One McLaren 720S, 48 hours: Go!


Car reviews / Четверг, Июнь 14th, 2018

The email came in from McLaren quite unexpectedly: “Would be nice if we could get you into a 720S before Estoril,” it said.

Well, yes, that would be nice.

"Estoril" meant the track in Portugal, where I’d be driving the new Senna the following week. So to get in an Estoril mood, for two days of this week, I was assigned a “Glacier White” McLaren 720S, one of the world’s great supercars — if still a step below the screaming Senna, the latter which transcends mere supercardom and proceeds straight to hypercar status.

I said, “Yes” as quickly and politely as I could without sounding like a blathering idiot. I was going to make the most of those 48 hours in the 720S come heck or high water. And I did, mostly, within certain prescribed limits. McLaren expressly forbade, “…instrumented testing, track driving or competitor vehicle comparisons without prior approval.” Sure, whatever. Who had track rental fees and competitor vehicles, anyway? It would be just me, my local twisty mountain roads and a McLaren 720S. What could possibly go wrong?

McLaren, as you’ll recall, has divided up its car line into three “Series:” The 570S is in the Sports Series, the Senna in the Ultimate Series and in between the two is this, my 720S in the Super Series. For the record, I’d be happy with any one of those.

The 720S is the successor to the 650S, which was my favorite McLaren for a while. Before that, my favorite was the MP4 12C. I guess I like every McLaren I’ve driven so far. Next week, I’m guessing, my favorite McLaren will be the Senna.

I could be perfectly happy driving the 720S for what would then be the rest of my then-fabulous life. I wouldn’t need anything else except a good road, and I know where all those are. Carpool? Ride your bike to school kids, it builds character! Groceries? We’ll eat the seat fabric. Errands? Get your priorities in line, man! This is a McLaren we’re talking about here.

Like its siblings, the 720S is built around a carbon-fiber tub with aluminum extrusions front and rear. The tub is optimized in the new car and gets the name Monocage II, which sounds like a UFC or WWE match.

Bolted to the back of that Monocage but still forward of the rear axle is a howlin’-loud 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 that makes 720 metric horsepower (thus the car’s name) or 710 hp SAE. It drives the rear wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The whole rig weighs just 3,128 pounds and, using launch mode, can travel from 0-60 in 2.8 seconds. Top speed is 212 mph.

As Butch Cassidy said to The Sundance Kid as they packed the dynamite into the mail car, that should do it.

As soon as the car was delivered, I immediately headed up Angeles Crest Highway. There are many advantages to Angeles Crest, especially on a Tuesday. The number of dangerous knuckleheads is far lower, and since it runs through a national forest, there’s nothing to hit.

There are two dials on the dash to change the car’s attitude; one is for suspension, the other for powertrain. You can switch them both from comfort to sport to track. There’s a separate button for “Drift Mode,” but I figured maybe I should leave that one alone in order to preserve the Pirelli P Zero Corsas. After much experimentation, I came to the conclusion that the adjustable shocks were best suited to the springs in track mode. Anything else sort of made the whole setup bounce. On regular surface streets, I had it on comfort just so it wasn’t too harsh, but on the fairly smooth pavement of the Crest, I cranked it down to track mode and had at it.

If you were comparing the 720S to the 650S or the MP4 12C, you might guess that McLaren was trying to broaden the new car’s appeal to a wider audience. The car feels more commodious inside and a little less like the crazy race car project that was the MP4 12C. You might, at first, think you like the 650 better. I myself went back and forth between all three cars in my mind, trying to pick which one I liked. As always, I decided I liked them all, each for different reasons. The 12C is the most raw, the closest to a race car, the farthest from a daily driver. The 650S is a refined race car, one that could work equally well in both worlds. The 720S is a supercar with which you can’t argue — it exceeds both cars and adds comfort to the mix. Word is the 720S beats the P1 around various road courses. I will have to try that out someday.

The 720’s suspension is impressive: A system of hydraulics reduces body roll by shuffling hydraulic pressure from side to side in corners. It will also raise the front end if you have to cross a drainage culvert or a particularly nasty speed bump. The electrohydraulic steering is about the only thing carried over from the 650S. At the 720S’ intro, McLaren engineers said they kept the same steering because they couldn’t find a better system. It felt fine in all conditions, but especially when pushing hard through twisty curves.

And that was what I was doing the first day.

The second day, I took it to my semi-regular breakfast with hot-rod hero Alex Xydias. We meet at Bob’s Big Boy in Toluca Lake and he regales me with tales of hot rods past. Finally, I had something to show him. Alex liked the McLaren.

“Hoo boy,” he said, walking around it. “What is this thing?”

He just shook his head. After breakfast, I headed to boutique restoration shop Singer to drive one of their cars. I had to park the McLaren inside the Singer shop and you should have seen the crush of designers, engineers and everybody else around it. These guys are car enthusiasts, first and foremost, and this is a great car. I wanted to take a photo of them al,l but with so many future projects in the background, photography was verboten.

When I was done at Singer (story on that to come) I took the 720S up Big Tujunga Canyon, which is not far from the Singer shop. It’s a favorite of Jay Leno, too, whose vast collection isn’t too far away. Tujunga (pronounced tuh-hung-gah) has more wide-open, fast curves. I was taking them in fifth gear. The pavement is a little harsh, so I tried sport mode, which seemed to work. It’s a little weird, this suspension, because while there doesn’t seem to be much body roll at all, the softened dampers in comfort and sport modes still allow the body to bounce on the springs. If I was tuning this, I would soften the jounce and crank down the rebound. Or add an internal spring that picks up where the usual spring compresses. How would that be possible? Hey, I’m the idea guy, not a suspension engineer.

Topping out of the bumpy pavement of Big Tujunga, I turned right and immediately settled into the smooth, on-camber wonderfulness of Angeles Forest Highway. This newer, smoother pavement is spackled over tighter turns. I cranked the knobs over to track, and finally, the whole setup felt just perfect: 710 hp, steering that communicates better than your spouse, no body roll and even active aerodynamics. This was livin’! I hammered on it the rest of the day, enjoying it the whole time, even if I should have been back in the office writing about crossover utility vehicles.

If there are drawbacks, apart from the bounciness in comfort and sport, I’d say you have to get used to the pedal feel of the carbon-ceramic brakes. They feel almost like unboosted race brakes. You have to push harder on them to make them work, but you have to do the same thing on your Formula Whatever, so it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Also, there's the price. As-tested, my 720S stickered at $342,835. Base price is $284,745. That’s more than a Ferrari 488 GTB, which might even be a little more civilized, if you’re into civilization. Also, those long, flowing air ducts that run over the top of the body and around the greenhouse attract and keep leaves. There’s no way to flush them out except to reach way down in there and pull them out.

I could put up with all of that.

The next day, they came for the car early. It was sad to see it driven off. I stood there awhile, watching it disappear down the street. I was sadder but better for having driven it. What could possibly be better than this?

Well, there is the McLaren Senna…

Base Price: $288,845

As Tested Price: $342,835

Powertrain: 4.0-liter turbocharged V8; RWD; seven-speed dual-clutch automatic

Output: 710 hp @ 7,500 rpm, 568 lb-ft @ 5,500 rpm

Curb Weight: 3,128 pounds (mfg.)

0-60 MPH: 2.8 sec. (mfg.)

Fuel Economy: 18/15/22(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)

Pros: Fastest, coolest, most space-shipinest car on the planet

Cons: A little bouncy in softer modes, a little pricey