McLaren’s newest supercar will displease Ferrari, Lamborghini or Porsche
How do you depress a McLaren engineer? Easy: just ask them what they’re going to do to improve on the new 720S.
The 650S is a brilliant car. This 720S feels not just one generation on from the 650S, but one and half generations on. It’s been designed to be more broadly capable than the 650S, superior to it on both road and track, but not quite as extreme a track weapon as the 675LT.
And the result of these design aims could very well be the world’s best supercar.
As a McLaren, it has brand-typical engineering properties: a mid-placed twin-turbo V8 engine, rear-wheel drive, double wishbone suspension all round and a carbonfibre tub that, in this iteration, now goes all the way over the occupants, removing the steel roof to lower the centre of gravity and lighten the structure by 18kg – a double win.
Engine: V8, 3994cc, twin-turbo, petrol
Torque: 568lb ft
Gearbox: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic
Kerb weight: 1419kg
Top speed: 212mph
Economy: 26.4mpg (combined)
CO2/tax band: 249g/km, 37%
That suspension is hydraulically interconnected front to back and side to side by McLaren’s Proactive Chassis Control II damper system, which adds stiffness or compliance when you need it while doing away with anti-roll bars. 19-inch front and 20-inch rear wheels with Pirelli P Zero tyres (or the option of softer P Zero Corsas) are braked by carbon-ceramic discs.
Beyond the engine, which is ‘only’ 41 per cent different – it’s been stroked to 4.0 litres and has new conrods, pistons, crankshaft, and twin-scroll turbochargers, which sounds like a bit more than a 41 per cent difference – 91 per cent of the rest of the car is new.
The aim has been to provide not just more power (it’s now 710bhp, or 720Ps, explaining the name) but more response. That power peak comes in at 7500rpm, while the peak torque figure of 568lb ft doesn’t arrive until 5500rpm, all of it driving through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox.
The bodywork is a mix of mainly carbonfibre and some aluminium. The sharklike front end styling is controversial, but it does grow on you. The old door ducts have gone, to be replaced by a channel in the top of the twin-skin door, which slightly narrows the cabin.
All Super Series McLarens have active aerodynamics: the 720S’s new rear wing-cum-air brake runs right across the back of the car, boosting its effectiveness by 30 per cent. Overall aerodynamic efficiency is more than doubled.
That aero change does mean you sit nearer to your passenger, but by way of compensation the lower sills and near-vertically hinging doors make entry and exit a lot easier. The new tub incorporates very thin A-pillars. They, and a conservatory’s worth of glass panels, take visibility to a remarkably high level for a mid-engined supercar and detunes the possibility of occupants feeling cramped.
The driving position is, as expected, perfect, with a hugely adjustable steering wheel and a centrally mounted brake pedal that can be worked by either foot. There’s a slightly over the top pop-out instrument binnacle and a revamped central instrumentation array featuring a new (and much more user-friendly) touchscreen controller. Controls generally are a little over-complicated but overall the cabin generates a welcoming ambience, thanks in part to improved materials.
The ride is plush, with Comfort a handy default setting for the three-mode dampers. The motor and gearbox also come with three settings, which are selectable separately from the chassis modes. The engine isn’t obnoxiously loud around town, but it does sound like it means business.
How a 700bhp+, £218k supercar can shrink around you and happily wend its way through traffic, along rubbishy roads, up hill and down dale as undramatically as a family saloon is some kind of automotive magic. The massive lag-free torque makes it ridiculously easy to leave it in relatively high gears, squeezing the mid-range for an overtake, savouring the chamois-smooth ride and the viscous ease of the beautifully geared and weighted steering.
It’s easier to create a flow in a 720S than it is in the relatively nervous Ferrari 488 GTB, as we found when we arrived at the Vallelunga circuit. This is not a smooth circuit, but even in Track mode the 720S absorbs bumps like a cup of hot tea absorbs sugar lumps. Cars like these allow you to pin the throttle at the top of fourth gear on lap 2 of any new circuit you care to name. That’s how accessible the performance is, and how nailed down the body is.
Dive under braking is practically non-existent. Same goes for body roll. Gearshifts are snappy and the engine powers through the range without flat spots or unwanted turbo surge. There’s still no limited-slip differential, but with this much power, brake steer and throttle response, you have all the chassis adjustability you could ever want. It will rotate around you, involve and engage you, and slide to any chosen degree between not much and a lot depending on what you dial into the Variable Drift Control. Switch everything off and you can liquidise the tyres at your leisure.
Maybe it could sound a bit more special, but the noise it makes is appealing and, sometimes, loud. But that’s not why you’d buy this car.
A 488 GTB may be a little more docile at the extremes of performance, but the 720S is now in the same space as the Fezza when it comes to driver engagement. We reckon it’s faster than the 488 too, and possibly even faster than McLaren’s own ballistic P1.
The 675LT and Porsche 911 GT3 are more rambunctious in their attitude but the wonder of the 720S lies in the approachability of its capacity to amaze. It’s incredibly comfortable for its speed, and a pretty amazing testament to McLaren, a company that, let’s not forget, has only been in the supercar business for seven years.
This is, without question, a world class supercar. The only unanswered question at the time of writing is whether it’s the world’s best supercar.