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 4
Every enthusiast should have a 720S in their dream three-car garage - 10th July 2019
It is, I think, an issue with which most of us have wrestled in those quiet moments when we choose to set aside the real lives we lead and briefly, if only in the space between our ears, go and live another.
It’s a world where you fill up on the motorway because you’re so rich you don’t care that you’re being fleeced to the tune of 20 pence per litre compared with the garage round the corner. People who live here spec cars according to what they want, not what they can afford. And the cars they have are those that best suit their lives regardless of cost.
I’ve been theorising about this last subject for at least 40 years. I remember well innumerable breakfasts at which my father would extemporise at length on this very issue to his three rapt sons while our mother raised her eyes heavenward and prayed for deliverance. And here’s the thing: it was always three cars. Not two, four or more. If you could create your ideal three-car garage, what would it comprise? The only rules were that it had to be based in the real world so you couldn’t just fill it up with Formula 1 cars and Le Mans winners and, once determined, you could never sell any of them. They, and they alone, are with you for life.
I’ve had hundreds of three-car garages, possibly thousands. But never one that appeared not only out of nowhere but also into my real life. But there they were, parked outside my house without any conscious attempt by me to get them together.
This was a week ago, and for the very first time in all those years of trying, I think I may finally have cracked it. It was not the McLaren 720S that provided the last piece of the puzzle because, as regulars will know, it has been around for quite a few months now (but sadly not many more).
Instead, it was the loan of a Mercedes-Benz G350d or, as we call them, a G-Wagen, that finally completed the picture. The Benz, of course, is the daily driver. I’d do everything and go everywhere in it. It would turn every journey, however short and mundane, into an occasion. There is nowhere it would look out of place, nowhere it would be unable to reach.
The Citroën 2CV – the only one I actually own of the three – would be the antidote to modern motoring: a car that future-proofs your driving pleasure: so long as there are a few drops of fuel to buy, however low the limit, however heavily monitored the roads, your motoring enjoyment will be preserved.
And then there’s the McLaren, the mad monster that must lurk in the three-car garage of all true enthusiasts. And oddly, it’s there for remarkably similar reasons to the 2CV, for it too guarantees you will continue to savour the simple business of driving, whatever the will or whim of the legislators.
Because if it all turns out to be hot air, you’ll still be able to enjoy perhaps the most usable true supercar it has been my pleasure to get to know. And if they go through with it and cars start shopping their owners to the authorities at the first sight of the merest transgression, everyone is going to take to the track and, let me tell you, it’s pretty bloody good there, too.
But now I must start to contemplate life without it because marching orders have been issued, and at the end of this month it will be off. And I find myself feeling remarkably sanguine about the whole thing. The truth is that this is not my car and to feel in any way sorry for yourself at the prospect of its departure would, to me at least, be somewhat grotesque. All I can be is happy that it came into my world at all, because it is a privilege afforded to very few and basically none with my kind of earning power.
So I’m just going to enjoy my last few weeks and hope that its record of being not only one of the world’s fastest cars but also near faultlessly reliable is maintained.
THOUGHTFUL DETAILS There’s no secondary bonnet catch and no extra cap beneath the fuel filler flap. Shows how hard McLaren has thought about typical daily use.
HIDDEN ENGINE You can’t really see the engine, let alone access it. I’d like to be able to see it through the mirror as you can on some Ferraris.
Current line-up star meets hybrid hero - 3rd July 2019
How would a 720S stack up against a P1, I wondered. My hunch was that supercar performance of today is at least commensurate with hypercar performance of only five years ago. I wasn’t wrong: acceleration seemed near identical and while the P1 was quicker and more exciting through corners, I preferred the feel of the lighter 720S.
A 211mph run in the F1 inspires a bid to hit 200mph in our 720S - 12th June 2019
Twenty-five years ago, I took a deep breath and launched a McLaren F1 onto the runway at Bruntingthorpe intent on seeing how fast I could make it go before my nerve deserted me.
The answer was 211mph, and because it was a prototype whose movable aerodynamics were not working quite as designed, the second or so after I took my foot off the throttle was really quite interesting. I was smart enough not to try to correct it or, worse, emergency brake, but instead let it find its own way back to more sensible speeds. Which it did by using most of the width of a runway designed for 1950s V-bombers.
So naturally, when a few weeks back I brought the 720S to the same runway to drive it alongside the same F1 prototype, a repeat performance for the modern car seemed in order.
The variables were many. The runway is the same but changes to the approach mean your entry speed is far lower today. The 720S has more power than the F1 (710bhp versus 627bhp), which really counts, but it also has more weight, which has very little effect on top speed but slows the car significantly all the way there. And there’s aerodynamics: the 720S has a greater frontal area and, because its body produces downforce, it will inevitably produce more drag. Finally, there’s me: at nearly double the age I was then, would my nerve last as long?
Another problem facing the 200mph driver is finding a photographer willing to sit next to you with a hand steady enough to take the shot. Twenty-five years ago, the snapper point blank refused to get in the car. Happily, our Luc Lacey had no such qualms and indeed seemed quite excited by the idea, albeit in a spectacularly laid-back way. So we saddled up, I lobbed the 720S at the runway as fast as I could, sat back and waited for the numbers to appear. It always takes longer than you expect, largely because the first half of the runway is uphill. We took the crest in the late 180s, after which it gathered speed more rapidly.
But it still took its time: it reached 195mph on the quartz accurate speedo with space to spare, but by 198mph, I was wondering whether doing 200mph in the 720S was really that important to me after all. I concluded it was. I’d probably have chosen to brake at 199mph because that would still have been comfortable, but we’d got too close to fail now. So I hung on until the magic number appeared.
Unlike in the F1 all those years ago, braking at 200mph was no more dramatic than at 100mph: the car didn’t even flinch, let alone weave. “Did you get the shot?” I asked. Luc almost looked offended before showing me a pin-sharp image of the speedo reading, a little to my surprise, 201mph.
Despite all other factors mentioned above, I’d say the main reason it didn’t get near the F1’s 211mph is drag. Remember that despite its additional power, the 720S has a top speed of 212mph, whereas the F1 is good for 240mph. It’s also one of the reasons the 720S is so phenomenally stable at speed, and quick through fast corners, attributes I’d take over entirely useless top speed every day of the week, month and year.
Body control The absolute authority it has over its body even at huge speeds. If you have the space, doing 200mph is as easy as reaching any lower speed.
Electric seat controls They’re invisible and unintuitive. I still find myself pressing them and getting different reactions from the ones I expected.
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