The new McLaren 720S combines outrageous styling with prodigious performance to embody everything a supercar is, and should be.
Even nuns love this car. Viewed from behind, its dihedral doors sprouting like the wings of an angel, the McLaren 720S can and does appear celestial, its sculpted lines flowing from curve to curve with little regard for convention. This car is otherworldly and outrageous – outrageous in a way the Toyota Corolla isn’t, nor can ever be.
It’s a work of art, and if it doesn’t make you stop and gawp – like the busload of nuns who drove by while we were on location photographing this car – then there’s possibly something wrong with you.
The McLaren 720S embodies everything that is right with supercars. It looks the business – it’s sleek, it’s low, it’s wide, it bulges and swoops and curves in all the right places. Those swooping doors are pure theatre, folding out and up like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis for the first time. People stare – including Carmelite nuns – when they see it in action. Kids make guttural noises.
That embodiment of supercars continues with the price. It’s almost pointless to talk about what the McLaren 720S costs, a genuine case of “if you have to ask…”. But let’s stop and dream for a minute. This is the McLaren 720S Performance and it will set you back $515,080 before on-road costs. Without options.
But, as is so often the case with supercars – or any car, for that matter – options abound, and in the case of our test car, a lot of options. A lot. Try $182,941.50 worth of options, bringing that as-tested price to a monstrous – and slightly comical – $697,941.50, drive-away. No, that’s not a typo. Aside from cleaning out your bank account, you’ll need to raid your coin jar for a loose 50c coin. Although, we’re pretty sure if you rocked up to your local Macca dealer with $697,941 even, they’d probably let you drive away in a new 720S. Maybe.
Of course, the McLaren is keeping good company at that price point with Ferrari and Lamborghini both asking for similar coin from their high-end performance models. That’s the price of playing in the supercar sandpit, and it’s a price many (okay, a few) are willing – and able – to pay.
And outlaying those types of astronomical numbers nets you an equally impressive set of gargantuan numbers. Want pure power? There’s 720 metric horsepower on tap (hence the designation), which translates to 527kW. That peak power doesn’t come on song until you’re high in the rev band at 7250rpm, but with the howl of that glorious twin-turbo, 4.0-litre V8 situated right behind your left earlobe, no-one’s complaining.
Torque is an equally monstrous 770Nm (at 5500rpm) which, when combined with the 720S's svelte 1419kg kerb weight, helps propel the McLaren to a top speed of 341km/h. Make no mistake, it’s fast. The 0–100km/h sprint takes just 2.9 seconds. More impressively, the 0–200km/h dash is covered in an astonishingly quick 7.8 seconds, and should you be brave enough, 0–300km/h is covered in 21.4 seconds. The standing quarter-mile is dispatched in 10.3 seconds.
But even more impressive still are the McLaren’s stopping numbers. With 390mm carbon ceramic discs at front and 380mm at rear, as well as a whopping big airbrake that deploys at high speeds in just 0.5 seconds, the McLaren can come to a complete stop from 200km/h in just 4.6 seconds having covered just 117 metres, while the more pedestrian 100km/h-to-zero takes a miniscule 2.8 seconds and will see you come to a standstill in just 29.7 metres.
You’ll need to join a gym, though, because the brake pedal requires a firm foot. Applying the same pressure as you would in most road cars results in, well, nothing, no retardation. You panic, thinking the brakes have failed, so you push down harder and that’s when the 720S’s stopping power kicks in. It’s downright frightening the first time it happens, with a movie reel playing in your mind of you ploughing the $700K supercar into the back of a stationary Toyota within 500 metres of having collected it.
There’s no question this car is a monster. In a good way. Sadly, our time with the McLaren 720S was limited to urban runabout use, meaning we couldn’t really sample its zoinking numbers at the upper end of the mathematical scale. Something about it not being insured for track use, according to the good people at McLaren.
That did provide us, however, with an idea of what living with a bona fide supercar is like – how it handles the day-to-day grind of dealing with traffic in an environment that limits its capabilities. And in short, the answer is, surprisingly well.
That’s not to say the 720S lacks fearsomeness. It is awesome, in the true sense of the word, where awesome means ‘causing or inducing awe; inspiring an overwhelming feeling of reverence or fear’. Make no mistake, this car is frightening. From its jaw-dropping price tag to the sheer weight of its performance numbers, the McLaren 720S is a car that commands respect and, yes, a little fearfulness.
Think back for a minute, if you will, to your childhood, and remember a time you were on a family holiday staying in a strange house. It might be by the beach, or deep in the country. It doesn’t matter. What matters is there’s no ambient light, because there are no towns nearby, no streetlights, no glow from the lights of a million houses, office blocks and factories casting that ambient glow most of us city-dwellers are so used to. There’s no moon to speak of and the blinds are drawn, and when you wake up in the middle of the night with an urgent need to pee, the house is pitch, pitch black.
You climb carefully out of bed and start to make your way to where you think the bathroom is in this strangest of strange houses, and as your eyes adjust to the darkness, a shadow looms in front of you. You can’t quite discern its shape but it looks human, and it looms large ahead. Your rational mind says ‘hatstand’, but your seven-year-old irrational brain is catastrophising. It’s Freddy Krueger and your heart starts beating faster and your breaths become shorter and you are afraid – more afraid than you have been in your all-too-short life that you are convinced is about to end at the hands of the menacing, hulking, fearsome shadow now in front of you.
That is how menacing and frightening the McLaren 720S is.
And once you slide inside and hit the start button and listen to that glorious rumble behind your head, the menace multiplies. This is a car that simply commands respect. Engage ‘Drive’ via the push-button panel on the centre console and you are painfully aware of just how outrageous this car is. You sit low, so low that you are below the beltline of just about every other car on the road, thanks to its 1196mm height. And it is wide, at 2161mm from mirror to mirror. Length? 4543mm. This is, in every dimension, a big car, something you are all too aware of when sitting in Sydney’s snarling traffic.
But after a few short minutes behind the wheel, the 720S starts to shrink around you. As your confidence grows, and the flashing dollar symbols scrolling in front of your eyes start to fade, the 720S starts to feel like the nimble and lightweight car it actually is. Sure, there is an omnipresent sense of a monster waiting to be unleashed, because 60km/h in the urban jungle is simply not this car’s reason for being.
Every rumble and grumble from its two twin-scroll turbochargers urges you to press the throttle just a little bit harder. Resisting is an art form, an exercise in restraint because you know just what this car is capable of.
But if you can control your emotions and restrain your right foot, the McLaren 720S is actually pretty easy to drive in a docile manner.
It's certainly compliant enough, with a suspension tune in Comfort mode true to its name. It’s soft, but not overly so. Dial up Sport mode and the ride becomes a little firmer, but still within parameters that make easy work of Sydney’s pockmarked streets. Track mode? We didn’t try it, and frankly, you’d be foolish to on anywhere but a racetrack.
Like most cars of its ilk, the low-slung McLaren comes with an optional lift kit (price undisclosed) that raises and lowers the nose, allowing you to negotiate those pesky speed bumps and driveways. It’s a neat function, but annoyingly, thanks to an engineering quirk, the up/down stalk on the steering column that controls the lift works in that way only when a button at the end of the stalk is first pressed. Fail to do that and you, well, hit the speed limiter. First-hand experience? Let’s just say it’s pretty embarrassing to be sitting at the lights in a near-$700,000 supercar only to limp away at a speed-limited 30km/h when the green hits. On the plus side, you only do it once.
Out on the open road, at highway speeds, the 720S, while still as restrained as a shark on a leash, hums and purrs and thrums and sings to you. The seven-speed Seamless Shift Gearbox (SSG – McLaren speak for double-clutch) is great at cruising speeds, effortlessly and quickly working its way through the gears to seventh where it hums, a little too quietly to be honest, the theatre and drama of other supercars – okay, Italian supercars – noticeable by its absence.
Dance on the right foot, though, and that soft hum turns into a wailing, growling howl as the twin turbos spool up forcibly just behind your ears and the 720S leaps forward with an urgency that takes your breath away. It is stupendously quick – too quick for our roads and their overly governed limits.
And that leaves us to simply enjoy its being, its very existence. No, without a racetrack, we are not able to test the McLaren 720S’s limits, but then I suspect it would take a very special driver to even get near the limits of this car. Simply, this car is better than you or me and probably 99 per cent of the population.
With aerodynamic efficiency claimed to be twice as good as the 650S this car replaces, and with aero grip from the huge rear wing up 30 per cent over its predecessor, the 720S is planted to the road. At slow speeds, you can actually feel the aerodynamics at work, slowing the car from the moment your foot comes off the throttle.
At the 720S’s heart, though, lies McLaren’s Proactive Chassis Control II, making its debut in this car. It’s a new generation of the company’s active chassis system, featuring hydraulically controlled dampers at each corner of the car and negating the need for anti-roll bars.
There’s mathematical trickery at play and an array of sensors and accelerometers at each corner of the car reading and measuring wheel acceleration and damper pressure, sending readings and reacting to same readings within a claimed two milliseconds. In layman’s terms, the system adjusts the firmness of the dampers to ensure maximum tyre contact to the road surface, thus maximising grip and stability. Can you feel it underneath you? Not unless you’re Fernando Alonso.
What you can feel, what you can see, touch and smell, is the 720S’s interior. It’s surprisingly spacious, with comfortable sports seats that hug you tightly into place. There’s a centrally mounted, portrait-orientated touchscreen that houses the high-res 360-degree camera you will need to get into those tight parking spots. That wide rump ain’t gonna park itself.
Switching drive modes and activating that fat rear wing or the manual-shift option is done via a series of beautifully crafted and milled knobs, dials and buttons. Tactility abounds in the cabin – from the Xenon Yellow and Black Alcantara interior trim, to the beautifully uncluttered steering wheel that feels nice in hand and offers beautifully weighted resistance.
Storage? Who cares, but McLaren claims a front luggage area of 150 litres capacity (and to be fair, it looks big enough for a couple of overnight bags and carton of Bollinger) and a rear-of-cabin capacity (behind the seats) of 210 litres.
The digital instrument display is crisp and easy to read and features an array of driver information through its high-def TFT panel. However, if all that info is distracting you, or if the Full Display Mode is hindering your view of that next corner, you can flip down the display into what McLaren has dubbed Slim Display Mode, which still offers vital statistics but through a much lower profile display. It’s a neat trick, but personally I prefer a cluster of dials and gauges to guide me along.
This is not a car for the faint-hearted. It is a frightening car on so many levels – from its eye-watering sticker price to its prodigious power outputs, warp-speed acceleration and eyeball-popping stopping power, the McLaren 720S demands respect and, yes, a little bit of fear.
Is it a usable daily driver? Absolutely. But that’s also a waste of the prodigious ability lurking under its aluminium and carbon-fibre skin.
With its outrageous styling that even a group of nuns can’t ignore, its seemingly endless power and speed just a stab of the right foot away, plus grip and handling levels that mere mortals like you and me are never likely to exploit, the McLaren 720S is everything a supercar should be. And more.
McLaren 720S Performance – $515,080 (plus on-road costs)
Optional Equipment (not priced individually)
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