It’s no secret that I don’t mind Woking’s machines, particularly the McLaren 720S . I’ve driven (almost) everything but the Ultimate Series cars and being stuck here in the back-end of nowhere in Australia makes that difficult. That’s okay – you can’t have everything.
I first drove a 720S in July 2017 – McLaren very kindly whisked me to the Goodwood Festival of Speed via the Woking factory. Straight off the plane, into a bus, quick tour of the McLaren Technology Centre and boom, into a 720S. Left-hand drive. Pre-production. On roads I didn’t know. With a bloke I’d never met.
My mind was, obviously, blown. This was something I’d never experienced before. Wait. Not true.
I’d experienced it before – terror. Wide-eyed, white-knuckled terror. The first time I felt that was in a Ferrari f12berlinetta, a handful at the best of times, but as it had just spent a weekend at Sydney Motorsport Park, the tyres were bald. And it rained the day I had it. But I loved it.
In the same way, I fell in love with the 720S. I wanted badly to drive it on roads I know. Over eighteen months later, it happened. And while the feeling of that initial terror had faded, nothing else had.
Words: Peter Anderson
Photographer and co-pilot: Matthew Hatton
Colour namer: Mark Dewar
McLaren 720S Look and Feel
The 720’s exterior is flat-out wonderful. While those blacked-out headlight sockets take some getting used to, they really work for me. This colour – an MSO “special” – is called Ceramic Grey. A mate, who is not normally given to flights of fancy, reckons it should have been called Lavender Stardust. I’m with him, actually. He’s the bloke with whom I exchange endless banter about grey cars looking unpainted (he is against, I am for).
The glass canopy looks amazing. It reminds me (let me just reach out for my walking frame) of the amazing Mitsubishi HSR-II concept car from 1989. And that’s not even slightly insulting – that car looked like it was from another planet and still does. The 720’s doors are way better, though.
The 720S cabin is a big step up on the earlier efforts in the 540C/570S Sport Series range. While there’s little wrong with those cabins – most supercar interiors are quite sparse and better for it – the 720S has a bit more room to play with.
The structures feel more solid and everything looks a bit more made to fit. There was just one squeak in this car, which I fixed by lifting the electric driver’s seat a millimetre or two off the floor. Sorted.
The 720’s dash (shared with the Senna) is a very clever thing indeed. In normal driving, it’s a full panel of TFT goodness, displaying everything you need to know. Select reverse and there’s a reversing camera that actually works. The 570S I drove last year had a horrifically bad reversing camera. Press a button or switch to Active Modes (more on that later), the panel folds down and a second screen installed on the top of the panel’s housing. This small strip shows the bare minimum – gear, revs and speed, with a bit of extra forward vision. It’s super-cool.
The amount of Alcantara in this cabin is perfect, as is the judicious use of orange flashes (some of it optional, of course). I’m a big fan of McLaren’s Papaya Orange, so that was always going meet with my approval. The materials are lovely otherwise, everything works and even the carpets feel pretty good. Because you sit so low, you notice the carpets.
McLaren 720S Drivetrain
McLaren seals its M840T twin-turbo V8 away under a hatch with a grille and it’s hard up against the rear of the carbon fibre Monocage. Here in the 720S it’s slightly larger by 200cc, moving to 4.0-litres. McLaren says the components are 40 percent new compared to the 650S’ power plant.
Power is a mind-boggling 537kW (720PS) and torque a colossal 770Nm. 0-100km/h (0-62mph) arrives in just 2.9 seconds and 0-200km/h (0-124mph) is a scant 7.8 seconds. Top speed is stupendous 341km/h.
Slung behind the engine is a seven-speed transaxle found in every other McLaren, operated by a rocker paddle setup behind the steering wheel.
The 720S uses the company’s Monocage II carbon tub. Key differences to the original tub include less vertiginous sills aiding entry and exit but it’s lighter. The windscreen surround is now full carbon fibre and all the usual changes combine for a stiffer, lighter platform. Good start.
McLaren’s fabled open diff returns to keep weight down but still amaze. Instead of a heavy, complicated active diff (not knocking them, they’re ace when done right), McLaren uses a super-advanced version of the brake steer tech the FIA banned in Formula 1 way back in 1997’s MP4/12 racer.
Proactive Chassis Control II underpins the car’s behaviour. The fundamental suspension package is by double wishbones front and rear with independent adaptive dampers. Predictably, the computer system is hugely powerful and talks endlessly to a plethora of sensors scattered around the car.
Front wheels are 19-inch and the rears are 20s, with 720S-specific P-Zero Corsa rubber from Pirelli.
McLaren provides great assistance to destroy those big rear tyres – Vehicle Drift Control. Switch off ESC and the VDC menu becomes available – tap Activate and a hilarious diagram pops up with a slider, allowing you to decide how much rope the car gives you, like Ferrari’s side-slip control. You still have to know how to do it, of course. It doesn’t drift for you.
The aero package is something else. It looks so different to other supercars. There’s a couple of reasons for that – McLaren has less historical baggage in the styling department but also a quite different approach to aero. While many supercars have an out and proud set of wings and bits, Rob Melville and his team have hidden a lot of it in the styling cues.
Instead of a huge rear wing permanently ruining your rearward vision, it’s integrated into the bodywork, rising only when required. Having said that, when it’s up, it’s huge. It appears when you select the right mode or when you hit the brakes hard. It’s kind of cool that you won’t see the unsuspecting texting teenager running into the back of you under hard braking.
Underneath it’s all fared away and flat. Open the doors and you see a huge channel takes air flowing over the nose and around the windscreen.
The brakes are massive carbon ceramics, with six-piston forged aluminium calipers at the front and four pistons at the back. Stopping distance from 100km/h is just 30 metres in the dry. Hauling down from 200km/h happens in just 122 metres. The front discs are a massive 390mm, the rears 380mm.
Of course, they’re ABS-assisted and the rears double as the stability and traction controls.
It’s difficult to describe the McLaren 720S. There’s all this banal, easy stuff like telling you it’s comfortable, the doors are easy to open and close and getting in and out is made easier by the way the doors cut in toward a sort of targa bar.
Here in Australia, all that glass isn’t too flash – it makes the cabin extraordinarily hot during summer. And fair-skinned people like me need to wear a hat, instantly rendering me a classic YouTuber. At any time it looks like I’m going to make a stupid hand gesture and ask if I should buy this or something else.
Anyway. It’s a great cabin. And you sit in a terrific position, so low yet with plenty of vision. As ever the pedals sprout from the floor and yes, the brake pedal feels like it needs a good shove. Switch to left-foot braking, problem solved. It’s uncanny how the brake pressure is so annoying for the right footer in me, but completely natural for the closet leftie.
And the 720S takes the incredible ride quality from the 570S, adds some wheelbase and makes it even better. Like the Sport Series cars, its ridiculously easy to live with, riding and handling in Comfort mode like a well set-up BMW, only better. It feels light and always feels ready. Crucially, it isn’t hounding you to go faster. The 720S is quite happy for you to be you. No rush. Get there when you want, the high way or the low way. Up to you.
This is where this car makes its claim to greatness – pick your path and it goes with you. Take the highway and it’ll be a little noisy but otherwise comfortable. The automatic mode will slip through the gears to seventh, tyre roar replacing induction.
Take the coast road and that glass canopy takes nothing from experience. Again, the ride will love you back and the twist and turns despatched with ease, a roll of the wrists on the beautifully-weighted steering wheel.
Get on it
Take the back road, press the Active button and work your way from Comfort, to Sport to Track. Again, the 720S is right there for you. It is by far the most stable platform of any supercar I’ve driven. And it’s brutally, viscerally fast. While there is turbo lag, that’s all forgotten once the boost is up and you’re crushed in your seat.
Even brave passengers will find the way the speed builds deeply unsettling – to them the rush of torque feels uncontrolled. It won’t to you. It will feel wild but eminently tameable. It’s like a cartoon mouse that takes a deep breath and the resulting noise is like a ship’s horn blast.
In Track mode, the 720S is wild – the steering is perfection, the stability unimpeachable and difficult (without drift control) to unsettle. Because the suspension keeps the tyres in actual contact with the ground rather than letting you hop around, it feels like the wheels, particularly the fronts, are superglued to the tarmac, whatever the surface.
You get confidence in most supercars but the McLaren gives you the confidence of a buff reality star in front of the camera, except it’s entirely warranted.
What I do want, though, is more noise. A flat-plane crank anything is glorious but the exhaust exits are a long way away from your ears and you can only hear it in tunnels. When you do, it’s great, but I want more. More, I tell you.
As much as I love the Italians and a German, it’s the McLaren 720S that does the best job of the lot. Epic power, amazing looks, incredible comfort but tied to a track-ready chassis that will leave most things for dead.
While that’s very much down to what you like – I’d have any of them in a heartbeat – the McLaren speaks to me in a way no other supercar can.
|(March 2019)||McLaren 720S||Performance/Luxury Spec|
Peter Anderson is the Editor and founder of the theredline.com.au. He’s been writing about cars for years and finds it difficult to talk about anything else.