Precision pays off

McLaren's 600LT is more than a small upgrade, just don't expect a 'road' test

Turn four at the Hungaroring is one of the trickier corners. At least that’s how I consoled myself as I bounced the McLaren straight over the kerbs at its exit and out into the wilderness beyond. It didn’t matter – this is an FIA track fit for the risk-averse world of Formula 1 so after a while touring the acres of run-off area, I simply trundled back onto the track and continued my lap to the scarcely stifled giggles of Benny Simonsen, my McLaren-appointed driving instructor for the day.

Ten minutes later I turned into the same corner at the same place but at a speed of an altogether different order, and felt the McLaren flick onto my intended line with inch-perfect precision. It was easy.

And that, in a couple of paragraphs, is the essential dynamic difference between the McLaren 570S and the new 600LT it has spawned. Regulars will know I bow to very few in my admiration of the 570S but here, on a twisting track outside Budapest, it had been made to look if not actually inept, then certainly far out of its depth relative to the LT.

Maybe I should not have been so surprised: like 2015’s 675LT, the 600LT is a car designed for this sort of stuff, and doubtless the Hungaroring was carefully chosen as the track most likely to make the most of its abilities, but even so, the differences were not just significant, they were startling.

Thinking back and knowing rather more now than I did then, it proves the worth of the incremental upgrade over big bang theory. For McLaren could so easily have whacked up the power of its 3.8-litre, twin-turbo engine (which even in the 600LT produces not one horsepower more than did the original MP4-12C seven years ago) far beyond 592bhp and had a car that was just as fast as this. It would probably have been even more exciting too, just for none of the right reasons.

Instead its 30bhp power rise over the 570S is probably the least interesting change that’s been made. Probably the most extensive modification programme was that which enabled a claimed 100kg to be calved from its kerbweight, and while there’s a little smoke and mirrors going on – navigation, entertainment and air-conditioning are ‘no-cost’ options and add 15.9kg if you want to put them back, the carbon fibre seats, lightweight wheels, lightened suspension, brakes and top-exit exhaust are all standard, as is a simplified wiring loom, thinner glass and certain carbon fibre body panels. You could spend literally tens of thousands of pounds slathering it in even more carbon but as the total additional saving is a mere 5kg, it’s probably not worth it unless you’re buying one to be seen in, rather than to drive.

If you are in the former category, you have no idea what you’re missing because, for a road car on a race track, the 600LT is sublime and you can also thank completely re-engineered suspension and quicker steering for that. People have asked if it’s like a junior McLaren Senna but the truth is it’s not that kind of car at all. The Senna is a very serious machine, with meaningful amounts of downforce, power that has to be meted out quite carefully, and which is significantly hobbled by the need to run on a road tyre.

The 600LT has one eighth of the downforce, 200 fewer horsepower and feels entirely comfortable in Pirelli Trofeo R footwear. It is a more rounded, better balanced car (figuratively speaking) car, but on the race track feels more of a toy in comparison to the Senna.

Which is no bad thing. Toys are meant to be fun and this latest LT is. It’s quick enough to pop sub-3sec 0-62mph runs, but not so quick it comes accompanied by that discomfiting hurtling sensation you can feel even in a 720S, let alone a Senna. It is unquestionably the easiest car to drive fast in the entire McLaren range because, and albeit for wildly differing reasons, those both above and below it need an element of management the LT does not require. Because it is light and even more firmly suspended than even the old 675LT, let alone a 570S, it changes direction staggeringly well, especially around the back of the lap where third and fourth gear corners come at you in seemingly endless succession. Yet when you overcook it, a small lift of the throttle is all that’s needed to rotate the car back onto line so smoothly your passenger will probably think that’s the trajectory you intended all along. My gut tells me it might not quite have the same almost telepathic levels of feel exhibited by the 675LT a few years ago, but without driving both together, I’d not want to say for sure.

But of course all this leaves one question, which I’m no closer to answering now than I was the first time I headed down the Hungaroring pit lane. I hope many will choose to use their 600LTs on track, but they will have to get there first and I’m sure few owners will take themselves so seriously as to put theirs on a trailer. So what, then, is the 600LT like on the road? I’m afraid I can’t tell you because normal road driving was not part of the LT programme.

“Not only did I enjoy driving it more than the P1, but I expect around a tight circuit the 600LT would be quicker”

Now, normally I would get all suspicious and assume its brilliance on the track came at the expense of its ability on the road. But I remember the same deal with the 675LT, which then went on to prove itself superb in both environments. So I suspect it has more to do with McLaren eking out the coverage and getting another tranche of column inches when it does release LTs for road use. Frustrating, I know, but there it is.

Frustrating too that McLaren says the 600LT will be built in a ‘strictly limited’ run but then refuses to do more than drop the most oblique of hints as to what that limit may be. It says it will be no more than 20 per cent of Sports Series production, but as that started in 2015 and has no declared end date, that’s not very helpful. It says also it will only build 600LTs for 12 months, which might be a little more instructive were it not for the fact that figure only applies to 600LT coupés. There will be a Spider version too, for which no parallel commitment has been made.

So I can only guess. A thousand of each? Maybe something of that order. But we should not let such inconveniences obscure what we do know, which is that the 600LT is a fabulous device, a car so deftly judged I not only enjoyed driving it more than the P1, but I expect around a tight circuit the six-year-old hypercar would likely be slower, despite having half as much power again. As explained it’s not really comparable to a Senna, but compared to all other McLarens of the modern era, as a device in which to celebrate the pure joy of driving, only the old 675LT is in the same league. And given that was one of my favourite road cars of all time, you can see what McLaren has achieved here. But I will only be able to judge accurately just how brilliant it really is when I find myself able to say the same about it after a long, hard drive on the road.