Why we’re running it: We know the 720S is one of the world’s greatest driving machines. But is it an equally rewarding car with which to live?
Life with a McLaren 720S: Month 2
British hypercar meets Italian one – 3rd April 2019
Few cars make the 720S feel normal, but the Lamborghini Aventador SVJ that came to visit is one of them. It comes with an even greater sense of occasion and a much better noise. But the McLaren is massively easier to operate, puts you at ease and would be quicker point to point, at least with me at the wheel. It’s more than £100,000 cheaper too…
Our car beat all-comers but still was upstaged at Silverstone – 20th March 2019
I hadn’t really planned to take the 720S on the track so soon, and for two reasons: the car was still running in and still fitted with mud and snow tyres. Normally, I’d not have gone anywhere near Silverstone that day.
But this was no normal track day. Instead it was hosted by Mission Motorsport, a forces charity in which I have some small involvement. If you’re interested, they help former service personnel (and their families), many suffering from terrible physical injuries and many more bearing often even more disabling mental health problems. The mantra is ‘race, retrain, recover’ and, in the seven short years it has existed, the charity has found employment for nearly 150 beneficiaries, with over 1700 others finding work through its wide-ranging programmes. Promo over.
Anyway, the order of the day was for those of us with interesting cars to give passenger rides to beneficiaries who might otherwise never hope to sit in something truly exotic. And they turned up in force: in one garage alone there was a Senna, a Porsche 918 Spyder and a new Ford GT, plus the head Ford of Europe’s product communications in a Raptor pick-up, which I thought showed some form. And at home I had the choice of the 720S or my daughter’s 1-litre Aygo. So I did what you’d have done.
I didn’t have to wait for customers. One look at the 720S set beneficiaries running, hobbling or wheeling towards it. Once in, I then had to spoil it by explaining that the car was on rubber designed for snow, not Silverstone, and I’d not be able to use all the revs. Whereupon the 720S went out and, without doing more than 6000rpm, made mincemeat of everything out there.
Part of the secret was those tyres: Silverstone was soaking and it was like having a set of wets while everyone else was struggling on slicks. The bloke with the Ford GT – a Le Mans standard racing driver – came over and said he simply couldn’t believe how quickly the McLaren had come past. And, idiot that I am, I told him about the tyres. Otherwise, I might now be his team-mate.
But there was more to the car’s performance than that: even making reasonable allowance for its rubber, the confidence given by this mid-engine quasi-hypercar in atrocious conditions was ridiculous: even with all the electronics turned off, it never gave me an instant’s alarm.
Yet the 720S was not what I remember most. It was meeting Laura Nuttall, the 19-year-old girl who dreamed of joining the navy, went for her medical and discovered she had inoperable brain cancer. She was cheerful, fun and laughed like a drain when we slid sideways through Stowe. She was not at Silverstone to be flung around a track by me, but to drive an HGV and tick it off her all-too-real bucket list. But I think we were able to provide a few moments of amusement in the meantime. I had to go before she drove the truck and I doubt she’s an Autocar reader but, if someone who is knows her, please tell her I hope it was all she ever wanted it to be.
Heading home to Wales, it was with thoughts of her courage and dignity alone in my head. Cars are great and this one of the very greatest but, right there and then, I could have been in anything in the world.
HOW USABLE IT IS Levels of comfort and quietness at a cruise are simply outstanding for a car of this potential.
POOR DAB RECEPTION It can’t be easy as a carbonfibre tub and aluminium body probably doesn’t make the best aerial.
The right tyres make all the difference – 6th March 2018
One point of having the 720S for an extended period is to see how it copes with all the stuff you don’t read about in road tests. Like deep snow. On Pirelli Sotto Zero mud and snow tyres, the answer is brilliantly. I roamed around the countryside with barely a slip. I then took out a four-wheel-drive SUV on normal tyres and scared myself significantly.
Life with a McLaren 720S: Month 1
We’ve six – count ’em, six – months to see what real life with a supercar is actually like – 20th February 2019
It has been my very happy lot these 30 years or more to drive a large number of bona fide supercars and what we now call hypercars, and to have my impressions of them published on these pages. But these have all been necessarily fleeting engagements.
Lacking the means to drop a substantial six-figure sum into a form of vehicular transport, I’ve always been aware that however well I might feel I’ve understood the way any one of these eclectic machines might behave on the road, I’ve not really had any experience of what one might be like to live with.
Which is why there is now an Aurora Blue McLaren 720S parked outside my house. Over the next six months, I’m going to get to see the other side of the supercar. Sure, I’ll take it to the mountains and a track or two but, to be honest, I already have a good idea what those experiences will be like. They will coruscating and life-affirming, but also familiar to someone as lucky as me.
I’m just as interested in the other stuff, of which I have little or no idea at present. How will I come to regard the attention it will inevitably attract? What will it be like in heavy traffic or after hours on the motorway, and where will I be happy to leave it? Will I stop worrying about its width and damaging those hideously expensive wheels?
Most of all, I guess, is how much of its potential will I be able to use? Will I find its ability to overtake almost anything almost anywhere offset by the fact that it’ll never be long before it catches up with the next lot of traffic? Personally, I am excited beyond words by the prospect of spending so much time with such a car but, professionally, I think it’s going to be fascinating, too.
In the meantime, allow me to show you around. Y27 MCL is brand new, with just 395 miles under its Pirelli Sotto Zero mud and snow tyres. Not being my car, I didn’t have much choice over the specification, but was able to give a general guide as to what I’d like (as well as choose the late Gilles Villeneuve’s race number for its personalised plate. He was my childhood hero and raced for McLaren in Formula 1, so it seemed apt). Which was a fairly discreet car with a modest list of options. The only thing I asked for was a front axle lift, because otherwise I’d have damaged it every time I drove it to my home down a bumpy lane in the Welsh borders.
What turned up was a car with the Luxury Specification pack, which means leather extending over the dashboard and storage areas behind the seats. It also has heated, electrically adjustable seats, which I was pleased to see: McLaren’s racier carbonfibre buckets are excellent at keeping you rooted to the spot on the track but less suited to a large middle-aged driver on a long run.
For a car like this, the options count is indeed somewhat restrained, although still not cheap. Over £10k went on forged wheels and a sports exhaust alone. Other than that, the paint added £1940, orange calipers a further £1140 and the nose lifter £2200.
Then there’s the 360deg aerial view of the car when parking (£4720) and one last grand went on an Alcantara wheel and a car cover. Were I speccing it myself, I’d probably have the wheels, nose lift and Alcantara wheel although I must admit to a sneaking admiration for those orange calipers.
All it lacks is the 12-speaker sound upgrade because the standard four-speaker system is adequate but not much more. But even as it is, £21,590 on options will be well below what most owners will spend.
I collected it from Rybrook Specialist Cars, where McLaren has its Bristol dealership, and was given a comprehensive walk-around by general sales manager Ross Thorley. Little things stood out: there’s no fuel cap to unscrew, and no fiddly bonnet latch to worry about. Just press the button on the key or in the car and up it pops.
The ergonomics and the way the displays work are so much better than in earlier McLarens and the controls for the active dynamics panel are at last of the quality you’d expect for a car like this. It’s also even easier to fall into and climb out of than not just any other McLaren but also the similarly carbonfibre-tubbed, dihedral-door BMW i8 I ran a couple of years ago.
And that’s about it for now. I’ve driven it only briefly since, for the photographs you see here, and am diligently observing the running-in schedule, which calls for gentle operation for the first 625 miles. Even so, I can already feel the traction control holding the car back almost all the time: I’m sure the Sottos will be excellent should it snow, but the motor has so much torque that even merely moderate applications of throttle in quite high gears can set the little warning light flashing furiously.
The Sottos stay for now, because I am driving it to Switzerland in early March, after which it will be fitted with some rubber altogether better suited to its hypercar potential. After which I expect I’ll need to get to know it all over again. At least I hope so.
The potential for shattered dreams is considerable when running a supercar – firing up the engine often, coping with terrible weather and crap roads, with the car’s performance muzzled for more mundane trips. I have faith in the 720S, though. For ergonomics and visibility, it’s arguably the best of its breed, and the damping is eerily sympathetic for a car with cast-iron body control on the track. If a ‘daily driver’ can ever tout a mid-mounted V8, this is it.
McLaren 720S Luxury specification
Specs: Price New £224,990 Price as tested £246,580 OptionsExterior special paint (Aurora Blue) £1940, sports exhaust £4900, 10-spoke super-lightweight forged alloy wheels £4520, Stealth wheel finish £1170, McLaren orange brake calipers £1140, steering wheel with carbon black Alcantara rim £520, 360deg parking assistance £4720, nose lifter £2200, car cover £480
Test Data: Engine V8, 3994cc, twin-turbo, petrol Power 710bhp at 7500rpm Torque 568lb ft at 5500rpm Kerb weight 1419kg Top speed 212mph 0-62mph 2.8sec Fuel economy 23.2mpg CO2 276g/km Faults None Expenses None