MODEL TESTED SENNA
Price £750,000 Power 789bhp Torque 590lb ft 0-60mph 3.1sec 30-70mph in fourth 4.1sec Fuel economy 16.4mpg CO2 emissions 280g/km 70-0mph 37.4m
This week’s road test subject is nothing more or less than the most extreme road car Mclaren Automotive has built. You may not think that’s such a huge claim since Mclaren Automotive has had only eight years in which to make road cars at all. But considering that the firm has already managed to squeeze the P1, 675LT and 720S into its fairly short but decidedly punchy back catalogue, and with the memory of the uncompromising F1 still fresh and relevant for a great many, it’s an introduction that’s certainly powerful enough to get our attention. The Mclaren Senna might be the car that its maker has been fated to create since its Antipodean founder first picked up a spanner. During so many decades of celebrated motorsport success, the famous British firm has acknowledged and adhered to ‘formula’ rules defining construction principles, materials, engine placement, suspension configuration, tyre footprint, maximum downforce, allowable weight and more; occasionally bending one or two in the name of innovation. With its current road cars, meanwhile, it works to make different but balanced compromises of habitability, usability, drivability, practicality, comfort – and, of course, outstanding performance and handling dynamism.
But what if there were no rules? What if the budget was unlimited, and if every relevant racing technology in the toolkit was up for grabs? What if the usual need to compromise outright performance was thrust so far into the background that it hardly figured? What kind of Mclaren could they make then?
You’re looking at the answer to that question. Mclaren Automotive CEO Mike Flewitt calls the Senna “the personification of Mclaren’s motorsport DNA”. And it’s clearly a reflection of how potent a symbol it is considered at Woking that the company should have chosen to invoke the memory of its most revered racing driver with its model identity. Some think Ayrton Senna’s memory and legacy belong to motorsport; that it wasn’t and isn’t Mclaren’s to appropriate. Others that Woking’s donation of the 500th and last Senna chassis for auction on behalf of Brazil’s charitable Ayrton Senna Institute is the icing on the cake of a perfect tribute to the great man.
But we’ll let others address that controversy. The job of the Autocar road test, here and now, is to describe, examine, benchmark and document the kind of car whose like we don’t see too often. So here goes.
DESIGN AND ENGINEERING
As every new detail and statistic leads you to discover, bit by bit, the sheer purposefulness of the Senna’s design, you gradually realise that this isn’t just another hypercar. It’s plainly not a natural P1 successor, either, even though it might be priced like one.
The remarkable, almost Brutalist rawness of the car’s appearance hits you like a sharpened jab in the eye. The Senna clearly isn’t a car that seeks the approval of admiring
glances. Its design is, by Mclaren’s own admission, the purest expression of a ‘form follows function’ approach that it has created. Every winglet, surface, curve and cleft is there not for what it looks like but for what it contributes. And once our testers had seen those features first hand and sampled what they work towards from the driver’s seat, most of them found it impossible to maintain any initial disappointment that the Senna isn’t better looking.
While we’re on the subject, those features combine to contribute a barely believable 800kg of downforce for the Senna at 155mph. This is a figure so far in advance of that of any other road-legal performance car as to be almost beyond comparison. A Lamborghini Huracán Performante develops 350kg of the stuff, but needs to be travelling at 186mph to make it; a Porsche 911 GT3 RS 500kg at just beyond 190mph.
The Senna has active aerodynamic winglets inside its front bumper, on either side of its radiator grille, as well as that high-altitude active wing across its rump. And yet, when running in Race mode (when its adjustable suspension drops the ride height by 39mm at the front axle and 30mm at the rear), more than half of its downforce comes as a result of ground effect.
The management of so much downforce was always going to be the key challenge in making the Senna drivable on track. You needn’t know much about the history of motorsport, after all, to know that cars with lots of aerodynamic grip can be treacherous on the limit. But the Senna balances its downforce automatically, as you accelerate, brake and corner, by adjusting the pitch of its active aerofoils front and rear. More important, it also adjusts the car’s Raceactive Chassis Control II active interlinked hydraulic suspension by degrees, adapting the levelness and pitch of its body all the time and, resultantly, the distribution of its weight and effectiveness of its underbody aero. Above 155mph, that rear wing actually begins bleeding off downforce to preserve handling balance and stability – and in order to prevent overloading the car’s road-legal Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R tyres. Under heavy braking, the front bumper winglets also flatten out to bleed off front axle load, such is the effectiveness of the car’s front splitter under dive.
Under its all-carbonfibre bodywork, the Senna is constructed from an evolution of the 720S’s carbonfibre tub called Monocage III. Aluminium subframes are attached front and rear, onto
which mounts double-wishbone suspension at both ends.
The Senna’s engine, meanwhile, is an evolution of Mclaren’s Ricardo-developed 4.0-litre twinturbocharged V8, dubbed M840TR. It produces 789bhp at 7250rpm and 590lb ft of torque between 5500rpm and 6700rpm; 79bhp and 22lb ft improvements on the closely related motor in the 720S. New induction manifolds, bespoke camshafts, high-flow fuel pumps and a new exhaust (made out of titanium and Inconel) allow it to make the outputs, and its power f lows downstream to the road via a seven-speed dualclutch gearbox.
While Mclaren quotes a “lightest possible dry weight” for the Senna of 1198kg, the less widely known homologated kerb weight for the car (running order, with 100% fuel) is 1314kg. Our test car weighed 1345kg fully fuelled, where a 720S weighed a like-for-like 1420kg. The Senna’s as-weighed power-to-weight ratio (587bhp per tonne) is therefore well beyond that of a 720S (500bhp per tonne as tested), although it’s just behind that of the Bugatti Veyron Supersport we tested in 2011 (593bhp per tonne).
One of Mclaren’s trademark, up-and-outward-swinging dihedral doors grants you access to the Senna’s interior. Just like on the 720S but unlike on the 570S, it’s hinged to the body on both the roof and the lower A-pillar. And only once will you forget to close it before strapping yourself in to the car’s very aggressive-looking but surprisingly comfortable fixedbackrest bucket seats (and, in doing so, making it impossible to reach upwards and grab the handle).
The Senna’s cockpit has a very different look and feel from that of any of the firm’s other models. The fascia is in carbonfibre and is arranged around one horizontal wing-like plane. The adjustable digital instrument screen and portrait-oriented infotainment system are ostensibly what you’ll find in a 720S, although the infotainment is presented more like a free-standing
❝ The Senna’s acceleration feels nothing less than savage from the driver’s seat ❞
edifice here, with any semblance of a ‘centre stack’ control console dispensed with entirely.
The all-important powertrain and suspension control dials are sited just underneath the infotainment screen, within easy reach; the transmission controls carried on a neat, slim carbon console fixed to the side of the driver’s seat so that they’re even easier to reach and also slide with the seat. If you’re at a loss to find the starter button for the car’s 4.0-litre V8, look up: it’s nestling in a roof console between the door apertures.
Mclaren has proved itself excellent at delivering fine visibility in all of its supercars so far, and the Senna’s is equally good to the front and side. The car has a typically low scuttle, permitting a clear view forwards, and glazed upper and lower door sections allow you to easily gauge the size and position of the car in its lane and relative to things overhead.
Your rearwards view is encumbered by the built-up nature of the rear bulkhead of the car’s carbon tub, by the rear wing, and by the location of the only storage space in the car: a smallish enclosed shelf just behind the seats at head height, designed to be just large enough to carry a couple of racing helmets.
The Senna’s engine isn’t a state-ofthe-art hybrid, nor is it the classic atmospheric V12 of your childhood dreams. For these reasons and others, you may be wondering whether this car will be capable of acceleration of a different order from that we’re already used to from Mclaren.
The answer, in simple outright terms, seems to be no; not that, strictly speaking, it needed to be any different. The Senna narrowly missed the standing-start potency its maker claims for it during our track testing, needing 3.1sec to hit 60mph from rest where a 720S needed only 2.9sec and a P1 2.8sec. We tried launching the car with plenty of heat in its Trofeo R tyres, and in various driving modes, to no improvement.
A 3.1sec 0-60mph launch would be churlish to complain about in any modern performance car, mind
you; and the Senna’s acceleration feels nothing less than savage from the driver’s seat. But it would actually need to run on until 90mph, side by side with the 720S, before it started to claw back the deficit to its little sibling. Both cars go through a standing quarter mile in an identical 10.4sec, according to our numbers – but, by that point, the Senna is carrying almost 5mph more speed.
Then, even in Race mode, the Senna starts to run away from the 720S as it explodes onwards into three figures. A P1 remains a more potent accelerative machine at any speed; but then a P1 was a 903bhp hypercar designed to be Mclaren’s last word on outright performance.
The Senna can justify its slightly lowlier and more specialised place in Woking’s range, as its ultimate road-legal track car, in other ways; not least because, for gearshift response time, all-round flexibility, high-revving freedom and linearity of throttle calibration, the Senna’s V8 wants for absolutely nothing.
It could certainly sound better, something we’ve recorded many times about Mclaren’s cars. The Senna’s V8 is noisy right across its operating range and is the kind of engine that’s overwhelmingly at its best when sampled through earplugs – and inside a helmet. It’s very apparently an engine of rigid mountings when working hard at lowish revs, when it buzzes and vibrates unapologetically. At gathering crank speeds, its character is part-car, part-lathe, part-industrial vacuum cleaner. Then finally, above 5500rpm, it begins to sound much better as it develops more of a soulful, tuneful eight-cylinder howl. The upshot? That when you’re using the car as it’s meant to be used, the Senna sounds like it ought to. The rest of the time, however, the question’s wide open to interpretation.
One thing this car couldn’t have been without is a supreme set of brakes. It certainly has them. Mclaren’s claim is that the Senna’s carbon brakes take seven times longer to make than the ones on the 720S. You’ll believe as much on the evidence of the absolutely jawdropping power with which they haul this car up from high speeds, and the confidence with which you can heave on the brake pedal on the run into a tight bend without feeling a snatch of ABS intervention or the faintest wiggle of handling instability.
Habitually, we only measure stopping distance from 70mph, a speed from which the Senna will come to rest in just 37.4m, or about 10% quicker than most supercars. But when stopping from bigger speeds, our test car registered longitudinal braking power in excess of 1.5g, where it’s unusual to see supercars beat 1.25g. In this respect, as in others, the rhetoric describing this car as a more drivable, state-of-theart racing car with numberplates is absolutely to be believed. Some trepidation is inevitably associated with the task of driving any car of the Senna’s capabilities to its full potential on a track. Commitment and concentration are necessary, obviously, as well as plenty of physical effort. Beyond all that, however, it’s what isn’t required – the skill, nerve or experience of a multiple-occasion Le Mans winner – that’s really remarkable to observe.
That’s because, while the Senna certainly demands you push your own limits a good deal farther than they’ll likely ever have been pushed before, the car’s handling is, for the most part, unerringly consistent, predictable and benign. The Senna challenges you to open up earlier, brake later and corner quicker, extending its grip level ahead of you as the tyres heat up and the aero comes in like some adrenalinefuelled voodoo. But it also stays with you; on your side at every step.
That said, those Trofeo R tyres need to be properly warmed up and then adjusted for operating pressure before the car’s ready to hit its most compelling stride (a process that takes a good eight to 10 laps of most circuits, plus a pit stop, in itself). Drive the Senna too keenly on cold tyres, in one of its higher suspension modes and more permissive stability control settings, and you’ll find it surprisingly short on grip and
stability; everything it absolutely isn’t when in ground-hugging Race mode, with some heat in the rubber.
But even having started your Senna stint right, you expect somewhere to have to negotiate one or two hurdles as a result of the way the car’s downforce builds. They just don’t come. The effect of the car’s active aero and suspension actually seems to be to shift its apparent centre of mass rearwards slightly as you start to risk 80mph, 90mph and three-figure cornering, adding a bedrock of stability into the car’s high-speed handling that allows you to guide it with incredible confidence – and with fairly bold steering inputs.
At lower speeds, however, that stability bias just isn’t present. The Senna feels super-precise, poised and even a little bit adjustable in its handling attitude on a trailing throttle around second- and thirdgear corners. The faster you go, the more quickly the car takes an angle, and the more accurate and fast you need to be with your steering corrections, which is inevitably true of something so low to the ground, so grippy and so firmly sprung. But the Senna even helps you here, to find the steering angle at which those front tyres are running true, by virtue of having an electrohydraulic power steering system that provides absolutely world-class contact-patch feel and, with 2.4 turns between locks, is exactly as direct as it ought to be.
And on the road? The Senna is entirely manageable, amazingly easy to drive, supremely cleverly governed by its electronic aids and, although noisy, rides in Comfort mode almost as comfortably as a Porsche Gt-level 911. The skittish brittleness of ride and the hyper-sensitive handling nervousness you expect to have to put up with in a car capable of otherworldly track feats just aren’t part of the equation.
And neither, we should add, is a great deal of on-road driver involvement in a car that simply doesn’t feel as though it’s working properly unless it’s travelling beyond 100mph, just a couple of inches from the Tarmac.
BUYING AND OWNING
Mclaren Automotive would appear to have been quite careful – moderately conservative, even – with its decisions about pricing and production volume on the Senna. A £750,000 asking price isn’t ridiculous, believe it or not, in the high-net-worth car buff’s world of multimillion-pound hypercars. And the signs are that the market might even value the car more highly than Mclaren did, with build slots having reportedly changed hands for quarter-million-pound premiums and the earliest cars appearing in the classifieds now at seven-figure prices.
Mclaren’s UK price list on the car is very short by the usual exoticterritory standards. The most expensive item on it is £9500 for an MSO Defined paint job, and the vast majority of its entries (touring seats, three-point seatbelts, air conditioning, rear-view camera etc) are no-cost options that you can specify so long as you’re prepared to accept the associated weight.
❝ The handling is, for the most part, unerringly consistent and benign ❞
Snorkel roof intake feeds air directly into the engine. High-temperature cooling circuit at the rear is fed by intakes in the flanks; low-temperature circuit by the ‘radiator’ dam up front.
These mixed-size nine-spoke ‘superforged’ alloy wheels are the Senna’s only rim option, but you can have them in ‘satin raw metal’ finish (as pictured) or with a ‘dark stealth’ finish.
Senna’s front splitter is fully 150mm longer than the one on the P1 and 75mm longer than the P1 GTR’S. Meanwhile, Race driving mode puts it another 39mm closer to the road than this.
Double diffuser is made from a single piece of carbonfibre flowing aft from under the rear axle. Like all diffusers, it accelerates the underbody air as it exits, sucking the Senna to the road (or track).
Hydraulic active rear wing can swivel through 35deg of pitch in 0.3sec. ‘Swan neck’ pylon mountings allow it to keep working when air is flowing over it from varied angles, such as in crosswinds.
Blue winglets inside the front bumper are active aerodynamic blades whose pitch is managed to balance the car’s downforce. If you don’t like this colour, they’re also available in orange or red.
Each of the Senna’s headlights is more than 1kg lighter than the equivalent on the P1 hypercar. They’re all-led units, each containing 21 diodes.
P1: Mclaren hypercar with a different brief
Height 300mm Width 350-850mm Length 350mm There’s no boot at either end of the car, only this triangular storage shelf, behind the seats, which is just big enough to accommodate a couple of racing helmets.
Six-point racing harnesses are standard; three-point seatbelts in addition a nocost option. Inboard belt strap of the six-pointer attaches to the inertia-reel latch.
The trick aero, so seemless and effective on track, works best above road-legal speeds, so although it’s an easy car to drive on the road, it isn’t hugely involving there.