Setting: the Hoar Cross Hall Spa Resort in the English Midlands. Occasion: publicity launch of two new hyper sports cars. McLaren sits on a hallowed cloud with car nuts. It has won grand prix titles, the Le Mans 24 Hour race and for the last five years has been making road cars which take your breath away - and your licence if you don’t pay attention.
“I can’t see the point of them,” griped a seasoned motoring hack. His reasoning being, where can you use even a fraction of their performance?
Well, he’s right. A car which will accelerate to 180 miles per hour in 20 seconds is just getting into its stride when it hits the 70mph speed limit. Clearly we were never going to evaluate its CV on roads which were mostly restricted to 50mph and, rightly, governed by an unusually high number of speed cameras.
We were briefed on how to activate the rear air brake, which keeps the car in safe trim at, I suppose, race track speeds. Nah, we won’t be needing that, thanks. There were buttons to push and widgets to turn to adjust things like the hydraulic suspension, even one to raise the nose to avoid scuffing road humps, entrance kerbs – the car running at a height which would skim the hairs off a weasel.
The prize exhibit was the all-new 720S – replacing the 650S in its Super series. We’ll deal with the blunt stuff before getting on to the frills. It costs from £208,020. It is sold out. Most McLarens are ordered with tons of extras. The car we drove topped out at £244,630.
The 720S name refers to its German horse power, the imperial bhp figure is 710 – delivered to the rear wheels through a seven speed “seamless shift” automatic gearbox. The 4-litre twin turbo V8 engine, engineered by Ricardo in Shoreham-by-Sea, is behind the seats. The car is built on a high strength carbon fibre shell, which includes the “tub” and the roof skeleton. In a few years these will be made at the company’s new facility near Sheffield. Currently they are made in Austria. The car is assembled at McLaren’s Woking world HQ. Worth £2.4 billion, this is one of the country’s most valuable private companies.
Last year sales almost doubled to 3,286, or £649 million. It expects to sell 3,700 this year and around 4,500 by the end of the decade. You’d better get your order in now. Its forthcoming three-seater BP23 in a new Ultimate series will cost £1.6 million plus VAT. Two hundred people have applied to buy it. Only 106 are being made.
I think we are now answering that rhetorical “what’s the point?” Because you can. You have other cars for other things and the McLaren for pure driving joy. Prices start at just £128,550 by the way. That gets the 540C – still incredibly fast. Lease plan: £35,000 deposit, 36 monthly payments of £947.
It’s the 720S that’s the hot one at the moment. It has been tuned to give an equal blend between road and track driving, sort of half and half. Neither one thing nor the other maybe? I can’t report from the track but on the road it is, as they say, tractable. It is not at all fidgety but the ride can be joggly at low speed. There is a deep luggage repository in the front. Places to put stuff in the cabin. As mentioned, things to twiddle and push, Such as the simple buttons D N R which select forward, neutral and reverse gears. Fabulously simple. Yes, there are shift paddles on the steering column but at UK road speeds you are not going to need them, nor gain much acceleration advantage. Here we go: 0-60mph in 2.8 seconds, 0-62mph in 2.9 seconds, 0-124mph in 7.8 seconds, 0-186mph (300kph) in 21.4 seconds. The braking figures are just as impressive – 6.9 seconds from 186mph to stop in 260 metres. Or how about 0-62-0 in 5.7 seconds?
Anyway, first, get in it. It has the distinctive “dihedral” doors which swing out and then up. The construction of the 720S means the pivot point is now near the centre of the roof - allowing plenty of access space before you crash down into the seat. It’s a test for torso toning. Getting out needs a shoulder-testing shove to start the door lift but in case of emergency you can release the door by tugging the equivalent of an ejector strap.
The other McLaren newcomer is a convertible version of the Sports series 570 Coupe, called the 570 Spider. This is the one I’d take home. With the carbon roof folded out of sight you can breeze along without the desire to floor the pedal. It is as strong as the coupe version, weighs only 45kg more (putative rivals like the Audi TT convertible add much more weight).
The 562bhp twin turbo 3.8 litre V8 puts it almost on the pace with the 720S until you get to UK illegal speeds but it’ll still reach 186mph in 30 seconds and can reach 196mph with the roof open. Price: from £164,750. And yes, it’s sold out for a year or so.
Verdict: There may be a point.