2019 McLaren 600LT review

$455,000 Mrlp

Longtail equals 'hardcore' in McLaren, and the 600LT is the most affordable circuit-focused road-going variant yet. But is it any good? We hit the track to find out.

I know, I know – you’re probably looking at the 2019 McLaren 600 ‘Longtail’ thinking, well, this McLaren’s rump doesn’t look especially long compared with most other road-going stablemates. So, further, what gives?

Fair questions, too, given that the 600LT, as it’s officially named, will lob in Oz for around $455,000 list, some $60K pricier than the 570S that, while having a slightly smaller bum, shares three-quarters of its technical make-up with the newcomer.

The 600LT is longer, by 74mm. Or about $810 per millimetre in length for your added buck. Further, you get an extra 30 pferdestärke (22kW) between these 600(ps) and 570(ps) variants in McLaren’s low-tier Sports Series, though the $2727 up-charge per kilowatt doesn’t exactly appear a wisely invested premium.

It’s easy to presume McLaren simply pushed out a slightly longer, marginally more powerful 570S under some ‘limited-edition’ ruse because – and its maker mightn’t like this – the 600LT's appearance isn't that much different or, well, $60K extra special.

But climb in, throw both the 570S and 600LT around a tasty piece of off-street hot-mix – in this case, the Hungaroring Grand Prix circuit in, of course, Hungary – back to back and, my word, there’s a much larger difference experientially between the two than disparities in length, power, price or even a cursory glance at specifications suggest.

The 600LT is a much harder-core device, plain and simple.

Indeed, ‘Longtail’ is less a physical descriptor and more of a philosophical one. It was first applied in McLaren speak (let’s not mention Porsche just yet) to the F1 GTR; a racecar ethos prescribing weight saving and heightening dynamic capabilities as much as it was (and remains being) about increasing horsepower. It just so happened to have a big bum for its big rear wing and its namesake stuck.

That ethos has since embodied the 675LT Coupe and Spider road-going models, but this is the first instance where the relatively affordable Sports Series super sports car range has furnished a genuinely hardcore variant. The 600LT can be easily underestimated and somewhat misunderstood – again, that limited-edition ruse – when standing back and viewing the wider McLaren pantheon.

Put another way, and a way you might never hear from a McLaren representative’s lips, if you were to draw range-hierarchy parallels with Porsche’s own 911 super sports car range, McLaren’s 540C might align on a Carrera tier, the 570S might mirror Carrera S positioning, and you'd be drawn to conclude that perhaps this 600LT might answer the GTS, as I did fronting up to Hungary for its international launch. And yet, I left the same event convinced the newest Longtail is much closer in treatment and effect to what Stuttgart considers GT3-level seriousness.

For one thing, removing 100kg from the 570S’s already waify 1350kg dry figure demands serious effort. McLaren loves a bit of ‘gram speak’, and it would be remiss of me to glean over weight-saving details given the 600LT adds an extended front splitter, a lengthened rear diffuser, adds a big fixed wing (100kg of downforce at 250km/h), and has an elongated silhouette that puts it on the back foot with Jenny Craig from the get-go.

The bodywork is predominantly carbon fibre (-7.2kg), forged aluminium double-wishbone suspension lifted from the 720S (-10.2kg), carbon-ceramic brakes (-4.0kg), forged wheels with bespoke-for-600LT Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R tyres (-17.0kg), the carbon-fibre seats (-21.kg) with Senna-spec seats as options (a further -3.6kg), and the impossibly cool top-exit stainless steel exhaust system (-12.6kg) offer broad savings.

There’s more nuanced stuff, too, such as thinner windscreen and rear glass (-2.1kg), a lightweight wiring harness (-3.3kg) and a full Alcantara cabin fit-out sans carpet (-5.6kg), while removing audio and sat-nav (-3.3kg) and omitting the glovebox and door bins (-1.0kg) compensates for the additional rear wing weight (+3.5kg). Deleting air-con altogether saves a significant 12.6kg, but as I soon discover, copping such a weight penalty for frosty H2O is a godsend in such a pulse-racing car strung out on a 32 degrees Celsius Hungarian summer’s track day.

McLaren’s confidence in the lift in drama from the 570S to the 600LT is such that we’re sent out for a warm-up in the former before climbing straight into the latter to let fully rip. And in the initial half-dozen acclimatisation laps, I discover that the magnificent 4.4km Hungaroring is, main straight apart, a relentless barrage of curves as a long-burning magnification of a car’s dynamic characteristics. One where chassis poise and grip are under near-constant scrutiny with an unusually frequent amount of trailing throttle.

Around here, the 570S 'warm-up car' is a hoot: agile, responsive and communicative; rewarding enough to punt around this circuit all day long; and bloody quick enough to stave the desire to step up to more powerful or dynamically adept pleasures. So it’s the surprise of the day to climb into the 600LT, pull its string and discover a measurably more visceral, stiffer, sharper and wholly harder-edge experience – even driven with restraint through the first handful of corners while its Pirellis generate some grippy heat.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here, and overlooking the 600LT’s novel if painfully cool party trick. The dual exhaust outlets exit upwards just forward of the rear wing, and sat in neutral in its more aggressive drive modes – preferably in dark shade or at night time – you give it berries and it’ll blast two columns of blue flame the best part of a metre high skyward. Churlish, perhaps, but given half a chance I guarantee you’ll succumb to irresistible urges.

It spits fire because the exhaust length is incredibly short, offering very meagre back pressure that affects the characteristic tune – mechanical and electronic tune, pedants – of this version of McLaren’s widely adopted M838TE 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8. That 441kW arrives at a predictable 7500rpm, but it’s the peak torque band that’s the eye-opener – a fairly modest 620Nm at a very lofty 5500–6500rpm.

Claimed performance is a scintillating 2.9 seconds for 0–100km/h and 10.4 seconds for the 0–400m sprint. What’s remarkable about this isn’t merely how impressively rapid these numbers are for a rear-driver that doesn’t prioritise off-the-mark acceleration as a primary forte. But, a combination of evolutionary progress and deft power-to-weight allows the 600LT to match the pace of its more powerful (497kW) 675LT forebear to a tenth of a second.

While we didn’t get a chance to test such claims at the Hungaroring, what I can confirm is how different it feels by the seat of the pants against a 570S. For one thing, the engine has a more track-centric calibration. A moderately more assertive shove everywhere yet blossoming its torque higher in the RPM range, focusing its sweet spot right at redline or, in the case of the neat motorsport-style instrumentation shift lights, when the dash readout flashes blue. It begs to be wrung out hard and has a bigger, bolder and louder bark than other Sports Series variants, though it doesn’t quite stir the heartstrings as much as, say, the metallic howl of a Ferrari or the sheer roar of the Huracan/R8 V10.

The real essence at play here is that McLaren has pegged the engine's outputs to a suitable if hardly outrageous tier, then loaded the rest of an entry-level Sports Series package with what is fundamentally (though not strictly) the suspension, brakes and road-holding prowess of the rung-higher, supercar-level Super Series.

As a result, it’s not sheer dynamite where the 600LT impresses most. Instead, it shines brightest in intimacy and accuracy. Against the 570S, there’s less dilution in the powertrain-driver-tarmac connection and the driver feels more hard-wired to the experience. And it bundles it all up with dynamic head room that takes quite a few laps to get your head around the fact that you can push on, harder and harder, and it just doesn’t seem to run out of poise, friendliness or talent.

It takes a few corners to get those Trofeo R tyres into their happy zone, but the combination of the assertive grip and the pleasingly even linearity of the steering affords a huge degree of accuracy at the wheel. It’s not the pointiest front end on the block, particularly steering off-centre, and all the better for it. And whether it’s the feel through the Alcantara rim or the fizz about this car’s connection that really tingles your receptors. Yet despite the hard-mounted vibe – I doubt you’d find much rubber in the 600LT’s construction – there’s nothing inherently harsh nor brutal in any negative sense.

This in part is why the suspension is super impressive. McLaren calls it “conventional” in that, unlike the hydraulically cross-linked trickery the breed is renowned for on other models, it opts for steels springs and normal – albeit continually adaptive – dampers. But it’s lighter, stiffer, sits lower, has revised geometry and a wider front track than normal Sports Series stock, plus it transplants forged-aluminium double wishbones and uprights straight from the mighty 720S.

Not only does the 600LT sit incredibly flat and hang on impressively well in the corners, it’s lively and highly responsive to transitions of weight. On one hand, you get supercar levels of dynamic prowess, while on another it can be sports car playful. That’s quite a tricky balance to strike with conviction and not all that common in a device ‘supercar quick’ on-track – where some supercar convention opts for a safer, overly benign experience, while others opt for dangerous stings in their tails.

The 600LT is a little special, in that you unhinge those rear tyres at nail-biting pace and discover controllable poise with confidence-inspiring predictability and response as your reward. And that goes some way in explaining why much of the promo material McLaren has released on the car has it cocked sideways, smoke billowing off the rear Pirellis like the machine was born to drift. As demonstrated by my co-pilot chaperone, an affable McLaren factory race driver named ‘Joe’, when we swap seats at the end of the day.

While I’m driving, Joe encourages me to use more and more of the Hungaroring landscape that’s not technically the circuit, which has one of the tightest chicanes of any world-class track on the planet, with pronounced ripple strips topped with concrete mounds designed to discourage cars ‘straight-lining’ through. “Drive right over them,” he instructs. I wince as I throw the 600LT over the humps, half the car literally off the track through both apexes, and the suspension soaks them up with deep, wheel-compressing compliance, as if flattening the obstructions. Remarkable.

“How can it sit so flat and taut in corners, yet have so much vertical wheel movement?” I ask one McLaren rep. “It’s all in tuning,” is his response.

The 600LT produces a decent 100kg of aerodynamic downforce, but only at 250km/h and, around this short and technical circuit, only near the 200m braking point on the main straight. But, boy, do you notice the effect of the uprated anchors.

With latest-gen lightweight six- and four-piston calipers mated to 390mm/380mm front/rear carbon-ceramic discs, they are, like the suspension, lifted from the Super Series and feature a brake booster developed from the heroic Senna. Immensely powerful with a firm and precise pedal feel, they’ll haul the 600LT from 200km/h to a standstill in just 117m – just one metre longer than the legendary P1. Even a downhill braking area into the turn-one hairpin, like here, this car almost pulls up too urgently from the 200m mark and I’m actually off the left pedal well before tipping in.

It really is the perfect tool for what’s fast becoming one of my favourite racetracks. Yes, the jury is well and truly out on how such a circuit-focused tool might do the business out on a public road, but jeez does it deliver what it promises on the box.

Flaws? It’s hard to fault, though I do have some personal dislikes. Our optional Senna seats are of the extra-large variety (of a choice of available sizes) and I’m swimming in them: they’re too wide for my narrow shoulders with no lateral support (that was ample in the 570S), forcing me to jam my left foot against the dead pedal to hold me upright. The seat’s prominent wings together with the high-set doorsills inhibit left-side elbow room (in this left-hook version), and the sill itself is a decent-sized hurdle clambering in and out of the cabin.

Elbow restrictions aside, though, it’s as ergonomically comfortable as it is innately connected. The cabin is spartan simple in design, if somewhat lavish in tactility… If you love lashings of Alcantara as much as I do. Thankfully, both our test cars for the day have the optional air-con set permanently to ‘cranked’ on our hot Hungarian summer’s day.

The 600LT Coupe is a limited edition, in that once production starts in October it’ll be manufactured for one year only. McLaren has no predetermined build number. Strange? Perhaps not. The company’s current and recently revised plan is to create 18 new models or model variants between now and 2025 – including a 600LT Spider – so logic dictates that production will react to demand.

At $455K list, is it worth the $60K premium over the 570S Coupe? On-track and driven as intended, at least, the dividends it returns certainly seem handsome enough. And if the whole Longtail ethos is right up your pit lane, your only other in-house option, the 675LT Coupe, will set you back a jaw-dropping $616,250 before on-roads.

A bargain? From one fringe-dwelling perspective, at least, it might appear to be so.