Good driv­ers look great

The en­gi­neer­ing that makes McLaren’s su­per­car scary-fast also in­spires con­fi­dence, says

Herald Sun - Motoring - - PRESTIGE - John Carey

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.

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