If only Bruce McLaren was still around today to see the latest road car that bears his name: the 720S, which marks the new iteration of McLaren’s Super Series. One senses that McLaren, a man constantly on the search for ways to innovate and push boundaries in design and engineering, would have given the 720S the big thumbs up
It’s a clever supercar, the 720S. For a start, the whole structure is a sexy cathedral to the art of aerodynamics. Take those startling headlights: behind the horizontal LED bar, a gaping hole swallows air and feeds it to the engine. Gullies in the bodywork channel air between the doors and the cabin shell, the doors’ own design deals with the air off the wheels, and more carbon-fibre pleats, tunnels and nets sort turbulence at the rear.
Designed to sit between, and replace, both the 650S and 675 LT, the 720S needs to be dramatic in its design, because this car is the first time McLaren has replaced an entire family, the Super Series, which is also the series that captures the beating heart of the badge (the Sports Series is the entry-level set – 540C, 570S and 570GT, while the Ultimate Series – P1 and P1 GTR – is only offered to current customers and is also on its way out; the BP23 £2m hypercar arrives in 2019 and is sold out).
So, a lot to play for, then.
First impressions are good. As well as those striking headlights, the dihedral doors are cut far into the spine of the roof, which is glass all the way down to the rear spoiler, which in turn extends along the entire length of the rear bodywork. Which is altogether impressive (although the doors are heavy and the handles aren’t set far back enough to give you much leverage; it’s a definite bicep workout).
Inside, the Luxury trim level gives you more Bridge of Weir leather, in subtle tones, while the Performance pack brings racing seats, loud colours and swathes of Alcantara to the party. There’s far more space than inside a 650S – lowering the floor means you can pack two weekend suitcases under the bonnet, and a third behind the seats on the lipped leather parcel shelf.
The best trick in the house is the new ‘Folding Driver Display’. This screen, behind the steering wheel, shows all normal digital functions such as speedo, rev counter, satnav instructions, warning lights and so on. However, once on a track and needing only speed, revs and gears, the screen flips at the touch of a button, leaving a slim, F1-style digital read-out.
On the road, with the mid-engined 4.0-litre, twin-turbo V8 pumping out 710bhp (or the nomenclatural 720PS) and 568lb ft of torque, this is a lightning-quick supercar, with carbon-ceramic brakes as standard and a razor-sharp seven-speed auto box. But the new suspension is the clever part, and for that you need a track…
Out on the Vallelunga circuit outside Rome, with the engine and handling both in Sport or Track Mode, you have Variable Drift Control to play with. This software will make the 720S the trackday-ista’s supercar of choice. It gives you nine, yes nine, iterations of drift control to play with, selectrabe via the touchscreen: at the lowest end, the traction control will gather in the slightest whimper from the rear axel, but after you’ve pressed the plus button nine times, you’ll get a pretty free rear end to play around with, to perfect your throttle control on oversteer and your drifting reactions. It’s brilliant.
The other piece of track kit which sets this car apart is the optional track telemetry app. Three cameras and a load of sensors will record your lap behaviour but, rather than having to download the data onto a USB stick and watch it back in the garage on a laptop, you can play the footage back and dissect the data on the touchscreen in the car. The film quality is excellent: you can choose your camera angles, and zoom in on the corners of your choice.
Basically, there’s no reason why, within a couple of hours behind the wheel in this car, you shouldn’t transform in Ayrton Senna at his finest.
Over to you.
Price as tested: £292,140 (from £218,020)