The last time I drove a McLaren Longtail was three years ago at the famed Silverstone Circuit in England, and that was the unequivocally phenomenal 675LT Coupe. The experience left me totally gobsmacked.
I’d never driven so fast or so composed around a high-speed track, and for a few minutes I even relished the thought that my trackwork had improved out of sight, only to be brought back to earth with the stark realisation that this truly was a case of 95 per cent car and five per cent driver. That’s how good this thing was at carving up a world-class racetrack.
It was mind-blowingly fast and yet unbelievably agile at the same time, even through the more challenging corners on the international circuit. No surprise, really, given the degree of weight-saving tech applied to the 675LT was next-level stuff (even in today’s terms) – that’s 100kg off the genuinely lean 650S, a car that had already claimed the lightest in class.
Out back was a mid-mounted 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 generating an extraordinary 496kW of power and 700Nm of earth-bending torque, which could catapult the 675LT from zero to 100km/h in 2.9 seconds flat. Put that down to a dry weight of just 1230kg and at least 50 per cent new internals, and you've got a recipe made in heaven.
Combine that level of performance with peerless dynamics and aerodynamic mastery, and you had a super sports car capable of devastating track performance that could leave many purpose-built race cars in its wake. Seriously.
McLaren’s newest track-focused weapon is the 600LT Spider, and if you’re thinking it’s a junior-league performer because of its Sports Series product positioning and open-top profile, you couldn’t be more wrong. You can probably guess which car they benchmarked during the development too – yep, the 675LT Spider, meaning this thing has massive shoes to fill as the latest and fifth chapter in the Longtail lineage.
And that ancestry includes the original Le Mans-winning F1 GTR Longtail from 1997, which effectively introduced the ‘LT’ DNA into the road-going McLaren sports cars. That DNA make-up is all about minimal weight, optimised aerodynamics, increased power, more track focus, increased driver engagement, and more exclusivity than the mainstream models.
Next up was the much lauded 675LT that sold out a production run of 500 units over three months, followed by the Spider version, which upped the ante by selling out its 500-unit allotment in a staggering three-week period.
Chapter four brought to life the 600LT that launched in Hungary last year and has attracted 43 per cent new buyers to the McLaren brand, while 57 per cent of owners stepped up from a 570S.
It’s worth noting just how closely matched the 600LT Spider is as a Sports Series model to the Super Series 675LT version in terms of outright performance. No surprise, really, given the in-house benchmarking.
But rather than focusing on more power, exclusively, 600LT Spider development targeted weight as being a more crucial factor to the car’s performance. That said, the new car’s straight-line pace from zero to 100km/h is identical to the 675LT Spider thanks to a dry weight of 1297kg, or just a 50kg premium over the Coupe version.
That’s exactly 100kg less than the 570S Spider, meaning acceleration is on par with the 600LT Coupe. McLaren claims it’s 80kg less than the nearest rival, which effectively translates into 44kW more power and a five per cent bump in grip, or the equivalent of switching from a Pirelli Corsa to a more aggressive Trofeo tyre, according to McLaren.
It’s also interesting to note where the engineers pulled most of the weight from. The sports seats alone save 21kg, while the wheels, including Trofeo tyres, take back another 17kg. The air-con-delete option pares back another 12.6kg and the lightweight suspension components get rid of another 10.2kg. The only other significant saving is the high-performance EU exhaust that reduces the total by 12.5kg.
And as with every other McLaren Spider, there’s little if any compromise as far as dynamics go. And while the 600LT also gets a lightweight retractable hardtop roof, it’s a hydraulic system rather than the newer electrically driven unit in the 720S Spider, meaning it's slower by 4.0 seconds when opening and closing at speeds up to 40km/h instead of 50km/h on the 720S version.
The now famous top-exit exhausts from the Coupe have been retained, and we’re told they still spit flames when hot.
Twenty-three per cent of the car is brand new, and contrary to its profile point of view is a genuine ‘Longtail’ with a 47mm extension at the rear of the car to house the additional aerodynamics. And to make sure the car is balanced, there’s also a 27mm extension at the front.
There’s a new splitter and side skirts for better downforce (same as the Coupe), and a carbon floor with integrated brake ducts as part of the car’s fade-free braking enhancements. That’s a 100kg downforce at 250km/h.
There’s no question the 600LT Spider punches well above its weight in every performance metric that matters, and that includes some seriously big hitters like the Lamborghini Huracan Performante Spyder and the Ferrari 488 Spider with a dry weight of 1507kg and 1420kg respectively. With a power-to-weight ratio of 341kW/tonne, the McLaren is quicker to both 100km/h and to 200km/h (2.9sec and 8.4sec respectively) and a top speed of 324km/h with the roof raised, or 315km/h when lowered.
Rather than using the suspension rates from the 570S Spider base car, the 600LT version borrows heavily from the 675LT. The latest Spider also uses the carbon-ceramic brake discs from the Super Series parts box, as well as the brake booster from the McLaren Senna for extra stopping power and pedal feel, and the numbers tell the story.
The 600LT Spider can go from 200km/h to standstill in a mind-blowing 120m, which is within 5m of the McLaren P1 hypercar. What’s more, Pirelli developed a bespoke tyre for the 600LT, namely the P-Zero Trofeo R, which McLaren’s engineers claim has given the car similar cornering speeds to the benchmarked 675LT Spider.
We put all that to the test in the United States recently at the Arizona Motorsports Park, but not before a two-hour blast across the cacti-rich desert landscape – roof open, of course.
Unlike the previous day that saw us road-test the spanking new Super Series 720S Spider in a torrential downpour, the skies had cleared, the sun was shining and the roads were deserted.
You don’t just open the dihedral doors and climb aboard a car like a McLaren 600LT. In fact, the same goes for any McLaren. The experience is akin to an art connoisseur in a new gallery. The car simply demands you take a few steps back and enjoy the visual stimulation that it arouses.
It’s a treat from any angle, but is best viewed from behind. A combination of the top-mounted exhaust tips and big downforce-generating rear wing. Even at idle and with the roof open, the 600LT Spider looks like a proper motorsports-derived track weapon.
The front splitter is very aggressive with large integrated cooling ducts that do much more than cool the brakes. This is the work of a finely tuned balance between form and function, but nothing is there for looks alone.
For me, the day starts riding shotgun, but even then just sliding into the Alcantara-upholstered race shells complete with harness loops is a vastly different experience to climbing aboard the more luxurious 720S Spider the day before.
That said, they haven’t skimped on materials either: the entire cockpit is Alcantara clad with contrasting twin-stitched needlework. And, what’s not Alcantara is either real metal brightwork or genuine carbon-fibre. There’s an ordinary, hard-to-view (especially with the roof down) tablet-style screen for the sat-nav and infotainment, while the main controls are on the centre console.
There are two bottle holders but no glovebox (that I could see), and very little space for wallets, phones and sunnies, though foot space is pretty good. There’s also space for a couple of soft overnight bags under the bonnet, as tested, and a further 50 litres of storage behind the tonneau cover.
Hit the starter button and the twin-turbo V8 responds with an angry bark. There’s no mistaking this car for anything but a track-focused machine. It’s loud and less muffled, much like the F35 Lightnings that we’d see roaring into the skies from the base next to the track soon enough.
Right from the outset you’re aware of the carbon-fibre tub and just how stiff the chassis is. The ride is decidedly firm even in the softest damping setting, at least at low speed. Open it up when conditions permit and ride comfort seems to improve even over poorly maintained surfaces.
There’s also a ton of wind turbulence at high speed, making conversation a challenge, and that’s despite the glazed wind deflector in place. But I suppose that’s the point – you’d rather not be in the passenger seat in a McLaren.
Aside from the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, the 600LT is a hands-on experience – from seat adjustment to the steering wheel rake and tilt.
You can leave it in Normal and Auto mode if you must, or you can dial up Sport or Track and use the paddle shifters for the fully immersed feeling behind the wheel on deserted roads like this. There’s plenty of undulating tarmac and fast-flowing corners, too, where you might need a quick dab on the carbon-ceramic brakes just to re-balance the car. It’s epic once the semi-smooth Pirellis get some decent heat into them.
Give it a sustained bootful and you can clearly feel the effects of g-forces in play. Acceleration is huge, and it’s not just out of the gate either – mid-range punch is absolutely relentless, and perhaps a level above what you might expect from your junior McLaren supercar.
And while I might have thought the shift speeds in the Ferrari 488 and Lamborghini Huracan Evo were as sharp as it gets from a dual-clutch transmission, the seven-speed unit in the 600LT Spider seemed a level above those.
At full cry, each pull of the paddle shifter rewarded with a sound not dissimilar to the crack of thunder. Three gears down while hard braking into a corner rang out like a burst of automatic gunfire (not sure I’m supposed to say that).
Not only that, the degree of feedback available to the driver is just as impressive, and it's through every major control from the throttle, brake pedal, transmission and steering wheel. It’s almost sensory overload except that it’s all so in sync as to feel totally natural and under control.
No sooner had we arrived at the track for some proper high-speed dynamic testing, especially under big lateral loads. Standard fitment on the 600LT Spider are Pirelli P-Zero Trofeo R tyres, and by the look of them they’ll need a good deal of heat before they start to stick properly.
Arizona Motorsports Park is a particularly technical track, challenging even for pro racers. There are 15 corners – a couple taken in second gear, but no super-long straightaways where you can nudge big speeds, but still thoroughly rewarding nonetheless.
We kicked off with transmission and suspension modes set to Sport for the first of several sessions, but from there we dialled up Track with the ESC turned off to some degree. Some of that infallible rear-end grip was unshackled, requiring a good deal more focus and commitment from the driver.
But, even if you’re a little impatient on the tighter exits and the rear end decides to let go, the 600LT is dead easy to bring back into line. In fact, after a few of those situations it soon gets to be fun, such is the car’s innate agility.
That said, if you really want to get ‘on it’ and lap this place quickly, we found the Track mode with ESC ‘on’ to be just as quick, if not quicker, and without any tail-out silliness. It’s the combination of explosive acceleration, lighting-quick gearshifts (up or down the ratio range), cat-like steering and unbelievably good stopping power under late braking conditions all working in concert.
Then there's the feedback through the Alcantara-clad steering wheel – you're aware of every millimetre of directional change the front wheels are making, and in that regard it's like no other in the segment.
About the only disappointment with this car was not seeing the flames from the top-mounted exhaust tips. Next time.