MALVERN, Pa. - It's a question I face every year: what to drive in the Chester County Road Rally, the opening salvo of the ultimate automotive garden party, the Radnor Hunt Concours d'Elegance.
Held during the second weekend in September at the country's oldest continuing hunt, the Radnor Hunt is the only concours where the hounds get exercised at noon. As for the rally, it's run along the twisting, turning two-lane roads of Philadelphia's Main Line. It's a fabulously fun way to exercise your favorite chariot, particularly if it's the 2020 Mercedes-Benz AMG-GT C Coupe.
With its enormous nose, long hood and broad shoulders, this sleek slab of Teutonic muscle channels Mercedes-Benz's racing heritage - such as the 300 SLR (W 194) from 1952. But the Coupe has been updated for 2020 with details lifted from the new four-door AMG-GT, including new LED headlights and taillights, a redesigned rear diffuser and bumper, new exhaust tips and revised alloy wheels.
Inside, you'll find changes parroted from the four-door as well, with a new fully digital 12.3-inch instrument cluster and 10.25-inch multimedia infotainment screen controlled by a touchpad on the center console. Nevertheless, its user interface is not intuitive; there's no simple way to change a radio station. And it's incredibly touchy, requiring a fine touch to use, which is difficult to do while tackling corner in a car with such brute force.
And it does have brute force.
Under its mammoth prow is a powerplant whose small size belies its fierceness. While base AMG-GT Coupes have a 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-8 that delivers 469 horsepower, the AMG-GT C Coupe provides 550 horsepower through a seven-speed dual clutch transmission, allowing you to reach 60 mph in 3.6 seconds. Given this car's power, you might be tempted to use the paddle shifters. But the impeccable dual-clutch transmission snicks off the shifts so quickly, you'll rarely use them.
The car's low center of gravity and hydraulic power steering allows for quick, precise handling with abundant feedback while providing impressive grip in corners and flat cornering behavior. It made quick work of Chester County's historic byways, roaring through historic villages and racing by Colonial-era homes that stand as silent witnesses to Pennsylvania's evolving landscape. The GT's ride is very firm - too firm for some roads, where the GT hopped over bumps rather than absorbing them, while its low front end set off the car's sensor while traversing the slightest molehill. And it's wide, very wide. This may not be a problem on a racetrack, but on the colonial era roads of Philadelphia, it more than fills its lane, making it a constant worry. It's so wide, if the center console was a seat it could fit a person.
The front bucket seats are firm and unyielding, with strong side bolstering that secures you as you put this beast through its paces. The GT sits low, as you'd expect, and you sit far back in the chassis, practically on the rear axle. Couple this with the long hood and you'll find it a unique proposition to drive. Not surprisingly, the cabin is far from a peaceful retreat with a thunderous exhaust note backed by lots of road and tire noise. You'll have little doubt as to this car's true intent. Boy racers will love it; few others will. Given that, it's a wonder anyone can hear the incredible Burmeister sound system. After all, the real symphony comes from this coupe's sound and fury.
This is what makes for occasional frustration: driving slowly. Part of the rally route took us through Valley Forge National Historic Park, speed limit 25 mph. And given that it's federal property, any speeding ticket would cost a lot; fighting it would land me in federal court. So, I slogged past the busloads of tourists gawking at the park's rolling green hills, something Gen. Washington and his troops never experienced.
But the car was at home this weekend, especially since the Radnor Hunt judges bestowed the best-in-show award to an outrageously beautiful 1927 Mercedes-Benz Model K Roadster with a custom body by Fleetwood. Painted a bright green and featuring an engine-turned hood, it was ordered by a Rochester, N.Y., buyer after seeing the Isotta Fraschini roadster Fleetwood built for movie star for Rudolph Valentino. Surely, this is not a car for those enrolled in the witness protection program.
Then again, neither is the 2020 AMG-GT C Coupe, with its intoxicating mixture of stunning good looks and gobs of horsepower that produces ferociously seductive sounds and sensations. It's a dynamic driving partner, one that provides more than its share of unforgettable moments, much like the Chester County Road Rally and Radnor Hunt Concours.
Mercedes-Benz AMG GT C Coupe
Base price: $150,900
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Engine: Turbocharged 4.0-liter V8
EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 15/21 mpg
Fuel required: Premium
0-60 mph: 3.6 seconds
Top speed: 196 mph
Wheelbase/Length/Width: 103.5/179.7/78.6 inches
Cargo capacity: 10.1 cubic feet
Ground clearance: 3.8 inches
Curb weight: 3,792 pounds
ABOUT THE WRITER
Larry Printz is an automotive journalist based in South Florida. Readers may send him email at TheDrivingPrintz@gmail.com.