Two super-hot cars and a rich seam of success for McLaren
Without doubt, the greatest automotive success story running in the UK now is that of McLaren, writes Iain Robertson, a name most familiar for its Formula One involvement, although it is its supercar division that is making the real headlines.
With the subtlest of celebrations, McLaren Automotive, now a mere five years old, is not only one of the most profitable of carmakers in the world but can boast an order book that is either completely ‘sold out’, or is ‘temporarily halted’, until forward vision can be resumed…i.e. once the backlog of orders is satisfied. It is an enviable position to be in and one that garners intense jealousy, not least from the troubled Italian and German markets.
Most importantly, McLaren is a fiercely independent producer of finely-honed supercars that is British through-and-through and it is flying a flag, at both its Woking and more recent Rotherham composites factories, for all that once used to be great about our country. It is a vehicle manufacturer that knows its place and returns in excess of a third of its annual profits back into the business to fund future developments, an example of which is its forthcoming hybrid hypercar, known internally as ‘BP23’, which is anticipated to break all performance expectations for the sector.
Ironically, even were I to possess pots of available cash for what could be a £2.2m retail price, I would be unable to obtain one…because each of the 106-off extreme machines is already sold. The car’s final design has not even been signed off and a blend of high-rolling investors, enthusiasts and speculators have snaffled them up already. McLaren can do no ill.
In its sixth year, the company is launching not one, but two supercars, either of which is capable of more than 200mph, with 0-60mph acceleration times a few points above, or below, 3.0 seconds; the 570S Spider, in the firm’s Sport Series, at a relative bargain basement price from £164,750, and the 720S (Super Series) from £218,020. Naturally, factor in special paint and the 570S, in McLaren Orange, is hiked by £1,440, while the 720S in Elite Glacier White needs another £4,080, and that is before the monied customer spends £3,830 on forged alloy wheels in ‘stealth’ finish (570S), or the carbon-fibre exterior upgrade kit (720S) at £8,890. The list, while not exhaustive, adds four figures (or thereabouts) for each option to the bottom line of the original invoice, like I might add sugar lumps to tea. I shall not urge caution, because, if you are in the market for a new McLaren, you will have the ackers available to specify it to whichever hand-built level you desire.
McLaren’s ‘everyman’ model, complete with retractable drop-top (electrically operated fold-back roof section), is pitched directly into ‘affordable’ Ferrari, Porsche and Audi territory. It certainly does not lack in talent and weighing a mere 46kgs more than the coupe version (1,359kgs), its carbon-fibre construction is rigid enough to tolerate roof removal, without a need for additional strengthening, which adds ‘killer’ bulk to most of McLaren’s perceived rivals.
The car’s standard dihedral cabin doors open upwards economically to save space in confined areas but also to allow moderately refined access to the two-seat cockpit. Its aerodynamics having been compromised by the roof redesign have been improved by a 12mm higher rear spoiler and an electrically adjustable back window that doubles as a wind-deflector.
Sitting amidships is the 3.8-litre twin-turbocharged McLaren V8 engine that develops a model name-aping 570ps (562bhp) and an equally impressive 443lbs ft of torque. It is mated to the firm’s 7-speed twin-clutch ‘seamless-shift’ gearbox. Given the right conditions and location, the 570S blitzes the 0-60mph sprint in a knee-trembling 3.1s, topping out at 204mph. Perhaps more meaningfully, its carbon-ceramic brake system (6-pot front, 4-pot rear callipers) will halt the car from just over 60mph to zero in around 30ft. Not that frugality is off the McLaren owner’s cards but its Official Combined fuel return is a creditable 26.6mpg and the taxman will do evil things to your wallet with a CO2 rating of 249g/km.
Its handing is benign. It clings onto dry tarmac like an Rotweiler puppy to its bone. Yet, there is a surfeit of power that will allow a capable driver to exploit the mid-engined chassis balance to perfection. The interior is moderately comfortable, as long as the driver is not overly tall, and the switchable elements and convenience features are logical to operate and of high-quality, even though none of them are shared with other carmakers. There is a slam-dunk moment for the 570S, in that its infallible residual values can make it as economical to acquire (on a PCP, believe it, or not) as a brand new Audi R8 in V10 guise.
Refocusing is essential, when making the jump from Sport to Super Series, because the 720S possesses the greatest breadth of chassis competence and dynamic talent of almost any car yet produced. I would venture to suggest that even the Porsche Cayman, the superiority of which has maintained its ‘best ever’ status since its launch, could be under threat from McLaren. While not significantly faster than the 570S, rest assured, the 720S is in a different league in so many respects, it has no need to justify the almost £54k premium.
Making great play of its all-new carbon-fibre monocoque, which incorporates roll-over and crash protection, the view outwards from the fine hide-upholstered interior is unparalleled, thanks to the skinniest of roof pillars. Yet, with weight-saving central to the design ethos, the 720S tips the scales at a featherweight (for a car) 1,283kgs, which is lighter than a Skoda Fabia. It is little wonder, then, that its 710bhp (720ps, hence the model name), produced at a wailing 7,500rpm and driving through an up-rated version of the 7-speed twin-clutch gearbox used in the 570S delivers 212mph and a 0-60mph blast in 2.8s (it can crack the 0-200kph/124mph increment in a mere 7.8s, which will bring tears to your eyes).
Again, the carbon brakes exert phenomenal retardation to make the 60-0mph distance an eyeball-popping 29.7ft, in a mere 2.8s. You see, the McLaren helps you to get out of trouble almost as readily as it might allow you to get into it. In so many ways, I simply have to get one! The slightly enlarged, to 4.0-litres displacement, V8 bi-turbo engine is almost a masterpiece of understatement. It can be poodled around town, without displaying an ounce of temperament and, moments later, bomb down the outside lane of an unrestricted autobahn at over 200mph. Phew! It emits the same 249g/km of CO2 as its little brother and its Official Combined fuel figure is, at 26.4mpg, just 0.2mpg thirstier than the 570S.
However, the 720S’s party-trick is to be as capable in a race-track environment, as it is eminently drivable on public roads…McLaren guarantees it. Whether dancing on the edge of adhesion, or overstepping the mark, the 720S delivers one of the most intimate and involving driving experiences. However, even the finest of bespoke motorcars can betray either ‘inheritage’, or the sharing of materials, often from prestigious but less costly affiliated brands. No such malarkey from McLaren; EVERYTHING is bespoke, everything is made for purpose, everything is unique to this model. Its body has been bougee’d to slippery perfection. The visible carbon bits are applied purposefully and the entire intention of the car is to highlight its extreme DNA.
Yet, it remains comfortable, perhaps even luxurious, having moved on the game significantly since its previous iteration. It is called ‘supercar’, because McLaren does not want to muddy the waters with its markedly costlier hypercar (which will not materialise until later next year), but, in almost all respects it flies in the face of its descript. It is so low and voluptuous, it stops you in your tracks. However, the new ‘tub’ means that its cockpit is even more accessible, even more graceful to enter and alight from. There is even a pair of decent boots (front: 150-litres; rear: 210-litres capacity) in either Performance, or Luxury, as well as ‘base’ S trim levels, to supplement its practicality.
Conclusion: McLaren is motoring perfection. It had its shaky moments, in the early days, before it tackled customer care head-on. Yet, it has learned faster than the Chinese. It is not arrogant and its personnel, from the avant-garde, yet super-friendly PR Director, Wayne Bruce (yes, that is his name!), to the lads that clean and fettle each of the tiny number of cars that constitute the ‘test fleet’, are all passionate about the products and the irrefutable stance of the company. They love their jobs and they love to tell us all about them. While many ‘supercars’ leave me a little cold, I can fully comprehend why McLarens retain a higher percentage of residual value than any of them and also why much of the line-up even appreciates faster than all of them. In just five brief years, McLaren has set-up its stall and created a brand of such remarkable worthiness that the world has been forced to sit up and take note.