Lightness adds excitement, but for a strictly limited number of customers
By Andrew Frankel
McLaren must be doing something right. Four years ago it spoiled the launch of its first product as a full-time car manufacturer, botching the styling of the MP4-12C and then introducing it before it was ready. The cars were not as reliable as intended and for some considerable time came with non-functional navigation systems. For so new a company, it should have been a body blow from which recovery would have taken an age, if it came at all. In fact McLaren is profitable, its staple products attracting custom and its P1 hypercar sold out, commanding immense premiums on the second-hand market and holding its head high in every way that can be measured against the best its blue-blood Porsche and Ferrari rivals can manage.
But relative to expectation, this new 675LT might be its best yet. On paper, it’s just a hot version of McLaren’s standard 650S. As implied by the name it has another 25bhp and, as can clearly be seen from the pictures, some aerodynamic addenda. Not much to justify a £64,250 price hike to a cool £259,500.
So we need to look into the detail to see where that money has been spent. McLaren says a third of the parts used on the 675LT have been changed, a fact that becomes more believable when you consider that 110 changes – modifications, deletions and replacements – were made simply to achieve a weight reduction of 100kg. For a car that already had a carbon-fibre tub, that is a monumental diet, especially considering Ferrari was only able to lose 80kg from the equivalent 458 Speciale (and then only by deleting items such as the carpets and navigation, which the McLaren retains). McLaren has pulled the same trick as Ferrari by making air-conditioning optional (although it charges nothing to put it back), but the list of other savings goes on and on. I guess most significant is the fact that the entire rear bodywork is now carbon fibre, as is the front bumper. But there’s a Perspex rear screen to consider, lighter wheels, hollowed carbon bucket seats, thinner windscreen glass, a simplified wiring loom and more than 100 other tinier changes, some saving as few as 14 grammes.
McLaren says the new bodywork, including a far more pronounced front splitter and full-width active rear wing, triples downforce. McLaren won’t discuss numbers, but in private it mentions a figure half that of the P1 hypercar, so about 300kg. To support those extra forces, the grip of its semi-slick Pirelli Trofeo R tyres (standard P Zeros are available if preferred) and the car’s more sporting character, McLaren has raised spring rates at the front by a third, those at the rear by two thirds, the difference being intended to produce yet more accurate turn-in and a more neutral handling balance.
It all sounds so clinical, so procedural even. The effects, however, are anything but. It’s never easy to describe what it feels like to be in a machine as light as this when the full force of its power is brought to bear, but even to seasoned, cynical hacks like me it is a genuinely startling experience – at least until you have a few laps under your belt and everything starts to normalise.
It seemed obvious that McLaren would launch this car on the track, for I presumed that would not merely be the car’s preferred environment, but it’s entire raison d’être. The company is very proud of the proportion of customers who take their cars to circuits, especially those who drive P1s, and it was in part to satisfy this demand that the 675LT was created.
But while the new McLaren breed has always been effective on track, I actually didn’t like the way the original 12C handled – even if the lap time was there in the right hands. The 650S was wildly easier, a massively quick and capable machine but still perhaps lacking that sense of intimacy and involvement found in the very best specialist track machines from Ferrari and Porsche. But even if the P1 had not changed that perception, this 675LT would. It’s so much lighter than the P1 that, despite being more than 200bhp shy of the hypercar’s ultimate output, I reckon an average driver might actually lap damn near as quickly as he would in a P1, if not more so.
For once you are used to the 675’s sheer speed and the near race-car grip it can generate in quick corners, you become aware first that the car is not actually asking much of its driver other than that you are accurate with your braking and turn-in points, and second that the car is not merely executing your instructions pretty flawlessly, but talking back to you. It’s egging you on to try a little harder, savour the downforce, sample the fundamental change in the car’s chassis balance. It oversteers more – a lot more, as it happens – but deliciously so. When the back breaks free, it is one of those rare mid-engined cars that encourages you not to bail out of the ensuing slide but to press on with it, establishing a stable slip angle with its immaculately precise and weighted steering.
But so what? A Ferrari Speciale is a mesmerising track tool but only at the price of shockingly poor refinement on the way there or back, limiting its use to that of pure recreation. Well the single most surprisingly aspect of the 675LT is that it’s not like this at all. I’d stop short of calling it civilised on the open road, but the refinement is at least enough not to put you off the idea of using it for long distances: this is a car you’d not hesitate to take on holiday. More compelling to its case is that for all its additional stiffness, its ride quality is mind-bogglingly good. I deliberately drove it on some of the toughest roads I know, the roads I take cars to when judging for the annual European Car of the Year award. And I’ve driven luxury saloons that have absorbed the bumps less well and failed to exercise such iron control over their ride height. On a really fast open road I expect it will be better still.
So why, oh why only make 500 of them? It seems like a huge effort to make for such a small number of cars, especially when they sold out before anyone had driven one. McLaren calls it a nice problem to have, but privately admits it could have sold hundreds more and is looking at ways to satisfy that demand without incurring the wrath of those who bought it for its scarcity. My money is on a spider version. I expect it’s all been done this way as part of a long-term plan to help mythologise the marque and support the residual values of not just this, but all McLarens.
All I hope is that those who are on the list don’t chop theirs in for the tidy profit that will undoubtedly be there for the taking. The car is far too good for that: nine tenths of a P1 for one third of the price is overstating it, but by far less than you might think.