“It now seems so fo­cused on spe­cial edi­tions that the or­di­nary cars are al­most for­got­ten as vanilla ob­jects”

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“McLaren now seems so fo­cused on spe­cial edi­tions that the or­di­nary cars are al­most for­got­ten as vanilla ob­jects”

I’m wor­ried about McLaren. I drove a Senna

the other day, lapped it fast around Sil­ver­stone and was left won­der­ing what was go­ing on in Wok­ing. Yes, it’s a very fast car and is cur­rently the talk of the few peo­ple who can af­ford one. But it is also, rather un­for­tu­nately, a bit of a white ele­phant: a sig­ni­fier that the mar­ket for very fast cars is in the per­ilous part of its cy­cle and that McLaren is play­ing a dan­ger­ous game.

A knee-jerk re­ac­tion to a sub­ject no one re­ally cares about? Po­ten­tially. But I’m a huge McLaren fan. I was there when Ron Den­nis un­veiled the first 12C, and I’ve been in awe at the rapid as­cen­dancy of the brand, but the last 12 months have been painful. At the root of the prob­lem is McLaren’s ap­par­ent need to launch a new car ev­ery week – a strat­egy that leaves peo­ple com­pletely con­fused and cus­tomers feel­ing their new toy is ob­so­lete the mo­ment they take de­liv­ery.

Worse still, the com­pany now seems so fo­cused on spe­cial edi­tions that the or­di­nary cars are al­most for­got­ten as vanilla ob­jects to be sniffed at. And yes, it does seem ridicu­lous to be re­fer­ring to a 720S like it’s some shonky base-spec Kia – but that ap­pears to be the re­al­ity of the mar­ket place.

The game works like this for all su­per­car brands – most cus­tomers want the spe­cial lim­ited-se­ries cars, but to get one first you have to buy a ‘stan­dard’ car. So, in the case of the Senna, you prob­a­bly had to buy a 720S which you did didn’t re­ally want. That car is then sold when the Senna ar­rives. T The trou­ble for McLaren is that it seems to be the brand in this area of the mar­ket­place least lea ca­pa­ble of main­tain­ing resid­ual val­ues v of its ‘or­di­nary’ cars. Val­ues Val of the 720S have fallen rapi rapidly, not helped by sto­ries of poor b build qual­ity and un­re­li­a­bil­ity. Th The 570 is strug­gling too.

The sit­u­a­tion re­minds me of a con­ver­sa­tion I had with a se­nior Porsche ex­ec­u­tive many years ago at the launch of a GT3. He said that how­ever many ex­cit­ing vari­ants of the 911 it built, the base car must al­ways re­main spe­cial and not be lost in the noise of the faster ver­sions. Sound think­ing.

And the great irony for me is that the lat­est, great­est McLaren they’re all fight­ing them­selves over isn’t all that great. Yes, the Senna is fast, but it un­der­steers way too much to make it fun on a track, and once you’ve moved past the in­te­rior (which is very sexy in­deed), what you have is a 720S that’s been slapped by the ugly stick and has a bit of down­force. Big wows.

The 720S is nearly as fast, looks way bet­ter and is ac­tu­ally us­able on the road, but be­cause it’s not a lim­it­ed­series car, it doesn’t have peo­ple fawn­ing over it. And it is a third of the price! The more you scru­ti­nise the rea­sons for buy­ing a Senna, the harder it is to avoid the con­clu­sion be­ing the abil­ity to tell peo­ple you, er, own a Senna. Cer­tainly, if you want to be the fastest man at the track day, you’d best look else­where. If that opin­ion doesn’t square with oth­ers you’ve read, well, thank God for free­dom of speech.

Of course I want McLaren to be am­bi­tious and blow our minds with new tech­nolo­gies and cars that lead to new lev­els of per­for­mance. But it also needs to re­spect the bloke who has saved for years to get that de­posit and lives with his mum to pay the fi­nance on the base 540C, as much as it does the bil­lion­aire col­lec­tor. Be­cause, as both Porsche and Fer­rari have learned, only then do you have a sus­tain­able busi­ness.

And pun­ters need to stop be­ing drawn in by all the hype. As a driv­ing de­vice to en­joy, the 600LT is a bet­ter car than the Senna – all of the un­der­steer is gone. And the 720S re­mains the best su­per­car I’ve driven in the past year.

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