Forget about the Ford GT or the Lamborghini Aventador. When it comes to supercars and rivalries, it’s all about McLaren versus Ferrari. On Formula One’s racetracks, the two have been duking it out for half a century. In fact, Ferrari and McLaren are, by far, the two winningest teams in the history of the sport.
In 2010, Woking, England-based McLaren Technology Group launched McLaren Automotive — the division of the company focused solely on building road-going supercars. This added a whole new dimension to the rivalry.
In the years since both companies have unleashed supercar after supercar. Each time besting the latest efforts of its rival.
The latest salvo in the battle for supercar supremacy is the McLaren 720S. Recently, Business Insider attended the launch of McLaren’s futuristic supercar at the demanding Autodromo Vallelunga near Rome.
As part of the festivities, I got the chance to take the 720S on a two-hour-long drive from our hotel in Rome to the racetrack north of the Italian capital.
Here’s how it went.
(Business Insider paid for travel and lodging associated with this trip.)
Even with the game-changing F1 hypercar, McLaren did not have a full-time production car division to compete with Ferrari's laundry list of iconic road cars.
That all changed in 2010 with the creation of McLaren Automotive. In 2011, McLaren's road-car division rolled out its first supercar, the MP4-12C.
Ferrari didn't stand idly by. In 2015, the boys from Maranello threw down the gauntlet with the astonishing 488 GTB.
In Business Insider's review of the of the Ferrari, Matt DeBord wrote, 'Brilliant in a straight line, brilliant in the curves, just brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. Fast and tight, the 488 fills you with confidence and makes you a better person.' Needless to say, the 488 is one of the finest creations to ever carry the prancing horse badge.
All of that brings us to the new McLaren 720S. It's the replacement for the 650S/675LT and the first 'second generation' model in company history.
In many respects, the 720 is McLaren's direct response to the greatness of Ferrari's 488. Make no mistake, McLaren took this challenge seriously. 91% of the of this car is different from the car it replaced.
That includes the second generation Monocage II, around which the 720S is constructed. The new passenger cell is lighter, stronger, and easier to get in and out of.
At the same time, McLaren's signature dihedral doors now open six inches narrower per side -- making it easier to park.
At the heart of the 720S is a new 710-horsepower, 4.0-litre, twin-turbocharged V8 engine. It features brand new turbochargers, intercoolers, cylinder heads, crankshaft, and pistons. The new engine is not only significantly more powerful than the previous unit, it also produces fewer harmful emissions.
And then there are the car's striking looks. They are as much a product of function as they are form. Even 720's controversial 'eye sockets' serve as air intakes for the car's low-temperature radiators.
According to McLaren, the 720S is two times more aerodynamically efficient and offers 15% better cooling efficiency than its predecessor.
To launch its newest supercar, McLaren decided to set up shop in the Roman capital for a month to give the world's motoring press an opportunity to experience the 720S in Ferrari's backyard. (Yes. I'm aware Ferrari is actually based 200 miles north of Rome in Maranello.)
As a part of the experience, I had the opportunity to sample the 720S on city streets, highways, and winding country roads on our way to the challenging Vallelunga Circuit north of Rome.
As a result, my day started with guiding a $300,000 McLaren supercar through Roman rush hour traffic -- an exercise that involved steering clear of dive bombing attacks from marauding squadrons of mopeds and SmartCars.
With McLaren's drive mode selector dialed to comfort, the 720 felt perfectly at home scooting its way through Rome. In its softest setting, the car's computer controlled suspension soaked up the many bumps and ruts in Italy's roads.
Soon, we made our way onto the Autostrada -- Italy's highway system. Again, the McLaren cruised along comfortably.
Our cruise down the Autostrada gave me the opportunity to really experience the 720's interior. It's a major improvement over the outgoing 650S -- especially in our luxury-spec test car.
In fact, apart from the bargain-basement rear-view mirror, every bit of material inside the McLaren's cabin would feel perfectly at home in a luxury limo. The leather is soft and supple. The knobs and switches are nicely weighted and feel quality. In this McLaren, if it looks like leather, it's leathers. If it looks like carbon, it's carbon and if looks like metal, it is just that.
Exiting the Autostrada led us to the country driving portion of our journey. Here is where the 720S can really stretch its legs and have some fun.
With the car in sports mode, its inner athlete emerged. The steering tightened up noticeably, the ride stiffened, the engine grew louder, and the throttle response sharpened.
McLaren's seven-speed transmission is pressed into service. And once again, it impresses. The quick-shifting gearbox takes full advantage of the McLaren's broad power band while minimising the effects of turbo lag on performance.
According to Woking, England-based outfit, the 720S can hit 60mph in just 2.8 seconds, run the 1/4 mile in 10.3 seconds and reach a top speed of 212 mph.
After a jaunt through the Italian countryside, it was time for me to give my co-driver a shot behind the wheel.
So, what's my assessment of the McLaren 720S? Like the Ferrari, the 720S is brilliant in a straight line and brilliant in the curves. But the McLaren accomplishes these tasks with a verve and a style all it's own.
The 720S doesn't intimidate or bully its drivers, instead, it works with them to find their own pace and comfort level. With some time and honing, every driver can find automotive nirvana behind the wheel of the 720S.
The 720S is the supercar equivalent of a five-tool-player in baseball. It excels at just about anything and everything required for a vehicle in this genre. There are no holes in its game. It delivers blistering, yet accessible performance, luxurious comfort, robust build quality, cutting-edge technology, and head-turning looks. To top it all off, the 720S delivers all of this with enough pomp and circumstance to put on a show for the driver.
More from Benjamin Zhang:
- I drove the $US300,000 McLaren supercar designed to beat Ferrari — and it was incredible
- The story of Volvo’s incredible transformation into a true luxury brand
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