Anyone in the market for a $150,000 sports car should count their blessings, as there are plenty of excellent choices. There’s the go-to Porsche 911, the exotic Audi R8, and this present pair of stunning front-engined coupes. Given the increasing use of hybrid and electric technology, this generation of sports cars might also be the last to indulge in the glory of stuffing a powerful gasoline engine in a car with only two seats.
It so happens that the Mercedes-AMG GT and the Aston Martin Vantage share the same mill, AMG’s 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8. Aston Martin’s partnership with Daimler AG means that you now get a German engine under the hood of your boutique British sports car, and Mercedes also supplies the infotainment technology.
Although they have the same powerplant, the GT and Vantage couldn’t have more different personalities. Both cars offer impressive performance and head-turning design, but one tries to charm its way into your heart, while the other hits you in the chest like a rock concert.
Mercedes-AMG GT C: A brute of a Bavarian muscle car
For 2020, the GT coupe comes in 3 different flavors: GT, GT C, and GT R. The base GT starts at a fairly reasonable $115,900 and gets you a 469 horsepower version of the 4.0L V8, while the bonkers GT R costs $163,900 and ups the power to 577 horsepower. Our GT C test car sits in the sweet middle spot, stickering at $150,900 and offering 550 horses.
(Interestingly, Mercedes-AMG just announced that for 2021, the base GT would offer 523 horsepower, a substantial increase of 54. No word on whether other models will receive bumps in power.)
Take just one look at the GT’s long hood and menacing front grill, and you know it’s going to be fast. What’s surprising is how visceral the driving experience is. The engine is gloriously loud, and even in comfort mode, the car feels like it’s straining at the leash. The seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is most happy firing off quick shifts, and the optional carbon ceramic brakes on our test car also don’t love going slow.
The good news is that when you want to put the hammer down, the GT C is wicked good. I took it for an early morning run up Highway 9 in the Santa Cruz Mountains, a wonderfully twisty road I am very familiar with, and the car simply tore it up. Grip from the wide Michelin Super Sport tires is plentiful, and the chassis never lost its composure, even during several sharp hairpin turns and other tricky sequences.
The GT C is also quite nimble and responsive for a relatively heavy coupe with such a long hood. The trick here is a rear-axle steering system borrowed from the GT R, which allows the car to scoot through tighter bends with ease. And when it comes time to slow down, the carbon ceramic stoppers are more than up to the task. If anything, I had to remind myself not to push too hard on the brake pedal; otherwise, it would easily scrub off too much speed.
It’s when you’re not flying down your favorite road that the GT C isn’t quite so charming. As mentioned earlier, the brakes and transmission aren’t the smoothest just cruising around, and there’s always a lot of noise, whether from the engine, the wind, or the road. It’s been a while since I’ve driven a car that has such a hard time trying to relax.
The interior is nicely appointed and reasonably comfortable, but it doesn’t quite live up to the $150k price point. For that amount of money, I’m expecting something a bit more opulent. Plus, the GT C doesn’t even have the new MBUX infotainment system, making do with the older Comand system. Folks looking for the latest tech will feel short-changed, especially since pretty much every other Mercedes-AMG product has the new system.
Aston Martin Vantage: No longer purely British, but still suave, sophisticated, and quirky as ever
Take one look at the new Vantage, and you might swoon a bit. This gorgeous automobile is one you’ll never get tired of looking at. Our test car showed up in stealthy Magnetic Silver paint, a color James Bond would readily approve.
This latest Aston is still very British, even though the engine now comes from Germany. Unlike the GT C, the Vantage is content to be driven in a slower, more civilized fashion. I took it out several times to run errands and even pick up some groceries. Without fancy carbon ceramic brakes (they are available but weren’t spec’d on our test car) and with a conventional eight-speed automatic, the Vantage makes for comfortable casual cruising.
This is not to say that it can’t hustle. On paper, the Vantage is the less powerful car, with “only” 503 horsepower, but out on the road, you hardly notice that it gives up 47 ponies to the GT C. The transmission doesn’t quite rifle the upshifts with the same level of urgency, but acceleration is still blisteringly fast.
The Vantage is also very confident and capable when attacking a windy road. The limits are perhaps a touch lower, as the Pirelli PZ4 tires don’t offer quite the heroic level of grip as the Michelins on the GT C, but overall the car is very well balanced and easy to drive fast. Rumor has it that on the track, the Vantage becomes quite the drift machine when pushed hard. After nailing the throttle on a freeway onramp, the rear was surprisingly eager to step out, confirming that this Aston has more of an inner hoodlum than the posh exterior suggests.
The interior of our test car featured more Alcantara than I’ve ever seen in a car. From the seats to the dash to the doors, it’s faux suede all around. Unfortunately, the all-black color scheme made for a sweltering experience during what has been a hot California Summer. Like the GT C, the Vantage doesn’t quite feel like a $150k+ car when you’re sitting in it. Adding to the disappointment is a dashboard and center console that make little organizational sense. I’m not that picky when it comes to controls and ergonomics, but the Vantage needs some help to make things more user friendly.
Verdict: Two very different sports cars, the choice is yours
Cars are often an extension of our personality and identity, and I have no doubt that the AMG GT C and Aston Martin Vantage will attract very different buyers. It’s almost surprising how two sports coupes that have the same engine can feel so different.
Twenty years ago, I would have fallen head over heels for the GT C. Every drive in it felt like an invitation to test the limits and see how fast she can go. But for my middle-aged self, the car is too ferocious—and she isn’t quite the visual knock out that an expensive sports car really ought to be.
Sure, the Vantage makes little sense as a value proposition. For less money, you can buy more speed and a more complete total package. From a rational standpoint, my brain will continue to think: Just buy a Porsche 911 GTS and call it a day. But one look at the Aston and rational thoughts float away, replaced with a smile and the satisfaction that this is one of the best looking cars on the road today. And it’s also a car you can drive comfortably every day, even when you’re not out to break the speed limit.
|2020 Mercedes-AMG GT C||2020 Aston Martin Vantage|
|Price as tested||$173,695||$181,881|
|Engine||4.0L AMG V8 biturbo||4.0L twin-turbo V8|
|Power (hp)||550 @ 5,750 rpm||503 @ 6,000 rpm|
|Torque (lb-ft)||502 @ 2,100 rpm||505 @ 2,000 rpm|
|Transmission||7-speed DCT||8-speed automatic|
|Drivetrain layout||rear-wheel-drive||rear-wheel drive|
|Curb weight (lbs.)||3,748||N/A|
|EPA-estimated fuel economy (mpg)||18 (combined)||20 (combined)|
|Wheelbase||103.5 inches||106.5 inches|
|Length x width x height||179.0 x 79.0 x 50.7 inches||175.8 x 50.1 x 76.5 inches|
|Top speed||187 mph||195 mph (est.)|
|Acceleration 0 – 60 mph||3.7 seconds||3.5 seconds|