2018 Mclaren 720S
Jonny Lieberman: Senior Features Editor When the tachometer crests 6,000 rpm, the engine finds an extra ax-murderer gear, resulting in real, actual terror. Alien technology for the street.”
It’s the Sybil of supercars. Mclaren’s new 720S manifests different personalities depending on driver skill and electronic settings. Nearly every judge left most safety settings engaged for Route 198, and most emerged feeling invincible. Chris Walton: “This Mclaren reads your mind, and you just ‘think’ your way through corners.” Mark Rechtin: “It handles as though it has its own volition or sentience—but completely predictably.” Jethro Bovingdon: “It rides with a fluency that the Lambo and GT2 RS can only dream of, with a balance that ebbs and flows so naturally.” The car is astonishingly responsive, the steering is fingertip-light and communicative, and drivers with an ounce of skill will never detect electronic intervention on a dry road and will emerge convinced they’ve just defied physics. All good!
Then our race driver with a championship pedigree climbed in and turned off most of the nannies—and set a BDC lap record. Yet Randy Pobst climbed out of the Mclaren sweaty and complaining about what a sloppy lap it was and how difficult the car was to control: “I was busy! It’s two different cars. Off throttle, it oversteers a lot. On throttle, it understeers a lot.” This suggests that electronics may be compensating for some essential handling deficiencies. Pobst managed to fade the brakes a bit, but only because of the crazy high speeds the car achieves—154.7 mph on the front straight of his first hot lap, torching the Porsche’s top speed of 149.0. Pobst is convinced that improving the car’s inherent balance could earn the 720S a 1:27 lap time. This car behaved so differently from an earlier one he lapped at Willow Springs’ big track that we also wonder if something was amiss.
As for the long drives to the track, many editors were uncomfortable in the optional fixed carbon-fiber racing-shell seats, which are tricky to get into and out of. And the Mclaren’s overly electronic nature left a few editors, such as Scott Evans, cold: “I’m super impressed with it, but I’m not crazy-stupid in love with it.” Hence the bronze-medal finish.
NO THUMBS The Mclaren’s steering wheel sports a de rigueur flat bottom but lacks the thumb rests present on every other contender and most sporty cars. It steers astonishingly well anyway.