McLaren makes supercars. Darn good ones at that.
After dipping its toes in the supercar game for a couple of decades, the Woking, England-based outfit decided to dive in head-first seven years ago with the creation of a dedicated road car division — McLaren Automotive.
In 2011, the nascent supercar maker rolled out their first offering — the MP4-12C. The MP4 dash 12C was a car of immense capability — packed to the gills with the wisdom and technology the company’s Formula One team had accrued over half a century at the pinnacle of motorsports.
Sadly, in spite of its 592 horsepower turbocharged V8 engine, advanced carbon construction, and the wind-tunnel-sculpted body, critics found the car to be soulless. It’s a damning accusation for a new player in the supercar game. After all, this is a business built on convincing well-to-do customers to part with obscene sums of money. And the most effective tool for a supercar salesman is to play upon passion, emotion, and sex appeal.
Since then, McLaren has worked tirelessly to rectify the shortcomings of the 12C. In 2014, it was redesigned to create the 650S that would form the company’s “Super Series” — the heart of its road car business. One year later, the all-conquering 675LT raised the bar even further. Every new car following their initial effort has been made louder, more intense, and more visceral in its execution.
Unfortunately for McLaren, this hasn’t been enough to quiet many of the critics who feel the company’s cars are still too cold and clinical when compared to its warm-blooded Italian counterparts.
All of this brings us to McLaren’s latest offering — The 720S. It’s the first vehicle to emerge from the company’s second generation Super Series. But a quick conversation with McLaren Automotive CEO Mike Flewitt and it becomes abundantly clear that the company believes the 720S’s design, technology, and performance is so much more.
However, the question I wanted answering was whether the 720S could finally put an end to the complaints about McLaren’s decided lack of emotion.
In May, Business Insider travelled to Italy to attend the launch of the 720S. As part of the experience, McLaren allowed us to unleash the car around the fearsome corners of the Autodromo Vallelunga.
Here’s how it went.
(Business Insider paid for travel and lodging associated with this trip.)
Also present was the first MP4-12C ever produced along with a couple of 570s from the company's entry-level Sports Series.
Out on the track, you get the sense that 720S is where it really wants to be -- a grizzled, battle-tested pro.
In track mode, all of the shackles McLaren's engineers put on the 720S for road use are stripped away. What's left is the 720S in its purest form.
Also in track mode, McLaren's new adjustable instrument panel retracts to give the driver greater visibility out of the cockpit.
Blasting down the front straight, the first thing you notice is how stable the 720S is at high speed. Even at more than 155 mph, the McLaren felt firmly planted to the tarmac with no unwarranted movement to speak of.
And there are the brakes. If the high-speed stability impresses, then the brakes are mind-blowingly good. Stamp on the pedal and the carbon ceramic discs along with the massive rear spoiler-turned-air-brake shed speed with great zeal. The sudden deceleration is brutal and forces you forward in your seats.
In the corners, the 720S rides on rails -- flat, smooth, and uninhibited. The suspension tuning is on point and its carbon fibre construction offers no detectable chassis flex.
Exiting the corners, the 720S launches not like a wild animal, but rather more like an Olympic sprinter off the line.
Acceleration in the McLaren is sudden but poised and rarely brutal. Hitting 100 mph happens in what feels like an instant.
With 710 horsepower on tap, the McLaren's new 4.0 litre, twin-turbocharged V8, and crisp seven-speed gearbox deliver power on-demand.
According to McLaren, the 720S can hit 60 mph in just 2.8 seconds, with the 1/4 mile conquered in a brisk 10.3 seconds along with a top speed of 212 mph.
More importantly, the engine and exhaust system deliver the V8 growl and the requisite popping and burping necessary to satiate the appetite of even the most ardent automotive enthusiasts.
But back to the main question at hand. Does the 720S deliver the emotional and visceral experience supercar buyers crave? Yes, but in its own distinct way.
The McLaren 720S doesn't have 'soul' in the same sense as its Italian rivals. But it does have a soul -- one that's informed by the spirits of the racing champions that have been bred into every fibre of its DNA.
So no, the 720S doesn't have the soul of a prancing stallion nor is it a raging bull. But it is built upon the blood, sweat, and tears of great names like Senna, Prost, Hunt, Lauda, Fittipaldi, Hakkinen, and Hamilton. And that's good enough for me.
Apparently, it's also good enough for its customers. The first year of McLaren's 720S production run has already been sold out and year two's slots are going quick.
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