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Arizona is 10 per cent larger than the UK and has a population of seven million, with five million of those residing in Phoenix.
So, once you leave the city, you’ll find deserted roads and even more of the ubiquitous saguaro cacti. And for those interested in botany, it takes about 100 years for the main stem to reach maturity and its natural height, but then the additional arms take about another 75 years to grow. And believe me, there are many that appear to be around 375 years old.
That’s not the case with the 2019 McLaren 720S Spider. It’s all new and one of the fastest convertibles on the planet (if not the fastest), as well as being equipped with the quickest retractable hardtop in the segment.
The McLaren PR team also assured us it never rains in Arizona this time of the year, which is precisely why Scottsdale was chosen by the British sports car manufacturer as an international launch venue for its new flagship model.
But, on the morning of the drive program, the heavens opened up for most of the day, only pausing for a few moments of sunlight before reverting back to torrential downpours. Absolutely not the kind of weather conditions you want for some serious testing of what is a devastatingly quick supercar, which offers a genuine wind-in-the-hair driving experience to boot.
And, while the theme of this launch event was certainly Spiders, the expression itself doesn’t apply to the arachnids as you might have thought. Rather, it was a word used to describe the pre-car carriage due to the protruding prongs that connected to the horses’ harness that looked a bit like, well… A spider.
The 720S is the latest and greatest of a long list of Spiders commencing with the ground-breaking 12C Spider, then along came the 625C Spider (one of the rarest McLarens given just 21 were built for mainly Asia), only to be followed by the 650S Spider and 675LT Spider, 570S Spider, 600LT Spider and the 720S Spider we tested here.
More surprising still is the company claims half the volume in 2019 will be drop tops. And, given the asking price of $556,000 plus on-roads, there’s obviously plenty of exclusivity attached to this flagship model, effectively the culmination of six years’ development work.
No surprise, really, given the Super Series represents the very core of McLaren’s DNA – meaning the 720S Spider had to be the most complete convertible supercar available. No mean feat.
It had to have best-in-class performance in a package that led the way in both visibility and useability not seen before in a convertible supercar. And to deliver this, they needed a new retractable hardtop roof system – again best-in-segment in terms of speed and refinement of operation.
For the first two years of development, the Coupe and the Spider were developed alongside each other so that all of the Spider's requirements were built into the base vehicle to ensure a no-compromise approach to the car’s structure.
All McLarens use a carbon-fibre tub, and it’s been that way since 1981 when it debuted in the company’s Formula One thoroughbreds. The road cars started with the Mono-cage 1 that evolved into Mono-cage 11 for the 720S Coupe in 2017.
While there’s a lot of commonality between the two versions, there are also a few key changes required for the Spider, not least of which is the way the dihedral doors are mounted to the body, hence the creation of the Mono-cage 11 S (for Spider).
Essentially, the roof structure had to change to incorporate a new carbon rollover protection system at the rear of the vehicle. And because it's carbon fibre, it has also retained all of the weight-saving, rigidity and safety required, as well as ensuring a low centre of gravity for superior driving dynamics.
The roof itself has been awarded two patents that relate explicitly to the synchronicity of the one-piece roof mechanism, and the fact that there’s no split line for improved airflow.
And because of the carbon-fibre construction, it’s also lighter and smaller than anything else available as well as enhancing rear visibility, which is simply exceptional for a super sports car with this kind of performance and low-slung profile.
Not only can you get in and out of the car easier than you could in the 650S, it’s also more aesthetically pleasing for its simplicity and speed of opening and closing – just 11 seconds up to 50km/h. By way of comparison, the 650S Spider needed 17 seconds to open and close up to 30km/h. It also used an older hydraulic system rather than a series of eight electric motors used in the new 720S Spider.
As is usual for this segment, options are both extensive and pricey, but one box you might want to tick is the electrochromic roof that goes from 30 to 95 per cent tint at the touch of a button. When you lock the car, the roof also adopts the full tint for both security and thermal heat management of the interior when the vehicle is parked. Mandatory for the Aussie summer if you’re prepared to cop the GBP£7500 price tag. Or what about the two carbon-fibre exterior packs fitted to our tester? GBP£9160 and GBP£5820 respectively. And there are plenty more.
Forgetting the numbers for a moment and speaking from the real world, this roof mechanism is extraordinary in terms of just how quick you can lay down protection from the elements. Only problem is, after blasting along some of Arizona’s finest bitumen at warp speed, you can’t quite believe just how slow 50km/h is. That process in itself requires a sensory recalibration.
McLaren also claims the 720S is the fastest Spider in the class, and with a power-to-weight ratio of 397kW/tonne and a dry weight of 1332kg, it can outgun anything but the world’s fastest cars.
By way of comparison, the 1380kg Ferrari 488 Pista Spider achieves 384kW/tonne, the 1507kg Lamborghini Huracan Performante Spyder comes in at 312kW/tonne, while even the V12-powered 1625kg Lamborghini Aventador S Roadster can only muster 335kW/tonne.
Not only that, the Spider version also uses the same 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 from the Coupe, meaning it achieves exactly the same ballistic 0–100km/h performance (2.9 seconds) and top speed of 341km/h with the roof closed.
Again, it’s all too easy to get carried away with the numbers, but trust me when I tell you the 720S Spider will take your breath away with a simple prod of the throttle from almost any gear. And that was in the wet...
Launch it from standstill, and even after a momentary pause, the turbos spool up and catapult you into what feels like our original Bugatti Veyron experience – judging merely by the degree of back-pinning shove and wave of nausea you’re subjected to.
Keep it buried and you’ll light up the rear tyres in the first three gear ratios, but if you’re more measured with the throttle (easier said than done with this car and these roads), there’s also a surprising amount of grip from the Pirelli P-Zeros, even when hustling along this kind of undulating terrain with plenty of bends in the road. It’s one of those rare cars that encourages you to press on despite the conditions and without the fear or intimidation of some.
Pity is wasn’t dry, though, because that’s where this car’s phenomenal in-gear performance comes into play. Try zero to 200km/h in 7.9 seconds and a claimed quarter-mile in just 10.4 seconds (that’s several tenths better than the Porsche GT2 RS we took to the drag strip late last year). And remember, this is a convertible, so you get the full surround-sound acoustic experience – rain, hail or shine, in our case.
While the 675LT Spider unashamedly sacrificed some of its road-going performance for superb on-track prowess, the new 720S version offers the broadest breadth of ability we’ve ever experienced in a Spider-bodied super sports car.
It’s because the Spider gives away almost nothing to the 720S Coupe thanks to the same Proactive Chassis Control 11 system, for what is truly superb chassis control and ride comfort across a variety of driving conditions.
That’s the thing with this car and every other McLaren convertible I’ve been lucky enough to test: none of them feels any different to the Coupe in the dynamic department regardless of how hard you care to push on – even on-track. That’s where McLaren pulls away from rival brands, in my opinion.
It’s hard to detect a single millimetre of body roll at a decent clip – the direct result of the carbon-fibre tub and the car’s exotic suspension system incorporating independent adaptive dampers, dual aluminium wishbones and proactive chassis control. All McLarens are track-capable, but this one feels especially so.
That’s because there’s a bunch of sophisticated technology designed to keep the car perfectly in check and nicely balanced during a full-on tarmac assault in almost any conditions. You simply aren’t aware of any unwanted body movements because there aren’t any – so you tend to lean on it even harder, but still with all the confidence in the world.
More surprising was the level of front-end grip on turn-in – admittedly that was in a deserted carpark, but it was wet too. The same goes for the superbly planted rear of the car. So much so that it was difficult to put the car into a drift until we dialled up ‘Variable Drift Control’, which allows a reasonable degree of slip angle for that kind of extracurricular fun.
Aerodynamic performance has also been enhanced thanks to the profile of the glazed flying buttresses, which have been designed to guide air over the rear tonneau that adds downforce while barely affecting drag. The whole car looks like a master class in function over form in this regard.
Other benefits include optimal heat extraction from the engine and improved airflow. The Spider is also equipped with the same full-width active rear spoiler from the Coupe, which is tastefully tucked away into the rear deck until activated. On the Spider, though, it’s been calibrated differently to allow for its unique airflow with the roof up or down.
Everyday usability was also high on the agenda during development of the 720S Spider, which is why the trademark dihedral doors were redesigned to be slightly narrower with a greater angle, making exit and entry easier in tight spaces. That's something we’d like to put to a more rigorous test in a city like Sydney.
Even the Bowers & Wilkins audio system has been retuned for the full effect of the new open space the Spider presents. But with a relatively short driving window in poor conditions, we didn’t get to switch it on.
The same goes for the air-conditioning system. It’s been recalibrated to cope effectively under both environments, with the added advantage of the electrically operated wind deflector that can be lowered or raised depending on the driving conditions and how much exhaust noise you want to hear.
And when you need to reverse park or make a three-point turn, you can not only see through the flying buttresses, but you can also see over them, which makes this Spider much easier to live with, and a more serene environment than the previous 650S version.
That’s not all, the rear deck of the 720S has also been lowered by 25mm, meaning there’s 7.5m greater visibility as you look behind in the rear-vision mirror compared with the 650S Spider. All of that translates into 12 per cent better rear view, but in reality it seems even greater.
Luggage space is, of course, limited in the new McLaren Spider with just 58 litres under the tonneau when the roof is up, but in total there’s a combined 208L including the space under the bonnet. It’s about as good as it gets in this segment.
Unlike the 600LT Spider we also tested at this event, the 720S cockpit is a far more comfortable place to be – simply more space all round and nicer materials. The sports seats are especially comfortable, while at the same time providing a high level of bolster commensurate with the car’s dynamic prowess.
Not only that, the combination of a supersize instrument display and higher-resolution infotainment display is a nice fit too, though nothing less than you might expect in a flagship model at this pricepoint.
The 720S Spider demands a hefty $66,100 premium over its Coupe sibling, as well as rival models like the Ferrari 488 Spider ($29,112) and Lamborghini Huracan Performante Spyder ($23,365). But I’d argue that neither can match the all-round performance of the McLaren both on and off the track, as close as they might be.