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 3
Cleaning up isn’t a chore any more - 29th May 2019
I’ve never said this about another car, but jet-washing the McLaren is almost a pleasure. Running a foam brush over its flanks reminds you of how complex is its bodywork and how everything is there for an aerodynamic purpose. Then you can point the high pressure lance over its nose and watch how the spray flows over the car, almost like you’re in your own mini wind tunnel.
In need of a dust buster - 15th May 2019
There’s a dip in the car’s rear spoiler where stuff just seems to collect. When the car is frozen, it’s superb at making ice Frisbees, although I’m not sure that’s what the aero department quite had in mind. If the car’s been left standing for a while, all manner of detritus seems to accumulate. No big deal, but a small example of the law of unintended consequences.
An opportunity to try an in-house alternative - 1st May 2019
Interesting few days in a 570S while the 720S had its winter tyres changed for summer ones. The less expensive car is prettier and probably no slower on public roads, but the 720S has a better interior and far superior ride quality and is, as a result, a far more usable every-day car. Still love the 570S but, if I could, I’d find the extra for the upgrade.
Life with a McLaren 720s: Month 2
A lone road trip to Geneva in one tasty gulp? It doesn’t get any better - 10th April 2019
As it turns out, I live precisely 750 miles away from the centre of Geneva, otherwise known as a nice leg stretch for a car like the McLaren 720S. Most years, I fly out to attend the motor show held there. But not this time.
There was no question of doing it over two days or having anyone beside me. There is probably nothing I like more than big, single-stint drives done solo. Indeed, I find I become more selfish the better the mode of transport. It’s hard to tell colleagues they can’t cadge a free lift when you’ve got three spare passenger seats, but somewhat easier when there’s just one and probably not enough space for two people and all their show-going luggage.
Telling them you’re leaving at 3am helps too. Which, of course, you can do if you drive alone, just as you can listen to what you like, when you like and at whatever volume. No one is ever going to utter those most awful words: ‘Could we just pop into the next services for a quick coffee?’
So I did indeed leave at 3am, and by 3pm was parked up in Geneva simply staggered by how good the 720S had been over the intervening 12 hours.
The single most important point to grasp is how easy this car is to live with. On motorways it rides beautifully, the engine quiet enough, the visibility around it quite outstanding. Boring but important things like the Bluetooth, ventilation, heated seats and touchscreen all work well, even if the nav graphics are somewhat state of the ark. The instruments are superb, but actually I usually rotated the main screen downwards, leaving just the strip rev counter and digital speed read-out. Over very long distances, it’s more relaxing on the eyes than all that usually needless information.
The other thing you can do if you’re on your own is go over rather than around the mountains. So instead of driving down to Mâcon and turning left, I headed south-east from Dijon to Dole and into the Jura. It was a Sunday, the roads were deserted and I think it’s safe to say the 720S had been fully exercised by the time we got to Geneva.
On that last leg, it was not what it did that was so impressive, but rather what it did in the context of its earlier behaviour over the motorway that placed it on a level no other supercar I know has reached. Sure, there are a number of fast cars that would dismiss the motorway section of such a trip with equal contempt, and perhaps there are a handful that would have proven no less mesmerising over the mountain passes. But both? I don’t think so.
It was also the journey on which I stopped being kind to its still fresh motor and asked it to start earning its keep. Such is its strength that straights don’t really exist when you’re using it properly. You see the straight, hit the accelerator, pull a paddle, mutter an expletive and brake for the corner at the end. That’s it.
A couple of years back, I did the same trip in a 650S and, while I really enjoyed it, I wasn’t sad to hop out at the end. I was tired and I ached a little, as you might expect after so long alone in the saddle. But it just doesn’t happen in the 720S. It’s the one car I’ve done a big distance in of late where I didn’t want the journey to end, not even after 750 miles. Happily for me, I got to do it all over again three days later on the way home. Except this time I did the mountains in the middle of the night, an experience that will live on in my mind long after the 720S has gone to find a new owner.
In the meantime, it’s going to shed its winter rubber and slip on some summer shoes. More of which next time.
Great all-rounder I’ve driven it on mountains, motorways and lanes, in sun and snow, and not yet found an environment it doesn’t suit.
Short of a gear I’d not change the seven it has, but a long eighth would be good to save fuel on long runs, extend the range and improve refinement, too.
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