McLaren’s GT is unique: a mid-engined supercar with space for skis, a set of golf clubs and a tuxedo. By Adam Hay-Nicholls
Red lines can be problematic. We see it with Brexit, and you can see it with the new McLaren GT. All cars that emerge from Woking need to be fast, lightweight (thanks in large part to McLaren’s signature carbon monocoque) and with the powerplant mid-mounted. They won’t ever stray from that. They won’t compromise.
Singular focus has been a hallmark of the manufacturer’s series segments; sports, super, track and ultimate. But in launching a GT segment for a new audience, this car needs especially broad abilities. It needs to be able to swallow continents in style and have room for a Saint Moritz wardrobe for two, including the skis. Design Director Rob Melville tells GQ “We tried to imagine a McLaren for James Bond”. And Bond doesn’t rent his sports equipment, it needs to be there behind the seats with his tux carrier, weaponised and ready to go.
How to do this makes one’s brain hurt. There’s a reason pretty much every grand tourer ever made has had its engine in the front; it’s makes packaging so much easier. McLaren have caused themselves, one could argue, some unnecessary head scratching. But by insisting they stay true to their DNA by keeping their 4.0 twin-turbo V8 in the middle, they are able to get one up on the competition when it comes to balance and driver engagement. We’re struggling to think of anything else with room for golf bags that could keep up with this car round the bends.
To distinguish it from Sports and Super Series cars, the GT has more conservative aerodynamics and cleaner detailing. “Sleek and seamless” is designer Melville’s mantra. Dihedral doors are unique to the GT sector and provide plenty of visual drama whenever you pull up to the valet. The radiators, positioned behind the doors, add muscle while the rear lip kicks out with an integrated fixed spoiler. A large diffuser and substantial tailpipes leave onlookers in no doubt of its performance capabilities. The blade LED taillights look particularly sharp after dark. Overall, it’s not the most exciting McLaren to look at, but it’s still unconventional and impactful. Steer clear of brighter colours and go with something subtle and sophisticated. Our Viridian green car with Barolo red leather is on point, and dark blue with white or cream leather is tasteful too.
At 4.7 metres, this is the longest McLaren if you don’t count the forthcoming Speedtail. By stretching the features and extending the front overhang it looks less like a mid-engined machine than others. The nose is unusually high, offering similar ground clearance to a Porsche 911 in normal setting and, if you automatically raise the height, it’ll clear kerbs like a Ford Mondeo.
Technically this isn’t the first McLaren to bear a GT badge. It replaces the 570GT, which was fantastic in every way except a total 370 litres of slightly awkward stowage space isn’t really grand tourer-grade, and whenever you put your (small) suitcase in the back you had to rely on the side mirrors to see behind. In the new GT, there’s a 420-litre capacity under the lift-back boot and an additional 150 in the cargo area between the front wheels; a combined 570 litres, which compares favourably to its rivals.
Such Tardis wizardry has been achieved by sinking the V8 lower, freeing up space and improving visibility. Easier said than done. The cargo space’s floor is lumpy and seems designed for small square objects or long thin ones. You’ll want to tick the custom luggage option, therefore. You’ll also want the bay trimmed out in SuperFabric, which is a rather ingenious material resistant to scrapes and, so McLaren say, can’t be cut with a scalpel. Melville makes an interesting point; while a Ferrari, Bentley or Aston can look charming with a few scuffs and cracks, “McLarens need to always look perfect. Therefore, the materials must be durable.”
The other challenge with mid-engined packaging is the Olympics of combustion below the storage bay, which creates rather a lot of heat – 530 degrees of the stuff. This could play havoc when transporting picnic hampers full of salmon sandwiches and Belgian chocolates and whatever else is fuelling the occupants’ dash to the South of France. Enter NASA; a NASA-developed heat shield means the luggage area only ever reaches 40 degrees Celsius no matter how hard you’re leaning on the revs. And as there’s no divide between the boot and the cabin the air conditioning should keep it well below that on most occasions.
The engine itself is essentially the same as the 720S’s, though it’s been tweaked to give it characteristics more suited to an elegant mile-muncher. The compression ratios have been altered, it has smaller turbos with lower inertia, and the exhaust and intake manifolds have been reworked, losing 98bhp to the 720S but gaining refinement and efficiency. The torque curve is designed to be as flat as possible, making power delivery feel relaxed when cruising and urgent when needed. Ninety-five percent of its 465 lb ft of torque is usable between 3,000rpm and 7,250prm. The engine note is improved by the GT’s exhaust and valve system, which changes tune depending on your driving mode. It’s one of the better singers to emerge from the MTC, with more depth and bass, though it’s still baleful compared with the throaty offerings of Bentley, Aston Martin and Ferrari.
Zero to 62mph arrives in 3.2 seconds and the GT pushes on to 203mph. It’ll out-accelerate the Bentley Continental GT and the Aston Martin DBS Superleggera and lose them in the corners thanks to being, at just 1,535kg, the lightest car in this class. Its 612bhp is 70 horses more than the 2,164kg Bentley and it has a better power-to-weight than the mighty V12 Aston. Thanks to its low centre of gravity, featherweight and clever proactive damping control, handling and ride are the GT’s trump cards. In some ways, it feels like a throwback to the Ferrari 250GT, which was front-engined but so light that it defied convention by being both a grand tourer, as its nomenclature suggests, and a serious racing car.
The teardrop-shaped cabin is bright and airy, uncluttered and minimalist, and boasts terrific materials including cashmere linings. Floating panels are accentuated by ambient lighting. The portrait-oriented central touchscreen is five-times quicker than the 570’s. the seats are lightweight but classically styled and comfortable, made with memory foam. You could sit here for hours in perfect serenity, although it’s not as traditionally luxurious and cosseting as the Bentley. It’s a personal preference; we think the Conti is the more special.
Given the choice between the two for a 500-mile slog, hands would hover towards the keyring with the B on it. Nevertheless, the McLaren’s performance is best in class and its refinement not far off. By sticking to their red lines, the engineers at the MTC have made a properly practical supercar that can be used every day. As a GT, it can go toe-to-toe with the best in the comfort stakes, then leave them in the dust when shown an engaging road. Bentley and Porsche have their SUVs, and Aston and Ferrari will be launching theirs soon. But this is the closest McLaren will ever get to a sports utility vehicle.