2018 McLaren 720S Review – Preview Drive
Paul Horrell’s preview drive 2018 McLaren 720S Review with specs, performance, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
In a nutshell: McLaren’s latest is emphatically quicker than rivals from Ferrari and Lamborghini, as well as sublimely grippy and immersive on a track. Yet it’s also fun at saner road speeds. And far more practical than most supercars.
2018 McLaren 720S
PRICE from $489,900 +ORC WARRANTY 3 years/unlimited km (can be extended optionally to 12 years) ENGINE 4.0L turbo petrol V8 POWER 530kW at 7500rpm TORQUE 770Nm at 5500rpm TRANSMISSION 7-speed DCT DRIVE rear-wheel drive DIMENSIONS 4543 (L), 1930mm (W EXC MIRRORS), 2161mm (W INC MIRRORS), 1196mm (H) TURNING CIRCLE N/A TOWING WEIGHT 0kg KERB WEIGHT 1419kg SEATS 2 SPARE No THIRST 10.7 L/100km combined cycle FUEL petrol
HERE’S A CAR that lines up against the Ferrari 488GTB in price and market position, but it’s faster. That’s right: clearly faster than a staggeringly rapid Ferrari. It’s as good to drive and look at too.
McLaren Cars, in its current form, has been manufacturing its mid-engine supercars since just 2010. But almost from the start it proved itself a credible rival to the Italian supercar royalty. Its first car, the MP4 12C, evolved into the 650S. The 720S replaces that line.
McLaren has stuck to its principles. There’s still a mid-mounted twin-turbo V8 and seven-speed twin-clutch transmission, mounted to a carbonfibre tub. As before, the suspension is a clever fluid-linked system that does away with anti-roll bars. And as before, the aerodynamics include an active rear air-brake/spoiler. But all those exotic systems are improved. In fact more than 90 per cent of the 720S’s components are new.
What’s the interior like?
Drama happens even before you get in. Unlock the car and the engine bay, visible through grilles at the rear of the car, lights up in red. The doors open via hidden but easily reached buttons, inside the giant air-intake slots that feed the hungry V8.
The door hinges up diagonally. It’s cut into the roof, but doesn’t need too much space to the side or upward, so if someone parks close alongside you can still get in. And because it’s cut into the roof, you step in. That’s handy because wide supercars have their seats a long way inward and downward.
An electrically adjusted seat is standard; optional is a lightweight race-style bucket which isn’t adjustable at all, except fore and aft. With this option you have to specify a seat size at ordering time: small, medium or large. Yup, you wear the thing like a wetsuit. Sure holds you in corners though.
Supercars are strange places to sit. The dash and door furniture is very different from other cars and SUVs, and because you sit low you relate to it differently. All part of the theatre, and no practical disadvantage in this case as the cabin is roomy and doesn’t bend you out of shape.
Another critical real-world advantage is the 720S’s visibility. The view out of a supercar is usually pretty terrible: thick and inconveniently placed windscreen pillars, and little over-shoulder view at all. McLaren has taken advantage of the strength of its carbonfibre pillars to reduce their bulk, and glazed the areas between the rear ones. It’s an easy car to see out of, which helps no end in cities and when merging at intersections.
The switches are metal, and feel good to click. Remember, this car has to compete with an Audi, the R8. Quality matters. There’s a new infotainment touch-screen. McLaren insists on designing its own rather than building in an off-the-shelf Garmin or Pioneer unit. It works well, though the graphics could use a higher resolution.
Still, at least the passenger can see the screen and choose music or use the phone, or even enter satnav destinations for the driver. Audi, Lamborghini and Ferrari put their only screen in front of the driver, so only the driver can use it.
‘Driver-centric’ is an over-used concept with sports car. Actually there’s a lot of sense in the passenger having access to the system. On a Ferrari 488 in right-hand-drive, the passenger can’t even change the radio volume because the knob is on the opposite side of the steering wheel.
As to the McLaren’s driver instruments display, it’s another TFT screen. It allows you to configure what information is shown and when. But if you switch the car to track mode, a magical show-off moment occurs. The whole screen swivels down to lie flat.
A much smaller screen is mounted on its edge, showing less information, so you can concentrate on just driving. It also improves the view forwards. And, by the way, this essentials-only display is less distracting for road driving at night.
Because the engine is mounted low down, a new 210-litre storage area lies beneath the fixed rear window. This supplements the front boot of 150 litres.
What’s it like on the road?
Fast. Just mad fast. It’s not just the power, it’s the light weight and the sterling traction that make it all possible. It’s quick on the road, unless from a standing start, you’ll really only ever pin the throttle for a second or two. It can go from zero to 100km/h in 2.9 seconds. Even zero to 200 is the work of less than 8sec.
The engine doesn’t feel like your usual turbocharged motor. It hardly shows any lag, instead answering the right-pedal with only the very slightest delay. And it doesn’t give you a mountain of low-rev torque then run out of breath by 6000rpm. Instead its surge rises and rises, sending you into warp drive as it hauls itself to the 8500rpm red-line.
McLaren didn’t want the 720S to be annoyingly noisy in daily use, so the engine’s sound is a bit on the muted side versus the turbo competition, which is the Ferrari 488.
But you can specify a sports sound system that consists of a louder exhaust and a resonator box for the intake system. It doesn’t affect the power output, but it sounds like it does. It gives a far more exciting howl beyond 6000rpm. Even so, neither the Ferrari nor the McLaren can hold a candle to the rock’n’roll of the nat-asp V10s in the Lamborghini Huracan or Audi R8 V10s.
Gears are shifted like a light-switch via paddles behind the wheel. You can let the auto system choose the shifts yourself, and it does a good job. But why would you? OK maybe when burbling through traffic.
The handling is wonderfully stable, yet involving. The 720S has the best steering system in the fast-car world. The gearing, response and feedback have all the rivals beat. And steering, let’s face it, is a pretty vital component of how you enjoy a sports car. Especially since the 720S system gives you good feedback even at road-cornering speeds not just at the track limit.
But you need a track to explore things further. In very high-speed corners, active aero systems pin you down to the track, and off down the straights the appetite for speed is ridiculous.
Coming into a bend, the epic carbon brakes are only half the story. Aerodynamic trickery (the tail spoiler flips up near-vertical under brakes) and brilliant chassis geometry and damping all combine to keep the car stable. Then you can lean into the bend and find very gentle understeer. Or lift off the throttle and get the car to tuck more aggressively toward the corner apex. It’s all progressive and easily felt.
The rear tyres offer huge traction, but of course 530kW doesn’t have any trouble overcoming it. Out of a slow bend, then, you can move the tail of the car sideways. It transmits to you so much information that it’s easily balanced, with just a hint of oversteer. And the ESP system, in sports mode, lets you do that without interfering.
Or you can reduce the traction control in a series of stages, to the point where the car will let you spin if you don’t correct it. Ferrari’s side-slip system is more sophisticated than that, making the Ferrari an easier car to drift, if that’s your bag.
The chassis has adaptive systems that control the damping but also the roll stiffness. In the track mode it keeps everything very level, but also copes with fast bumps and dips. The old 650S would occasionally show a bit of pogo bouncing under brakes, but not here.
The sport and comfort modes – there’s no normal, ‘because we are never normal’ says McLaren – let the suspension breathe more over surface roughness. It copes with fast bumpy roads with great aplomb.
At town speed, you notice the fundamental stiffness in the springs, but because the damping can ease itself off, the car never feels harsh.
That’s the amazing other side to its character. It’s a cinch to drive smoothy in traffic. The powertrain relaxes, the throttle and gears aren’t snatchy, the brakes don’t jolt. And the all-round visibility is brilliant.
What about the safety features?
You won’t be surprised to learn ANCAP has better things to do with its budget than smash half-million-dollar supercars into its barrier.
However, it’s worth noting that in an accident, to be encased in a super-strong carbon-fibre tub is a vital asset. Aluminium crash structures front and rear absorb the crash energy while the tub stays rigid. Remember what expertise McLaren has in protecting racing drivers.
The brakes are off-the-dial brilliant, so you ought to be able to stop in time. But then, you might well have been going faster than everyone else…
The ESP and traction-control systems are very well-calibrated. But no other dynamic driver aids find their way onto the spec. McLaren isn’t like Porsche, which borrows radar-cruise and auto-brake and lane assist functions from the VW Group.
Visibility is great, as mentioned above. Rear or 360-degree cameras can be fitted. Also, the headlamps are good: strong LED lights with a set of different beam patterns according to the conditions.
Why would you buy one?
Because it does all a Ferrari does on a track. But it has a more convenient nature for day-to-day driving. You might argue that supercars aren’t meant to be convenient, but it’s nice to have the luxury of choice.