Editorial note: Business Insider just named its 2015 Car of the Year, the Volvo XC90. This weekend, we’re re-running our reviews of the five cars that almost beat out the Volvo for the honour.
McLaren builds supercars for people who love technology. Ferrari builds them for people who are into a sexy, screaming engine and breathtaking styling, and Lamborghini builds them for people who had Lamborghini posters on their bedroom walls as teenagers. Pagani builds them for artists. Porsche builds them people who … I guess like Porsches a whole lot and need Porsche to have a supercar. Ford builds them when it wants to remind everyone that it has beaten Ferrari at what Ferrari does best. And Corvette builds them because Corvette wants us to be happy and not have to spend $300,000 for the privilege.
But McLaren has the tech angle down. This provokes some criticism: McLarens aren’t visceral, they lack soul. They look as if they were spit out of 3D printers or sculpted from blocks of plastic. Maybe they take a little too seriously the notion that racing is a laboratory for the street, and they channel their namesake, New Zealander Bruce McLaren, to bond on-track performance with perhaps the finest engineering in the car world. McLaren — the supercar for technocrats. Elon Musk owned a F1 hypercar, don’t you know. Kind of says it all.
Of course it’s all just the obsessively fine, blathering distinction-making of folks who want to debate the thises and thats of supercars. The real test of what a McLaren is all about takes place when you swing up the doors and slip into the driver’s seat, as we did for a day in Los Angeles.
Here’s what we thought of the 675LT coupe — “LT” for “Longtail,” an extended version of McLaren 650S — a supercar that the mad scientists in Woking, England, created specifically for track days and sold (in the case of our vehicle) for $400,000 (unfortunately, you can’t buy a new one any longer — McLaren sold them all! — but the 675LT Spider convertible is still available).
We didn’t have the pleasure of tracking the 675LT, but we did hit the canyon roads above Malibu.
The 675LT was bathed in glorious Southern California sunshine for the entire time we enjoyed it -- a whopping day and a half. It was an aggressive study in carbon fibre and neon green or, as McLaren calls it, 'Napier Green.'
Let's hit the road! After I dropped by my favourite LA taco truck, I swept down to pick up Business Insider's Bryan Logan, who would be manning the camera, and we headed west toward the Pacific. This is one of my favourite LA runs, established by my having lived there for a decade. A right turn onto the Pacific Coast Highway, then north up the beach through Malibu and a right onto Malibu Canyon Road. When we crossed Mulholland, we swung left from some twisty motoring, and then we continued up to the 101 freeway for a long cruise back to downtown LA where ...
This is what makes the magic happen: McLaren's purpose-built 3.8-litre V8, with twin turbochargers. This might be the finest high-performance engine ever built by human hands. Its 666 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque yield a zero-to-60 time that McLaren claims is 2.9 seconds. In practice, combined with the 675LT's extensive aerodynamics, extremely light weight (just under 3,000 lbs.), and blisteringly quick dual-clutch transmission, this thing is a friggin' guided missile.
That said, the 675 LT isn't a visceral driving experience. The engine note is pleasing and robust, but never raw. The entire rig feels so absurdly planted, despite being rear-wheel-drive, and the V8 revs so freely, that you can leave 'er in 2nd gear and point and shoot your way around serpentine canyon roads, tempting the redline and relishing the perfectly calibrated suspension. But let's face it, this puppy was made for the track, and that's where it wants to be. And in that context, I think it would be a scalpel. You don't need to be feeling anything extraneous when you are going very, very fast. Well, actually, you do feel something: a sublime sense of absolute control.
And by the way, that engine note is piped through an innovative titanium exhaust system. It doesn't bark, burp, and burble like, say, the V10 on a Lamborghini Huracán, but it does serve up a periodically violent whoosh and wail.
If a highly technical, race-car-for-the-road experience can plausibly be described as 'religious,' the 675LT is a fine way to be taken to church. In a word, 'Wow!'
As a result, this isn't exactly a comfortable automobile. Its brethren, the 650S, has been called docile (for a supercar) in everyday driving. The 675LT sheds much of that. The instrument cluster is straightforward. And the steering wheel is all business. No F1-derived button and switches, a la Ferrari and Lamborghini.
There's a whiff of sass in the topstitched leather, whose neon flair echoes the exterior. But there are also swaths of carbon fibre. The transmission selector is a cluster of basic buttons.
The knobs and button that control the driver modes -- normal, sport, track -- are equally minimalist.
The track-mode drive setting is addictive, thanks to the sacred union between that dazzling V8 and McLaren's miraculous 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox, easily the sharpest I've ever enjoyed. Flick the right paddle to upshift ...
... and the left paddle to drop down. But did I say 'flick'? That's not really a fast enough word. This gearbox if the closest thing to engineering telekinesis I've ever enjoyed. When you change gears, the engine actually STOPS IGNITING FUEL for a nanosecond or something, to deliver shifts that almost feel like they're been borrowed from the future. The next gear is just THERE. Zowie!
Holding it all together are four Pirelli P-ZERO Trofeo R's, ultralight alloy wheels, and some big honkin' carbon-ceramic brakes all the way around, which are exceptionally effective.
The seats are all business, racing-derived, and snugly bolstering. You can sling yourself and a passenger around without fear that the smushy bits will go sloshing about the 675 LT's cabin, which is actually a tub that situates you inches off the ground. Many folks complain about McLaren ingress and egress, and lanky Bryan Logan did struggle at times. Diminutive me slipped in and out without trouble, however.
Vehicle functions are managed through this abstractly symbolic interface, which controls the modest infotainment system, squeezed between the seats.
It's small but mighty. Everything you could need should you want to distract yourself from the various epiphanies of actually driving the car is present, from navigation ...
... to climate controls (note that McLaren Man is wearing a RACING HELMET AND DON'T YOU FORGET IT!) ...
Unlike some other very serious track machines, the 675LT has not zero and not one but two cupholders ... positioned as awkwardly as possible beneath the center console.
McLarens are controversial in the world of automotive design. The 675LT is effectively a stretched 650S, with scads more aerodynamics added, including a rear wing that will deploy to enhance downforce. However, the sculptural elements of the car come off as more technical than artistic -- as if they were created by a very precise artificial intelligence.
The 675LT is attention-getting, however. And with only 500 being built, it's sure to be rare sight in the wild.
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