“It now seems so focused on special editions that the ordinary cars are almost forgotten as vanilla objects”
“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to launch a new car every week – a strategy that leaves people completely confused and customers feeling their new toy is obsolete the moment they take delivery.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.