McLaren GT revealed — a luxurious yet superlight supercar
16 May 2019 - Autoblog
It's the McLaren of grand tourers
WOKING, England — McLaren's short history as a road car brand leaves it unburdened by emotional baggage carried by its rivals, given a new Ferrari or Lamborghini can only ever riff on a well-understood theme. But McLaren is free to do what it wants, and can react quickly to feedback. The original 12C was criticized as lacking excitement, which later cars addressed with ducted-in engine noise, programmed exhaust pops, the track influenced LT range and, ultimately, the Senna. Hardcore cred established, McLaren is now making an abrupt pivot in the opposite direction with the McLaren GT, its new superlight grand tourer inspired by feedback from customers who enjoyed the more refined approach of the 570GT and taken to new extremes by the Speedtail.
Certain McLaren constants are maintained: It has a carbon-tub frame, is accessed via dihedral doors and powered by a familiar twin-turbo V8. Likewise, it's lighter, faster and more driver-focused than anything you might consider an alternative. But for all that, the McLaren GT is a standalone product outside of the established Sport Series, Super Series and Ultimate Series model hierarchy. It's a car McLaren customers said they wanted. Consequently, it's the car McLaren is going to give them.
The McLaren GT, in essence, slots a segment below the 720S but uses a version of its torquier 4.0-liter V8, dubbed M840TE and fitted with smaller, faster-spooling turbos for a flatter torque curve. A bassy, more sophisticated engine note is also promised. Its 612 horsepower and 465 pound-feet are mid-pack numbers for McLaren, but don't worry, it'll still break 200 mph and scorch 0-60 in 3.1 seconds and 0-124 mph in 9 seconds flat. At a curb weight of 3,384 pounds wet, it fulfills McLaren's "superlight" descriptor by coming in comfortably lighter than the 911 Turbo S, Aston Martin DB11 and Ferrari Portofino that McLaren sees as rivals. U.S. sales will kick off late summer to early fall, with pricing starting at $210,000 — around $80,000 less than a 720S and more or less in line with a 570S Spider.
An image of a Ferrari 250 SWB in a McLaren presentation has folk looking up from their phones, product management boss Ian Digman clearly enjoying the provocation before going back on brand with an image of Bruce McLaren sitting in the road-going M6 GT. His point is clear — true GT cars are lightweight and pure in sporting intent while having enough refinement to rack up fast miles in comfort. Suffice to say, McLaren interprets those two letters very differently from Bentley. "We did well with the 570GT, but it taught us a lot," says Digman. "Talking with customers, we recognized they wanted a distinct model, not a derivative. We looked at what else was in the market and asked why can't a GT handle like a McLaren, and why can't a McLaren handle like a GT?"
In the metal, the McLaren GT is distinctively McLaren but, at the same time, something a bit different. There's a hint of Aventador in the proportions but a smoothness of line distinct from anything you'd ever get from Lamborghini, and more than a hint of the Speedtail's polished minimalism. Accordingly, the 20/21-inch wheels are bigger than anything this side of the Senna; design boss Rob Melville explaining this was necessary with the additional length and longer overhangs. Aluminum panels, meanwhile, permit different shapes and surface treatments than the full carbon bodywork of the 720S.
Based on an iteration of the Sports Series' Monocell tub, a new carbon fiber rear deck takes inspiration from a similar design on the 720S Spider. The motor retains the 720's reduced deck height, repositioned mufflers dropping to the trunk floor to maximize luggage space. In total there's 14.7 cu ft of stowage, with room for a golf bag or two pairs of skis within the car and space around them for additional kit and small bags. Hardwearing, NASA-designed 'superfabric' is an option to keep it looking fresh too. And there's still 5.25 cu ft of luggage space in the nose.
Chatting with chief engineer Adam Thomson, it's clear refinement has been a key development goal, along with an increased sense of luxury in the "machined from solid" switchgear, upholstery options in leather, Alcantara and cashmere, plus significantly upgraded infotainment. He acknowledges McLaren has lagged behind in the latter but is adamant this new system — Android-based but developed entirely in-house — is next-level. HERE navigation mapping with traffic information is all part of the package, and North American cars include Sirius satellite radio as standard.
This will still be a car for drivers, though. Hydraulic steering has been maintained, albeit with what Digman describes as "more pronounced" off-center weight for an improved sense of stability but also reduced effort at urban speeds. Proactive Damping Control uses a version of the 720S's 'Optimal Control Theory' to read surface changes and pre-emptively adjust the adaptive dampers accordingly, though they're not interlinked as they are in the Super Series. In the usual way, you can pre-select your preferred "map" from Comfort through Sport and Track, though the former is, to quote McLaren, "particularly compliant."
Even with that, the superlight McLaren GT will be one of the more focused cars in its class with a notable lack of interventionist driver aids and gizmos. Ground clearance, curb approach, and departure angles are class-leading when compared with a DB11 or 911, McLaren's numbers saying it matches a Mercedes C-Class by such comparisons, at least with the nose lifter engaged. Visibility is, as with all McLarens, excellent but the doors and chunky sills are still more supercar than GT when it comes to getting in and out. The McLaren of grand tourers perhaps. But it's still a McLaren.
Stateside dealers who've already seen the car are fired up by the McLaren GT, seeing it as a breakthrough product for customers making the step up from R8s and 911 Turbos. This is a sophisticated car, which has looks to suit the country club valet lot but the sort of ambition you'd normally see in a race track's paddock — and that combination makes it stand out.