For a motoring enthusiast, it is the sort of situation that dreams are made of. Here we were at Broomhall House, near Dunfermline, and I was being asked which of the small group of McLarens I wanted to drive first.
The answer was obvious – it would be the new McLaren 720S please. “Which one do you want to drive? Performance or Luxury?, was the next question. Since we were standing in the magnificence of the “big house”, with replicas of the Elgin Marbles all around, it seemed appropriate to plump for a bit of luxury.
After all, I was in no doubt from previous experience
that McLaren could deliver performance aplenty. .
It is worth stopping to reflect that McLaren Automotive is barely seven years old, having been founded in 2010. Of course, the McLaren story goes back much further to the days when New Zealander Bruce McLaren set up the McLaren racing team. But – although McLaren had been involved in both the McLaren Mercedes project and the limited-edition McLaren F1 – McLaren’s real entry into the world of car production is that recent.
A relative newcomer it may be, but McLaren Automotive has already chalked up quite a business reputation. It has just been named Britain’s ‘Fastest Growing Company’ with sales of more than £649 million. Proudly profitable and independent, it is also a part of the £2.4 billion McLaren Technology Group, one of Britain’s largest privately-owned companies.
The new McLaren 720S is a product of that expertise and technology. It replaces the 650S, which I drove last year in Spider form last year
. McLaren cars come in three streams, starting with the ‘Sports Series’ McLaren 570 and 540 models. I particularly liked the McLaren 570GT which I also drove last year
The next step up the McLaren range is are the ‘Super Series’ cars. This is where the McLaren 720S resides.
Topping the McLaren Automotive range are the ‘Ultimate Series’ cars. This was domain of the McLaren P1, but that model is long sold out. A new model code named BP23 under development – but the bad news is that, some two years before its launch, it is also sold out.
As the second generation of the ‘Super Series’ the McLaren 720S sports a new look, but with enough of a family likeness to look quite obviously a McLaren.
The new design has given McLaren the opportunity to introduce a number of significant improvements. The new 720S has significantly improved aerodynamic efficiency and McLaren say that it delivers 50% more downforce than the 650S. A more obvious change is that the side air intakes have gone and the radiators now get their cooling air through ducts in the doors.
As I slid myself into the low-slung driving position, I was grateful for two of the many design improvements introduced with the 720S. Like all McLarens the 720S is built around a carbon-fibre central structure which the company calls a ‘Monocage’, soon to be produced at a brand new £50 million McLaren factory in Sheffield.
For the new 720S, McLaren says that ‘Monocage II’ is stronger and lighter than its predecessor. The improvement I was noticing was how the sills of the Monocage II have been pared down to make getting in and out a little bit easier. This easier entry is also enhanced by dihedral doors that open up into the roof.
With slimmer pillars too, every opportunity has been taken to give the 720S a significantly larger glass area, meaning that the McLaren 720S feels quite light and airy inside. This is more than just an impression. There is more space in the McLaren 720S.
I don’t know what I expected on my first experience of McLaren last year
, but I think I was expecting something that was quite stripped down and focussed on performance. This 720S luxury simply underlines, even more strongly, how the reality is of a sophisticated and quite luxurious sports car – almost a grand tourer.
The beautifully stitched leather would do credit to a luxury saloon and the dash panel just invites you to touch those gorgeous, milled-aluminium switches. You won’t find any components from a corporate parts bin in here. Everything, right down to those switches, the instruments and even the sat-nav, is bespoke McLaren.
A new feature on the 720S is the swivelling dashboard. If you are focussed on your McLaren’s lap times around a circuit, let’s say, you can swivel the dashboard, removing the distractions and leaving just the bare racetrack information needs – current gear, rev counter and speed.
The suspension has also seen a significant upgrade for the new model. ‘Proactive Chassis Control II’ benefits from improved sensors and a connected damper system that does away with the need for anti-roll bars. The system uses advanced algorithms developed by McLaren with the University of Cambridge. These algorithms assess the input from 12 additional sensors, including accelerometers at each corner and two pressure sensors on each damper.
Amazingly, all this mass of information is processed and reacted to in two milliseconds.
As you would expect you can choose various drive and set-up modes, but with only an hour to appraise the 720S I chose to spend most of the time driving, rather than fiddling with the settings. On the active dynamics panel you can select ‘Comfort’, ‘Sport’ or ‘Track’ modes. These modes match up chassis and powertrain settings to deliver performance focussed settings, such as ultra-rapid gearchanges and super taut suspension, or more relaxed settings for road use.
Drivers also have access to a ‘Variable Drift Control’ that allows drivers to adjust the attitude of the 720S – something to leave for a private test track, I think!
With all this technology, the ride is quite remarkable for such a performance-orientated car. Inevitably it was quite choppy at low speeds on the less-than-smooth tarmac driveways of Broomhall House. But, even without selecting the ‘comfort’ setting the 720S was quite remarkable in its ability to soak up the worst imperfections and yet provide a taut and flat attitude on the twists and curves of Fife’s by-ways.
The 720S rides low to the tarmac, which makes the “nose lift” option a wise investment if you are liable to encounter speed bumps or other raised surfaces. Flick the switch and the car rises to crest the raised surface, settling back to its optimal ride height when you get back to the open-road speeds.
Behind the driver’s left ear is the M480T twin-turbocharged V8, now increased to four litres capacity and with power boosted by more than 10% to the 720PS (about 710 bhp) output that gives this model its designation.
Torque is a meaty 568 lb/ft and the power-to-weight ratio is 561PS-per-tonne.
If all this suggests that the McLaren 720S is a bit of a handful to drive, then fear not. My first McLaren driving experience
taught me that McLarens are not only very driveable, but also thrilling and rewarding even at very sensible road-going speeds. So it is with the 720S. You just have to remember that the carbon ceramic brakes feel just a little lifeless and lacking in bite when you start off from cold.
Most of the time I left the auto box to do what it does best. I found there was little to be gained from using the gear paddles as the gearbox does its own expert downshifts for corners, roundabouts and stop lights. So much so that you wonder what form of extra sensory perception it has to know exactly what gear the driver wants in almost every situation.
This feeling of almost supernatural prediction is greater in the 720S, because it not only appears to “read the road”, but you could swear it knows when you are about to overtake, dropping down one or two of its seven gears to lift the revs and whisk you past swiftly and safely.
What makes this such a rewarding car for an enthusiast is the way the car sits on the tarmac and feeds back information through the fingertips and (cliché alert) the seat-of-the-pants. The McLaren 720S is a classic in this respect. The electro-hydraulic steering is sharp and precise. Perfectly weighted it feels alive in your hands as it feeds back vital information about the road surface, cornering forces and grip.
This feeling of perfect poise, grip and balance, combined with instant performance on tap, makes the McLaren 720S utterly thrilling to drive. Even at normal road speeds on a mixture of single track A and B roads this involving driving experience makes the McLaren 720S feel alive and exciting.
The McLaren 720S is the most outstanding road car I have ever driven. It responds instantly and precisely to the driver’s commands and rewards the driver with all the feedback needed to drive with confidence. When you do get the chance to open up the throttle, the response is an immediate burst of awesome, but controllable, power.
I had to keep reminding myself there was some 710 bhp under my right foot. I smiled when I recalled my early supercar experience in a Ferrari Testarossa. We remarked in hushed tones how it had “just” 390 bhp on tap from its flat 12. It was more of a hooligan, but I dare say that if I switched on track mode and played around with the settings the McLaren 720S could be more of a raw sports car too.
In the Testarossa days I was doing a motoring programme on the radio, so we wanted to record the Ferrari roar. A standing start produced an embarrassing pair of wide, black lines on the tarmac as the sound meter shot off the scale. I remember the breakfast DJ pleading for that clip to use as a “stab” on his show! But, I digress.
The McLaren 720S is deliberately more progressive in its responses. With prodigious power on tap, it will reach 62 mph in less than three seconds, 124 mph in 7.8 seconds and would apparently go on to complete the first quarter mile in just over ten seconds - quicker than many saloons and hatchbacks can get to 62 mph.
With its various options, the £218,020 price tag of the McLaren 720S Luxury price tag escalates to £263,190 on the test car. Yes, on the surface, that sounds a lot. But, stop and think what else you could get for that money.
You soon realise that the McLaren 720S is delivering comparable performance and driving pleasure to some cars that come with a significantly higher price ticket. Looked at that way, you could definitely argue that it offers real value-for-money.
You could make some savings on that, but I suspect most owners will want the exposed carbon fibre panels, the red brake callipers and the five twin-spoke wheels to make their 720S really look the part. Practicality and security might also make the vehicle nose lift, vehicle tracker, parking sensors and rear view camera sensible.
I also loved the 360-degree park assist. Using cameras around the vehicle – including under the door mirrors – the driver gets a remarkable ‘helicopter’ view of the car and its surroundings, when manoeuvring. Visibility from the driving seat of the 720S is much improved, but the last thing you want to do is devalue it by inflicting parking damage.
Now, if you will excuse me, I have a lottery ticket to buy… McLaren 720S Luxury
Carbon dioxide emissions: 249 g/km
Combined fuel economy 24.6 mpg
Top speed: 212 mph
0-62: 2.8 secs
Power 710 bhp
Engine size 3994cc petrol
Boot capacity 150/210 litres (front/rear)