob, impossible — locales. We have never before wished for a prehensile spinal column, but this is seemingly the only way one could comfortably place this car in park, drive, neutral, or reverse. Or reside in its seats, which were as firm and unsupportive as a reform-school principal.
We did very much like the big flip-top Porsche 928-esque hatchback, which granted a quantity of actual, usable trunk space — something jarringly absent from the SLS. Firmly in the positive column as well is the way the GT S performs. It is fast. Very fast. In fact, it gobbled up everything the northern California mountains pitched at its prominent proboscis. The transmission response is greatly improved over its often-laggardly behavior in the SLS. The engine's baritone exhaust note amps toward the profound (especially from outside the car). The computer actuated, ridiculously acronymed suspension causes the big 265/295 series (front/rear) rubber mounted to the forged 19”/20” (front/rear) wheels to offer commendable grip — if a bit too much stiffness for our false teeth. And the optional carbon ceramic brakes are a drag, in the best possible way.
Yet, somehow, the GT S left us feeling dispassionate. It was wonderful in many respects, and a vivid and significant step forward for Mercedes-Benz sports cars. Yet it didn’t manage to grab us by the loins. In the context of the category, it lacked the precision of the Porsche 911, the incorrigibility (and seductive shape) of the Jaguar F-Type, or the functionality of the outgoing R8. We liked it, but we weren’t in love, and love is everything in a sports car. Its only job is to make you grin and salivate every time you touch it or sit in it or remember, in the drudgery of your hideous existence, that you actually own it.
Compared to the $220,000 SLS, the AMG GT S' anticipated price of $130,000 to $140,000 will seem like a deal, albeit one slightly higher than the Jaguar competition but close to what the higher-end Porsche 911 models command. (The non-S may start around $110,000.) Like a perfectly executed but uninhabited showplace condo in the sky, the GT S is laden with all the compelling attributes that signify absolute desirability. Yet it lacks that odd and unconscious anima that lights up our irrational emotional receptors. Like Burt Bacarach said, “a room is not a house, and a house is not a home.”
Disclosure: For this article, the writer’s transportation, meals and lodging costs were paid for by one or more subjects of the article. Yahoo does not promise to publish any stories or provide coverage to any individual or entity that paid for some or all of the costs of any of our writers to attend an event.