Great Eight

Automobile - - Contents - By Au­to­mo­bile Staff

This year was among the most dif­fi­cult eval­u­a­tions in the his­tory of our event. Com­pelling ar­gu­ments were made for far more than the eight ve­hi­cles we ul­ti­mately chose as the 2018 All-Stars, but when the votes came in, this group stood just high enough above the rest to make the top step of the podium.

Af­ter Ev­ery Drive You’ll Ex­pect a Check­ered Flag

“A sin­gle-seat race car for the road.” That’s the take­away a lot of us shared af­ter ex­it­ing this siz­zling McLaren’s form-fit­ting driver’s seat—once we were able to catch our col­lec­tive breath, that is. More than any other car in this year’s for­mi­da­ble All-Stars field, the 720S left ev­ery­one who drove it gob­s­macked, speed-struck, and, frankly, in need of a lit­tle quiet time.

“From 100 to 160 mph, it made the Lambo and the Ford GT feel pos­i­tively wheezy,” gushed our res­i­dent hot shoe, Andy Pil­grim, af­ter lap­ping the Speed­ve­gas cir­cuit. Con­trib­u­tor Marc No­orde­loos agreed: “I can’t re­mem­ber the last time I drove a car this fast. Wow.” Let it be noted that both of those guys spend a lot of time in se­ri­ously quick ma­chin­ery. Then again, such is the gid­di­ness that erupts when you drive a ve­hi­cle that can sprint to 60 mph in just 2.5 sec­onds and blitz to a top end of 212 mph. (Fit­tingly, this track-day preda­tor wears body­work in­spired by the beau­ti­fully men­ac­ing shape of the great white shark.)

One of the most suc­cess­ful For­mula 1 teams of all time, McLaren has notched 12 world driv­ers’ cham­pi­onships and eight con­struc­tors’ ti­tles since its first F1 race in 1966. The com­pany knows a thing or three about speed. That’s ev­i­dent the mo­ment you slide be­hind the wheel of the 720S: That same race-bred char­ac­ter is ev­i­dent in its ev­ery mol­e­cule, in­te­gral to its vis­ceral, pure­bred pur­pose. The tub, the wind­shield sur­round, and much of the green­house are crafted in light­weight, su­per-rigid car­bon fiber. (McLaren claims the new struc­ture— dubbed Monocage II—cuts 40 pounds off the out­go­ing 650S’ mono­coque.) The cock­pit is a pi­lot-fo­cused workspace of pre­mium leather, deep rac­ing buck­ets, and min­i­mal con­trols. The view to the front, en­hanced by no­tably thin A-pil­lars, is noth­ing short of breath­tak­ing—like rid­ing in the nose tur­ret of a B-17 or, yes, in the open cock­pit of a Grand Prix car.

The en­gine lies right be­hind you, and what a mon­u­men­tal piece of work it is. Twin tur­bos and 32 valves feed­ing 4.0 liters of V-8 dis­place­ment, all tweaked and tuned to pro­duce 710 horse­power at a scream­ing 7,500 rpm. Mind you, that’s 79 horse­power more than the al­ready vol­canic Lam­borgh­ini Hu­racán Per­for­mante. Add such mus­cle to the 720S’ light touch on the scales—it weighs less than 3,200 pounds—and you have per­for­mance that leaves even vet­eran auto jour­nal­ists laugh­ing in dis­be­lief.

The McLaren’s sus­pen­sion re­de­fines han­dling bril­liance. Out­fit­ted with Proac­tive Chas­sis Con­trol II—which con­tin­u­ously mon­i­tors driv­ing con­di­tions and au­to­mat­i­cally ad­justs chas­sis dy­nam­ics—plus driver-ad­justable modes (in­clud­ing a new Com­fort set­ting) and huge, sticky Pirelli P Zero tires, the 720S de­liv­ers both blis­ter­ing re­spon­sive­ness on the race cir­cuit and supreme ci­vil­ity on the road. “Pre­cise, lin­ear elec­tro­hy­draulic steer­ing tells you ex­actly what the car is do­ing,” No­orde­loos said. “Amaz­ing and re­ward­ing on both the track and the road.” De­sign edi­tor Robert Cum­ber­ford con­curred. “Sus­pen­sion is su­perb, for han­dling and for com­fort,” he said. The 720S is one of those ex­ceed­ingly rare sport­ing ma­chines that truly be­comes one with its driver. You wear the car like a wet suit, and through that fine skin you feel ev­ery tickle of the road, eas­ily sense the grip of the tires, in­stinc­tively grasp the ap­proach­ing limit. The 720S is bet­ter than you are—and in turn wrings the best out of you. Few cars of such ex­treme ca­pa­bil­ity are so re­as­sur­ing to push hard.

Quib­bles? Noth­ing sig­nif­i­cant in a car like this. “You need to be a con­tor­tion­ist to get in and skilled at sleight of hand to buckle the safety belts,” Cum­ber­ford grum­bled. No­orde­loos com­plained about the touch­screen, not­ing that many of­ten­needed func­tions—nor­mally op­er­ated by cock­pit switches or but­tons—are buried deep in the system. Also, the McLaren’s stan­dard car­bon-ce­ramic brakes are touchy and take some time to ad­just to, though there’s no doubt about their stag­ger­ing stop­ping power.

Those are tri­fles com­pared with the in­com­pa­ra­ble driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence the

720S de­liv­ers. So­cial me­dia edi­tor Billy Re­hbock summed up the McLaren’s ALL­STARS win best: “It’s al­most un­be­liev­able how many boxes the 720S ticks. Su­per­car styling, power, han­dling, driv­abil­ity. One of the wildest cars I’ve ever driven. I wanted more the minute I got out.” AM

BY A R T H U R S T. A N T O I N E

PRICE: $288,845/$378,215 (base/as tested) EN­GINE: 4.0L DOHC 32-valve twin-turbo V-8/710 hp @ 7,500 rpm, 568 lb-ft @ 5,500 TRANS­MIS­SION: 7-speed dual-clutch au­to­matic LAY­OUT: 2-door, 2-pas­sen­ger, mid-en­gine, RWD coupe EPA MILEAGE: 15/22 mpg...

Known pri­mar­ily for its For­mula 1 rac­ing ex­ploits, McLaren has man­aged to im­prove each suc­ces­sive ver­sion of its road cars, cul­mi­nat­ing with the new 720S.

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