Its performance is otherworldly, which means you’ll struggle to make full use of it in the real world | BY ANDREW FRANKEL
When you slam shut that extraordinary door for the last time, walk away, have a little sit down, a glass of water and give yourself time to think, it is not the technology lurking within the McLaren 720S that will first come back to you. Nor is it the car’s appearance. Nor, I am afraid to say, is it the handling. It is the performance.
The way the 720S gets up and goes dominates everything. On a racetrack it is merely utterly exhilarating; on the road it can be anything from awe-inspiring via rather intimidating to really quite frustrating when you can’t use it all, which is almost always. But whatever the feelings it elicits upon whichever stretch of road you are trying to drive quickly, it is those concerning just how fast it is that will be standing front and centre. At least at first.
This should not be a surprise. With a twin-turbo engine expanded to 4.0 litres, it has not only 710bhp at its disposal but, because the engine is not just larger but longer in the stroke, a massive slug of additional mid-range torque.
It will reach 62mph in 2.8sec, but McLaren provides a 0-124mph (200kph) time as well. It covers this in 7.8sec and you’ll only get a clear idea of just how rapid this is when you consider that, if my fag packet calculations are correct, that’s about two seconds faster than the daddy of all supercars, the McLaren F1. Two seconds. At this level, that’s a lifetime. Ah, some will say, that’s not a fair comparison because the 720S has launch control and seamless shifting. So put it another way: it’s only half a second slower than a Porsche 918 Spyder that has all the electronic trickery plus the simply enormous advantage of four-wheel drive and, therefore, no traction issues at all.
But while the 720S is expensive by any normal standard, a million pound hypercar it is not. It costs £218,020 and sits plumb in the middle of the McLaren range, the core of the ‘Super’ series, with the ‘Sports’ series cars like the 570S below and the ‘Ultimate’ P1 and forthcoming BP23 above.
It’s so quick it would be easy to be overwhelmed and miss the less obvious facets of its character, which would be a shame. While even those owners who would choose to use all the 720S’s performance (and I bet there are not many) will find themselves severely limited by their environment, these other aspects can be experienced at all times.
McLaren says the 720S is the replacement for the 650S supercar but, in fact, it has made the car not just considerably quicker, it has substantially repositioned it too. The aim was to create something closer in character to the limited-edition 675LT, which by McLaren’s own admission is a car intended for use as much or more on track than road. The advantage of this approach is that it puts more clear conceptual air between it and the more affordable Sports Series car than a mere power hike could manage on its own; this is important when even the performance of McLaren’s cheapest car, the 540C, is more than sufficient to summon shrieks from your passenger and needs to be used in public very sparingly indeed.
But this change of character brings problems, too. McLaren has worked hard to make the 720S even more civilised than its predecessor: those dihedral doors make it a little easier to climb in and out – though I’d stop short of calling it actually easy – while inside there is a new level of all-round visibility for a mid-engined supercar. The controls are familiar if somewhat rearranged, but easy to understand and operate and of a much higher perceived quality. But when you tug a paddle and ease forward, the magic carpet ride of the 650S is notable only by its absence. Indeed, at town speeds you might call the car’s suspension settings rather challenging, or at least that was the impression gained on the admittedly diabolical road surfaces available on the Rome-based launch.
And by the time you’ve become a trifle irritated by the scarcely sonorous sound of the V8 at low revs – louder and less smooth to these ears than the 3.8-litre unit it replaces – you would have good reason to wonder if McLaren has not sacrificed too much civility at the altar of largely unusable speed.
Then you go somewhere the roads are quieter, somewhere you can at least rub away at the surface of what this car can do. This is the moment you realise the 720S is not all about its engine. This is when you notice the unimpeachable rigidity of a structure once more made from carbon, but as a cage rather than a tub. Your fingers start to read the messages fed back from the still hydraulically assisted and perfectly weighted and geared steering. You begin to appreciate a suspension system that is not merely interlinked as before, but has a dozen more sensors to allow it not only to read the driver, but the road too. You get into a flow, barely able to believe the dampers’ ability to maintain the car’s ride height over the most shocking undulations, camber and surface changes and you realise this is probably the most capable standard production road car you’ve driven.
And that’s before you get to the track. We went to Vallelunga, a circuit I recall chiefly as the place where in 1973 Matra ended the reign of the Ferrari 312PB, which had won every race it entered in 1972. Here the 720S put on a display I shall not quickly forget. It was playful in the slow corners, as stable and accurate in the quick stuff as I’ve known a road car to be and, of course, simply explosive down the straights. I would say a Ferrari 488GTB makes a better noise and is even easier to drive on the limit and therefore yet more entertaining, but my gut says that if you put a stopwatch on them, Maranello’s car would be seconds adrift.
Is that important? And is it important that I would not be even slightly surprised to learn the 720S could lap faster than a P1?
Well, when you feel that pulverising thrust or are pinned to your side bolsters by the 1.5g lateral force it will generate, of course it’s important because such experiences are thrilling.
But so too are they rare. The truth is that, on the public road, I’d be just as quick in a 570S because the performance advantage of the 720S is unusable in such conditions. The 570S is a more attractive car to these eyes and it costs £73,000 less. But that’s a journalist’s perspective and if supercars stopped selling just because their potential could no longer be exploited, the breed would have died out 30 years ago with the Ferrari F40. Customers want the power and simply to know it’s there is enough to them, even if it’s never or rarely used.
All such issues aside, there’s no question that the 720S moves the game on. I’d like it to be more user-friendly around town and to sound and look better than it does, but for those who can actually afford such a car and are wondering whether or not to buy one, such issues will pale next to the one essential truth it brings: for the very first time, genuine hypercar capability has been brought to the standard supercar classes. And for that, McLaren is to be applauded.
4.0 litres, 8 cylinders, turbocharged
568lb [email protected]
seven-speed paddle shift, rear-wheel drive
POWER TO WEIGHT
500bhp per tonne
TOP SPEED 212mph