Over the Alps and Across the Plains in the Mercedes-AMG GT S

It was almost too good to be true. My contact at the Daimler HQ in Stuttgart had just informed me that a Mercedes-AMG GT S would be ready for me upon my arrival in Stuttgart in late October and that the car was mine to use for two full weeks! My slightly far-fetched idea of doing a grand tour in a sports car out of season actually hit home with Daimler. They didn’t even lose their calm over the fact that I said I planned to cross the Alps twice. This all led me to think they had great faith in their product, and left me with a relaxed feeling towards it all.

As I arrived at the Daimler HQ in Stuttgart, I saw two dozen Mercedes-Benz test cars in the central piazza, but my focus was immediately drawn towards the group of three AMG GT cars. One in red, one in dark grey and one in matte silver, with the latter looking most inticing to me. You know, the whole Silver Arrow thing holds quite a strong position in the history of the car. Thus, I was delighted to learn that the silver car would indeed be my means of transport for my grand tour. “We thought the silver colour would look the best in the palette of autumn“, my contact said with a smile as he handed me the key. My two suitcases fit perfectly in the rear, and I soon found myself seated comfortably inside the GT S. The driver’s seat offers ample adjustment to find a suitable driving position, even for the taller amongst us, such as myself, and headroom was several centimetres from ever becoming an issue. Gripping the steering wheel felt like shaking hands with a long-time friend – that sensation of assurance and control followed me the entire trip.

The V8 rumble that followed the push of the “Start – Stop” button made my entire body smile, and after a precise nudge of the gear selector, my smile started moving forwards. No drama, no fuss, no nervousness. The GT S simply drove off and left Daimler and Stuttgart behind. With the world of Mercedes being largely unchartered territory for me, I was curious to see how intuitive the functions of the car would be, and I was happy to report to myself that the GPS system was a delight to use. A few hours later, I was master of the cruise control, but it took me until day two to find time to dig deep enough to get the music playing from my USB stick. Let’s just say that the searchable owner’s manual proved helpful more than once. However, I could never shake off that initial sensation that the display screen itself looked out of place, almost like someone just left a tablet there.

The Autobahn beckoned. I started out gently, moving along at around 150 km/h, but soon found out that the GT S was more than pleased with higher speeds. My Daimler contact had alerted me to a tiny sticker next to the light switch that reminded me to stay below 270 km/h, as the car was shod with winter tyres. This limitation was no problem at all during my journey, but I’m happy to report that the GT S was still pulling strongly as it approached said pace.

Shoes off, jacket off, Comfort mode activated, I thundered along the Autobahn towards my first stop-over in Sinsheim. The hotel concierge was slightly baffled when I responded confirmingly when he asked if I had booked a stay at THEIR humble hotel. He returned shortly after with the keys to a locked garage in the neighbouring street. “Especially for you, of course free of charge“, he smiled. A sense of pride surprised me as I parked the car and locked it in the garage for the night. It was a rather pleasant surprise, and I savoured the moment, standing there all alone in a narrow German backstreet.

The excitement to find the GT S ready for a new day was impossible to ignore, and I was very well aware that this car was quickly becoming one of my favourite places to be. I repeated the no-shoes, no-jacket approach from the day before, feeling at home as I fastened the seat belt and awoke the V8. My schedule for day two would take me from Sinsheim via Munich to the northern shores of Badensee. The GT S ate Autobahn for breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper, and seemed very pleased with itself as I parked it outside my next hotel. “I made you fill the tank twice today“, the GT S smirked at me. My heavy right foot had inflicted deep wounds in my wallet. Thankfully, the Burmester sound system had served me an excellent session of Beethoven and Brahms along the way, leaving my mind soothed and sound.

Day three would see the first of five border crossings during my grand tour, and I’m sure the Swiss border guard was delighted to meet a Norwegian who, from within a brand new sports car with German plates, explained in Germglish that he was actually heading to Germany, but that he just wanted to enter Switzerland in order to reach Italy and then return through Switzerland a second time. After inspecting my papers, the guard gave me the thumbs up, and so I went at it again. Some say that driving in Switzerland is all about looking at your speedometer, since the speed cameras are seemingly everywhere and usually without any warning. However, taking some of the B-roads allows you to focus on the scenery, the curvature of the road and the handling of the car. Some say that the scenery in Switzerland can be quite breathtaking, and this is very true. As I descended upon Zürichsee from a minor mountain pass, I found myself driving a lovely grand tourer, surrounded by a carpet of green, looking ahead at a wonderful blue lake whose backdrop was the raw, massive mountains of the Alps. Still gives me goosebumps.

After my stop-over in Switzerland, my next destination was Turin, and I set off in the Swiss fog towards the Gotthard tunnel. On the slightly bendy, climbing roads, the GT S was just what the doctor had ordered, carrying out my smallest command without breaking a single drop of sweat. Turin was soon in sight, and after a quick intermezzo at 21 ºC in central Turin, I found my suburban hotel to be much better than expected. I peeked out of my sixth floor window only to see the hotel owner stepping outside to take photos of the GT S. He later told me, as did a few others, that “we never see this car in Italy“. You could sense that this was a man who was into cars, as he had his Jaguar E-Type permanently parked outside the hotel entrance. The steeply angled access to the underground garage had me tiptoeing the GT S past the angled points, breathing a no-damage-done sigh of relief every time.

The last day of October ended up being a day without plans, so I headed down to the Alba region in search of good photo locations. Narrow, windy roads are everywhere to be found in this area, and I made sure to try out quite a few of them, much to the enjoyment of the GT S. One of the most prominent Italian words during autumn and winter is nebbia, a well-known phenomenon we all love to hate; fog. I could only see glimpses of ravishing sights of undulating terrain covered in vines. You could say my search for photo locations was largely fruitless. The roads, though, were heaps of fun. The driving mode knob turned to Sport Plus, I must have made many locals wonder what kind of monster was shouting and firing shots out there in the land of the mist.

The following day led me to my southernmost destination of my journey, just outside Bologna. I spent three nights in a lovely “locanda” there, and spent the days crisscrossing the magical car world around Modena, visiting car museums and carrozzieri, seeing countless lovely cars. The more cars I saw, the more I saw how clean and classic the lines of the GT S are. When it comes to design, the GT S speaks the same language as the immortal icons of years gone by, and it didn’t look out of place anywhere. Much to my enjoyment, the men who work on these mentioned icons on an everyday basis were properly impressed by the looks and sound of the GT S, and those who tagged along for shorter or longer rides nodded approvingly.

Early in the morning after the third night near Bologna, I pointed the sizeable front of the GT S towards north and lowered the throttle. It was going to be one of the days of many kilometres. After a while, I noticed that the drivetrain behind me arrived at a not-so-sweet spot around 140 km/h, where it would start singing a rather unpopular and monotonous tune. This minor annoyance was easily remedied by going slightly slower or by something even better. After a stop in Milan, I again entered Switzerland with a smile on my face. I reached my B&B near Berne quite a while after the sun had called it a day, having done more than 600 kilometres and four long stops along the way. The GT S had to spend the night on the street, but didn’t utter a single word of complaint.

Next morning presented the first rainfall during the trip, adding a new level of attention to my driving, as wet roads covered with leafs rank low on grip. I did a relatively short stint from Berne to Lausanne, just over 100 km, but was absolutely worn out upon arriving at my last hotel. The reason for my unexpected weariness was the torrents of rain and hail which accompanied me for the majority of the drive, making the occasionally flooded road hard to see, even with wipers on maximum attack. Knowing that the GT S was equipped with 265 wide wheels at the front and 295 at the rear, I had to be on full alert all the time, trying to avoid the deepest pools and tracks of water. You can probably imagine my relief when I arrived to find my hotel had free underground parking with direct access. Despite the awful weather, the GT S didn’t feel out of place, continuously feeding me with the information I needed to navigate safely to my destination.

Every journey has a final day, and mine started very early as I slid my two suitcases into the boot for the last time. The rain from the other day was nowhere to be seen, and progress was smooth. As I turned off the highway and started climbing a minor pass in the north of Switzerland, I turned up Ravel and found myself again thinking a thought that had struck me within the first five minutes of the entire journey. “All supercars have the same fundamental flaw – you can’t see them from the outside when driving them.” I know this sounds quite have-your-cake-and-eat-it-ish, but the large number of bystanders and fellow travelers that had given me smiles, comments, thumbs up and shown me the camera lense of their phones had me thinking it would’ve been great to share their experience.

My philosophic moment was replaced by the observation of snow along the winding road, and before soon, the road and everything around it was white. A cautious driving style seemed in order, and I enjoyed the special aural signature that driving in snow has. Short stomps on the accelerator confirmed what I had presumed – 510 PS and 650 Nm fed through nearly 30 cm wide rear wheels on snowy roads can be fun. I was on the lookout for a large, open place to try this out some more, but it seemed fate didn’t approve of my intentions, so I descended from winter wonderland with a lot left undone.

Another tunnel took me close to the French border, and except for a quick stop and snack at a world famous gourmet chain’s restaurant (that Mac wasn’t Big!), France went by in a flash. Throughout the centuries, the Rhine has seen crossings of all sorts, and probably didn’t take notice of the silver arrow flying across. Back in Germany, the wonderful stretch of Autobahn that is the A5 through Baden-Württemberg invited to what could be refered to as enthusiastic driving. With the dymanic selector turned to Sport Plus, I floored it. Man, did that car go! This was what the GT S had been made for, I nodded to myself. No hesitation, just pure, exhilarating power and speed. Slowing down for traffic released angry, yet lovely bursts from the exhaust as I shifted down in preparation for another turned-to-eleven moment. The push and growl from that V8 is simply addictive, and I didn’t mind having to shift down every now and then. Some might even say I occasionally did it on purpose.

Stuttgart, Daimler HQ. Time to return the car. The Mercedes-AMG GT S had been my home for nearly 60 hours and more than 4,000 km. And I can honestly say that it made me feel at home. Could this be the perfect GT car? I wouldn’t be surprised if it was.

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