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McLaren 720S review: Too close to perfection?

5

The Good

  • Fast is an understatement
  • Champion handling
  • Excellent ride quality

The Bad

  • More expensive than its rivals
  • Exhaust note could be better

The McLaren 720S is 710bhp of metal that aims to redefine the 'super' in supercar. But is the 650S replacement as involving as it is fast and what is the price, if any, you pay in the pursuit of perfection?

Having your cake and eating it. It's a phrase that most people are familiar with and yet the actual meaning, that you cannot be in possession of a cake once you have consumed it, is widely overlooked.

The meaning has, seemingly, evaded McLaren, too, for the 720S supercar is meant to fuse the everyday usability of the 570GT with the uncompromising, apex-nudging skills of the 675LT. Typically, this would be an either/or decision ─ not both.

But then the Audi R8 is a living, fire breathing example that the civilised supercar has been done before. McLaren's attempt is the 720S, which sits in the Super Series range below the Ultimate Series inhabited by the P1 hypercar, but above the Sports Series that houses the 540C and 570GT among other things.

It replaces the 650S and 91 per cent of the components are fresh so you could call it a new car and get away with it. Its spiritual successor, meanwhile, is the McLaren's first road car, the MP4-12C, which was met with mixed reception.

McLaren originally had the 'P14' codename for the 720S, but this was changed to fit with its current and sensible naming convention. The number equals the PS output, which in old money means the 720S has 710bhp. Or DCCX, if you were old and/or nerdy enough to study Latin. In one word, plenty.

Already the performance half of the 720S cake is looking promising and the 'M804T' 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8, sized up from the 3.8-litre in the 650S, sweetens the deal with 568lb/ft of torque from 5,500rpm.

Then there is the fact the 720S is 18kg lighter than the equivalent 650S, bringing the dry weight down to 1,283kg (1,419kg kerb weight ─ 133kg lighter than a Ferrari 488 GTB), partly thanks to a carbon fibre chassis so strong that McLaren simply rebuilds everything around it after a crash test.

You also get revised suspension of the Proactive Chassis Control II variety, which uses a hydraulically connected damper system, dual wishbones and independent adaptive dampers to soften road imperfections and provide stability.

As for the gears,a dual-clutch 'Seamless Shift' automatic gearbox provides seven gears and lightning quick changes, which can be done using paddles on the steering wheel if you so desire.

In short, the McLaren 720S has the sort of potency that would make a hurricane feel inadequate. And with a top speed of 212mph, it is almost as fast. So why did it leave the YouTube crowd cold when motoring journalists praised it for redefining the supercar?

Answering that question properly would require longer in the cockpit, but I had enough time to compare it to the 12C and the 650S I'd previously driven ─ the former an example of when a supercar is too capable for its own good. Is that the case for the 720S?

McLaren 720S review: What is it like to drive?

Easy as pie, once you have worked out to get into it. The sheer floor-hugging nature of the seats coupled with the lack of anything to really hold onto (the dihedral doors take part of the roof with them when open, Ford GT-style) make it somewhat challenging though not as difficult as it was in the 650S.

Not that I cared because I was about to drive a 710bhp supercar and because the cockpit is utterly brilliant at making you feel like you are inside a jet fighter. The fact my press car was brown – McLaren calls it 'Argon' but methane would have made more sense – was of zero concern.

Besides, sitting millimetres above the tarmac means the headroom is ridiculously generous, as is the all-round visibility. The wing mirrors, made from carbon fibre, are a decent size and you can see through the back window for reversing. Unless, of course, you choose to cram this useful void with luggage.

You can choose between Comfort, Sport and Track modes for the transmission and suspension, which have a noticeable effect on the 720S's ability to soak up road undulations, not that you need to because even track is bearable on bad roads.

Honestly, the 720S isn't just comfortable for a supercar. It puts many, many cars to shame including the BMW 5 Series we had recently, and it does this without being quite as sensible as the equally refined R8 V10 Plus.

Road noise is barely an issue either and the lack of cabin buttons makes it logical to use. When, for instance, was the last time you went in a car without buttons on the steering wheel? You can even get a 1,280w sound system for accompanying the engine note.

Perhaps the only unusual element is the digital dial display located behind the steering wheel, which is easy to read and folds down in track mode to reveal a rev counter. You could call the movement unnecessary, but technically all supercars are and it does mean you have fewer visual distractions.

You really could use the 720S as a daily driver and there would be no need for reconstructive spine surgery at the end of the year. McLaren has nailed the comfort element with ease, then, but what about going fast?

McLaren 720S review: The performance

If I had to pick a fault with the 720S, it is that the engine note is much less spectacular than that of the R8 and Lamborghini Huracan's naturally aspirated V10 or Ferrari's V8. It is, however, vastly more exciting to listen to than a 12C and livelier than a 650S.

The engine revs all the way to 8,100rpm in first and second gear and 8,200 for the next five, which is ridiculous for a V8. At that point, the cabin is alive with a delightfully purposeful turbo whoosh you never tire of.

Performance is where the 720S stands tallest because it offers ballistic pace. Cannon ball fired out of a cannon and you are the cannon ball type stuff. There have been unofficial 0-62mph times of around 2.6 seconds, below McLaren's conservative 2.9, which is just astonishing.

Around the sub three-second 0-62mph mark, the sensation of acceleration changes. Cars such as the McLaren 720S and Tesla Model S P100D cause a likable discomfort – the sort you get from a fairground ride.

The intensity of the speed and the forces acting on your body are so potent that your brain struggles to process what is going on and you end up clinging on for dear life until your internal organs can catch up.

0-124mph is meant to take the 720S 7.8 seconds, but you would never know because by that point your face will have melted into a puddle on the leather seat. And you are now attached to what was the car in front.

You can also do a quarter-mile in 10.4 seconds, half a second faster than the Ferrari 488 GTB and two-tenths slower than the 903bhp McLaren P1 hypercar. And if feeling particularly mean, you can beat a 488 GTB to 170mph ─ even if it has a three-second headstart.

There is some turbo lag, but the car gets to the 4,000rpm mark fast and at this point the mid-range punches like Lennox Lewis. This makes the 720S feel faster than the R8, but it also means you have to be careful because the back-end can lose grip very easily. There is no quattro system to save you.

In some ways, the outright pace changes the way you attack it. In lesser McLarens, you can get away with full acceleration and pushing your luck (a bit). In the 720S, 30 per cent throttle means annihilating the UK's legal limit in the time it takes to sneeze.

That makes it no less exciting, but it does mean you have to treat it with respect. It's considerably twitchier and, in the wet, requires a delicate touch. And yet it never fully scares you like supercars of yesteryear could.

As for cornering, you get the sense the 720S would yawn if it had a mouth because you would need to be mad to get anywhere near its limit on public roads. It will go round corners faster than almost anything on four wheels, with sticky Pirelli P Zero tyres partly to blame.

McLaren has shunned your typical electronic steering system in favour of hydraulics, providing the driver with generous feedback. There is a nice mix of weightiness and precision that makes the 720S so rewarding and so natural to steer.

Braking is also excellent, with the carbon ceramic discs able to stop it from 124mph to standing in 4.6 seconds and 186-0 in 6.9 seconds while there is enough pedal feel for scrubbing off speed however fast you want.

Overall, the 720S is virtually impossible to fully utilise in the real world but having a go is never, ever anything but rewarding. A Ferrari 488 GTB offers more drama, but a mixture of the sheer level of concentration required to drive it and mind-bending pace overcomes the issue.

McLaren 720S review: UK price and running costs

If you think of the McLaren 720S as almost a hypercar, the £218,020 price tag is a bargain really, especially as there are relatively few times you would ever want to leave it at home. But a 488 GTB is cheaper, as is an R8 V10 Plus and a Porsche 911 Turbo S.

Then there is the fact the 720S ─ like most supercars ─ can made even more expensive with little effort. You have to pay £2,730 for the electric and heated memory seats, complete with the rather well hidden seat control location used in the 650S.

Parking sensors on the front and rear, meanwhile, are £1,000. The vehicle lift for raising the front end of the car to avoid damaging it? That is £2,070. Rear view camera is another £1,030. Carbon fibre seats cost £3,540 and the visible carbon fibre body bits cost £3,990. A £300,000 720S is possible.

You can have the McLaren 720S in two versions: Luxury and Performance. The eight-inch infotainment system and carbon ceramic brakes are standard for both, which is nice, but you will have to pay around £5,000 for a sports exhaust if you crave more noise.

Thanks to stop and start technology and CO2 emissions of 249g/km, the 720S can be moderately frugal. 17.9mpg around town is good for a car with 710bhp, after all, the around the early 20s on a motorway will be enough for most supercar owners.

McLaren 720S review: Should I buy one, then?

If we had this much money to spend on an exotic car, we would be seriously tempted. I got out of the 720S in awe of its abilities while working out if I could finance one and whether I really need four walls and a roof. You don't really, do you?

The infotainment system could be a bit savvier, admittedly, and there is a whiff of the clinical element seen in the 12C and 650S, but the 720S never fails to astonish regardless of what it is doing. A touch of drama is the price you pay for having everything else, including a stunning design.

Simply put, the 720S is the closest thing to motoring perfection you can get without having to pay three times as much for a hypercar. Now where did I put my pastry fork?

Key Specs

  • 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 'M804T' petrol
  • 710bhp (720PS) at 7,500rpm
  • 568lb/ft (770Nm) at 5,500rpm
  • 0-62mph in 2.9 seconds (top speed 212mph)
  • 249g/km of CO2
  • Claimed 26.4mpg (combined)
  • From £218,020 (inc VAT)

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