If you’re not among the supercar cognoscenti, you might — MIGHT — be forgiven for not recognizing a McLaren on the street. After all, for the past 50 years, the British manufacturer made its name primarily with Formula 1 race cars (1993’s one-off, mind-blowing, street-legal McLaren F1 notwithstanding).
But for the past seven years, they’ve been busily pumping their race-bred technological heritage into adrenalin-rushing two-seaters for the consumer market. And those in the know, know that McLaren goes head-to-head with big names like Ferrari, Lamborghini, Aston Martin and Porsche.
The lineup’s latest, and arguably best yet — the 720S.
Let’s start with its looks. Gone are the side-mounted air intakes, replaced by unfussy body panels for a sleekly futuristic profile. From the predatory front to the jet-fighter canopy to the menacing rear with high-mounted exhaust pipes and intimidating rear spoiler, the 720S screams “cool.”
But boy, is it hot. The 720S’s twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 cranks out 710 heartily smooth horses (the “720” comes from the European metric horsepower designation, which is slightly different than ours), and is good for 568 pound-feet of torque. Strap that to the 720’s mere 2,128 dry pounds of mass — which includes a superlative suspension, a lightning-fast dual clutch seven-speed transmission and F1 handling technology — and you’ve got one astonishingly gorgeous scorcher that’s as much fun to drive as it is to look at.
Open the gullwing-style doors — “dihedral” in the parlance — and ease into the rich, leather-clad cabin, finished with sporty aluminum switches. Visibility is awesome — a quick glance reveals the world around you with stunning greenhouse clarity.
Did we say comfortable? Yes, but cozy fits too. You’ll rub shoulders with your passenger but there’s good legroom, plenty more than on most airliners. Seats are supportive, which is a necessity in a car that rockets from zero to 60 mph in just 2.8 seconds. Or hits 124 mph in 7.8 seconds and 186 mph in 21.4 seconds, with a top speed of 212 mph.
Sound terrific? Let’s go! Hit the start button and enjoy the refined, burbling exhaust note. Too refined? The optional sport exhaust system announces arrival and departure times with ferocity.
Then again, ferocity can become tedious. And this is where the 720S shows its split personality. While capable of blistering performance, it can also double as a relatively docile domestic.
This becomes most apparent in the car’s handling characteristics, which makes allowances for the limits of mere non-F1-driving mortals. Thanks to the hydraulic roll-control system, electro-hydraulic steering and a new stability system called McLaren Variable Drift Control, drivers can explore the car’s agility while keeping its seemingly endless intensity in check.
Why is that good? Frankly, the 720S has more to give than most drivers can probably take. Mashing the pedal to the (quite plush) carpet and accelerating through a tight curve, for example. Even when the driver feels like gravity’s laws are surely being pushed too far, this new McLaren feels epoxied to the road.
But around town, the 720S conducts itself with decorum when in the “Comfort” setting in the newest generation of McLaren’s active chassis system, Proactive Chassis Control II. (The others are “Track” and “Sport.”) Voilà! You’re ready for Central Market’s parking lot.
There’s even room to store your purchases in the shelf behind the rear seats or the nose trunk. Just don’t buy watermelons and bulk paper towels.
One last bit of cool, as if it were needed — walking up to the 720S engages a “Welcome Sequence” that unfolds the mirrors, turns on the indicator and courtesy lights and illuminates the engine bay with a red McLaren “Speedmark” logo on top of the engine.
The 720S starts at just a hair under $290,000 and the price rises depending on your choice of optional Performance or Luxury trim packages and interiors by British luxury leather specialists Bridge of Weir. There’s also a range of carbon fiber add-on parts, both interior and exterior, along with a rainbow of 20 colors, but the best has got to be the shimmery McLaren Orange.
Take note, sportscar cognoscenti — McLaren’s 720S is about to raise awareness of this remarkable marque beyond your clubby clique.
Brian Melton inherited his love of cars from his mom: She drove, with an unrepentant lead foot, several T-Birds, a black Jag MK-2 and a much-loved silver Mercedes 450SL.
Where to shop:
Park Place McLaren
5300 Lemmon Ave, Dallas, TX 75209