Robin Barnard's unique museum of motoring memorabilia was housed in…
McLaren’s stunning new 720s sets out to stir the soul as well as pummel the senses
Absurd as this may sound, the one complaint levelled at the McLaren 720S’s predecessors tended to be that they lacked drama.
On the face of it, this is an utterly ridiculous allegation to level at a family of cars where the slowest offering had a top speed of 204 mph and a price tag in excess of £168,000. But the culture at McLaren has always been a little different to other supercar makers.
Established in its current form in 2010, McLaren Automotive is a separate entity to the Formula 1 team that spawned it. At its heart, though, there’s the same slavish dedication to excellence; a desire to be quantifiably and irrefutably the best that’s led some to accuse the company of being a tad clinical. While one of its Italian counterparts might knock back its fourth doppio espresso, scream at the top of its lungs and then head for the hills in a flurry of engine revs and tyre smoke, the equivalent McLaren was often seen as a bit more demure. At least, until now.
You can almost imagine the sound of [former McLaren F1 team boss] Ron Dennis’s teeth grinding as the designers and engineers set out to create a more emotional car with the 720S. It’s still recognisably a McLaren, but here is a car with a whole lot more visual theatre than the 12C that founded its dynasty (or even the much-improved 650S that followed).
The body looks like it’s been shrink-wrapped over the chassis’ muscular haunches, while the afterburner-style exhaust pipes would put Bruce Wayne’s Batmobile to shame. It’s a far more intricate piece of automotive sculpture than the car it replaces. And that’s no bad thing, given a starting price of £208,600 (add in a few options and you could easily be looking at £250,000).
It’s a similar story inside. There are a lot more layers and textures in the interior than before, which give it a more handcrafted feel. Indeed, those with particularly deep pockets can access an almost limitless number of personalisation options through McLaren’s Special Operations department.
The most extraordinary thing about the 720S is its performance, however. The name – in case you were wondering – is a reference to its power output of 720 metric horsepower (710 hp in old money). That’s six times the power output of a family hatchback in something that weighs a quarter of a tonne less. Nought to 60 mph takes just 2.8 seconds on the way to a top speed of 212 mph. Coming from pretty much anything this side of a Ferrari 488 GTB, the performance requires complete mental recalibration. Even then, the McLaren is palpably quicker.
You need a stretch of straight road, a steady nerve and a very flexible attitude to speed limits in order to keep the accelerator pinned to the floor for more than a fraction of a second. But even on a slightly damp British B-road it’s possible to experience the full warp speed effect, albeit for brief periods. In other words, this is performance taken to just the right level of excess.
Perhaps more impressively, it still feels genuinely special at lower speeds too. Drive it using a quarter of the throttle travel and it feels like a slightly larger Lotus Elise. There’s the same beautifully textured feedback through the steering, similarly incisive responses when you turn into a corner and a wonderful sense of balance and composure.
As with its predecessors, the 720S uses a hydraulically-interlinked suspension system that does away with the need for conventional anti-roll bars. What this means is that the McLaren miraculously manages to blend iron-fisted body control with a ride quality that’s almost limo-like in the softest of its three settings. Combined with a clever traction control system – switchable if you’re feeling brave – it makes this 710 hp rocket sled ridiculously approachable.
For the lucky few this is a car that you could genuinely use every day too. There’s a front-mounted boot, which is approaching useable at 150 litres, a decent-sized parcel shelf behind the seats and an optional nose-lift system that takes the terror out of speed bumps.
Visibility is startlingly good for a mid-engined supercar. As if to demonstrate this, we stop mid-way through the test drive so I can swap seats with a fellow journo. Helpfully, he parks the McLaren nose-in to a parking space just off a busy main road. You would take your life in your hands reversing out in any other supercar, but the McLaren takes it all in its stride. We then shuffle off down the road with the seven-speed dual clutch gearbox quietly doing its own thing and the 720S proving no more taxing than a family saloon.
There are still a few drawbacks, though. While the 720S is undoubtedly a more engaging car to drive than its predecessors, the soundtrack is still curiously industrial. Only when you get to the upper echelons of the rev range does the twin turbo 4-litre V8 really start to make itself known, with a hard-edged mechanical growl, underscored by the whoosh of the turbos. It’s a purposeful noise, but not an especially melodic one.
So the Italians (and the Germans) still hold the upper hand when it comes to operatic prowess. In all other respects, though, the McLaren 720S sets a new supercar benchmark. So much so that it starts to look like a bit of a bargain. To go any faster you’d need to step up to £1+ million hypercar territory inhabited by the likes of the Bugatti Chiron and McLaren’s own P1. The 720S is so good you might even question the need to do so.