Good drivers look great
The engineering that makes McLaren’s supercar scary-fast also inspires confidence, says
ORANGE is the new red. The tangy tone is McLaren’s signature colour, and the 720S wearing it truly is a Ferraribeater. This latest supercar from the small but growing British manufacturer is a better car in some key areas than its obvious Italian rival.
The McLaren 720S is more powerful than the Ferrari 488 GTB. Lighter and quicker, too. It also has the technical sophistication to take on the mid-engine model from Maranello. And McLaren is an even more exclusive brand than Ferrari, an important consideration for at least some buyers of $500,000 supercars.
McLaren’s production centre southwest of London will produce about 4000 cars this year, roughly half the annual output of the Ferrari factory. In Australia the ratio is similar; 93 McLarens were sold here in 2016, compared to 188 Ferraris.
The 720S is McLaren’s new Super Series model, replacing the earlier 650S (and derivatives). This means it sits in the middle of company’s lineup, above the more affordable but less powerful Sports Series cars, but below the megaexpensive, ultra-exotic hyperhybrid P1 of the Ultimate Series.
One of the things that makes the 720S a superb supercar is how easy it is to use. McLaren’s international intro of the car was based in Rome, and the first stage of the test drive involved coping with the morning rushhour traffic of the Italian capital.
The so-called dihedral doors of the 720S swing up and out, making it both easy and relatively elegant to get into.
McLaren has never made a road car without a carbon-fibre central body structure.
The 720S features the latest version, called Monocage II, with slimmer windscreen pillars. Behind the passenger compartment the engine is mounted lower than in the 650S. Both contribute to great outward vision — for a supercar.
There’s surprising practicality, too. The car has a reasonably spacious 110L front boot and room for even more on the shelf behind the car’s pair of seats. The driving position is perfect and the minor controls are user-friendly
The 720S rides way more smoothly than the typical supercar. McLaren’s chassis engineers chose advanced adaptive shock absorbers for the suspension with this aim in mind, and then worked with Cambridge University to develop control software for it. The suspension deals brilliantly with Rome’s often-awful roads.
Most car makers these days use electric motors for steering assistance but McLaren sticks stubbornly with hydraulic aid. The clarity of feedback and precision of response delivered by the 720S’s steering is truly outstanding.
Few, if any, cars made today steer so well. It’s an impression that doesn’t disappear when we arrive for laps at the Autodromo Vallelunga, a racetrack north of Rome.
The “720” in the car’s name refers to its maximum horsepower output. Translated into the metric measurement understood by Australians, this is 530kW — in a car that weighs not much more than a typical hatchback.
Delivering the power is a mostly new twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8. It’s a development of McLaren’s 3.8-litre engine, and is teamed with a seven-speed double-clutch transmission that offers a choice between automatic or paddle-shift gear selection.
The McLaren’s exterior is shaped for speed. Its small LED headlights are recessed in eye sockets that double as cooling ducts. Those dramatic doors feature a deep channel to guide air through the engine radiators. And the active spoiler on its tail doubles as an air brake.
With the separate dials controlling chassis, engine and roadgoing Comfort to the Sport or Track modes, the 720S is ready to attack Vallelunga. The racetrack doesn’t win the battle.
The McLaren is ferociously fast. And not only because its engine, given wide-open throttle, is a wild thing.
Each tap of the right-hand paddle to shift up a gear delivers a kick like a 12-gauge shotgun. Pressing hard on the brake pedal is like throwing a timemachine into reverse.
Though scary fast, the 720S is one of the least intimidating supercars to drive quickly. Its aero-aided high-speed stability, hyper-connected steering and helpful on-the-limit handling inspire cornering confidence.
This is a car that will make an average driver seem good, a good driver look great … and Ferrari afraid.