250mph McLaren

New 1035bhp hybrid Speedtail edges close to Bugatti Chiron territory

McLaren has launched its fastest car to date. It’s called Speedtail and will reach at least 250mph, just 11mph below the top speed of the world’s fastest car, the Bugatti Chiron.

Thanks to its three-seat configuration with a central driving position, the Speedtail will be seen by many as the spiritual successor to the iconic 1994 McLaren F1, though unlike its vaunted ancestor the car is positioned as a ‘hyper GT’ rather than an ultra-light supercar. This means that the design direction was influenced more by concerns of ride comfort, refinement, practicality and outright top speed than paring away the last gramme of mass or setting a lap time. Just 106 will be built (the number of both road and race F1s of all kinds constructed), each pre-sold for £1.75 million plus local taxes.

The Speedtail comes with what is described as ‘a pioneering petrol-electric hybrid powertrain’ developing a mighty 1035bhp, fitted into an all-carbon fibre teardrop body of quite extraordinary proportions. Most notable is its length: at 5137mm this low-slung hypercar is fractionally longer than a Mercedes-Benz S-class limousine. The reason is drag reduction and, to that end, the Speedtail is also fitted with retractable cameras in place of door mirrors and static front wheel covers that dramatically reduce aerodynamic turbulence around the wheel arches.

Top speed aside, just one performance figure has been released but it is quite revealing. The Speedtail will cover 0-186mph (300kph) in 12.8sec, while the most powerful McLaren prior to the Speedtail, the P1, required 16.5sec. At approximately 1530kg, the Speedtail is not significantly lighter than the P1, while its powertrain develops about 132 additional horsepower, not nearly enough to explain the enormous apparent performance gap between them. So something else is going on. Suggestions that this might be related
to an electrically driven front axle are not correct, so the time has been achieved with the inherent traction disadvantage of rear-wheel drive.

Clearly this vast disparity is accounted for in the main by the Speedtail’s wildly more slippery shape. Even so, it’s worth mentioning now that the Speedtail is not just vastly quicker than the P1, but quicker over that measure even than the 444bhp more powerful, all-wheel-drive Chiron.

The Speedtail is likely to have a significance far beyond the 106 examples to be built. McLaren boss Mike Flewitt is on the record as saying that the next generation of widely available McLaren street cars will come with hybridisation designed in from launch, so by the middle of next decade it is unlikely that any purely petrol-powered McLaren products will be available. The Speedtail is in the vanguard of that process, so expect elements of its hybrid technology to be transferred to the less unaffordable McLarens of the future.

BUSY TIME FOR BMW

In the month since the last road car news pages were written, BMW has launched three new cars. Not variations of existing product, or three new models based on one new car, but three genuinely brand-new cars. Not that long ago it would have taken Aston Martin a quarter of a century to launch that many new products. Such is the world in which we live.

Taking centre stage at the Paris Motor Show was the new 3-series, still probably the most important car in the BMW range despite the ever-growing importance of its SUVs. Based on the same architecture as the 5- and 7-series models, the new 3 is longer and wider than the car it replaces, but lighter too. BMW says its main focus was to ensure it set the class benchmark for driving enjoyment without compromising ride and refinement.

The car is more spacious, said to be better built from higher-quality materials and goes on sale in the UK in spring. Initially there will be a 320d diesel and a 330i petrol six, but you can expect the range to soon include a 330e hybrid too. Whether the 320d can retain its position as range favourite depends on the increasingly precarious position of diesel. As it is and probably thanks to new emissions rules, the new 320d has 27bhp less than its predecessor.

Next to the 3-series on the show stand sat an all-new Z4, a return to form, it is hoped, after the lacklustre current generation. This is the car that has been developed from scratch in a joint venture with Toyota, which will use it to underpin its new Supra. But not only will the cars look entirely unalike, the Supra will have a folding hard-top while the Z4 returns to its roots with a fabric roof. BMW says this is not only lighter and more space-efficient than the metal top of the current Z4, but also lowers its centre of gravity, crucial to the new car’s goal of improving dramatically the uninvolving driving experience offered by Z4s of late, and getting it back on terms with Porsche’s 718 Boxster. Two 2-litre petrol engines will be offered from launch next spring, one with 197bhp, the other with 258bhp, but all eyes will be on the 3-litre six in the Z4 M40i. With 340bhp it directly rivals the current Boxster S.

The final BMW to be unveiled this month is not just a new car, but a new market segment for the Munich company. The X7 is a pure luxury SUV, aimed at cars like the Range Rover but with the added versatility of three rows of seats. At more than five metres in length it should offer space to spare for up to seven occupants, along with a level of comfort and refinement hitherto only seen in
the 7-series limousine. Whether you can live with the looks, though, is a matter for the individual.

MERC'S NEW SUV

Not to be outdone by its rivals to the east, Mercedes-Benz also revealed its all-new GLE SUV in Paris. This is significant for the Stuttgart brand, and for two reasons. Firstly, it introduces technology not previously seen on a Mercedes, including the promise of a hybrid version with an extended electric-only range of up to 50 miles and the next generation of road-reading suspension offering unprecedented levels of wheel control based on road information ‘seen’ by cameras mounted to the car’s front. But this is also the car that will spawn the new GLS (direct rival to the BMW X7), which itself will be the first Mercedes to be given the Maybach treatment. This will ensure that Mercedes joins the likes of Bentley, Aston Martin and Rolls-Royce among the makers of ultra-luxury SUVs.

LAST CHANCE SALON

Elsewhere, Paris appeared to be a show in decline, following the trend already seen in Tokyo and Detroit. The number of no-shows was alarming, as was its range. For it was not just glamour marques like Rolls-Royce, Bentley and McLaren choosing not to invest time and money, but also the biggest of the big hitters, brands like Ford and Volkswagen, Vauxhall and Volvo. Even the locals who should have been making hay in the absence of so much competition preferred instead to major on concept cars. Even the all-new Renault Clio, which many had hoped and expected would make its debut on home turf, was nowhere to be seen and is now likely to be revealed next year, possibly at Geneva in March.