From graphics packs to the sort of ill-advised spoilers that do nothing more than spoil the look of your car, manufacturers have long loved to play on even tangential associations between race cars and their road-going equivalents.
Your first impression of the 2020 McLaren 620R might be that it comes from this long tradition, given both the option of factory-applied sponsors decals and a rear wing that looks like it belongs on the grid for a GT race.
That’s because it isn’t an imposter, rather what is effectively a road-legal version of the customer-spec 570S GT4 racer that is competing around the world.
McLaren has done the bare minimum to make the 620R streetable, putting blunter edges on the rear wing side blades and ensuring it meets lighting and safety regs.
Beyond the fact it doesn’t have a rollcage or plumbed-in fire-extinguisher, the view from the driver’s seat is effectively identical. The trim is fractionally plusher, but there’s no carpeting or glovebox.
The mechanical spec includes 32-way-adjustable coil-over suspension to allow owners to try and find their perfect set-up, with the rear wing also having three positions (the most aggressive delivering up to 185kg of downforce at 250km/h).
The base engine is the 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 of the regular Sports Series, but this has been turned up to deliver 456kW and 620Nm. McLaren claims a 2.9-second 0–100km/h time, an 8.1-second blast from 0–200km/h and a 322km/h top speed. That actually makes it quicker in straight lines than the GT4 racer, which always produces under 500hp due to ‘Balance of Power’ restrictions.
You’ll be unsurprised to hear that none of this makes the 620R an accomplished road car. In fact, it’s close to terrible – especially considering just how broad the spread of talents of the track-biased 600LT are.
The cabin is filled with buzz and refinement at even modest speeds, the residual soundproofing keeping out noise about as well as a screen door would.
Full credit to the keen sense of humour of whoever at McLaren specified the car I drove with the pricey Bowers & Wilkins speaker upgrade – you’d be better off with a set of headphones.
Performance is huge, but the 620R doesn’t feel significantly quicker than any of McLaren’s many other hugely fast offerings. At everyday road speeds, the chassis feels as if it has barely got out of bed, with the towering grip levels of the Trofeo-R tyres high enough to discourage any attempts to try and find their limits. And even with the dampers softened off, ride quality turns imperfect tarmac into a vigorous massage.
But in its natural environment of a racetrack, the 620R becomes truly special. McLaren is offering the option of being able to buy a set of Pirelli slick tyres on the same-size wheels as the road-going rubber – 19-inch at the front and 20s at the rear.
Provided they have been dispatched to the circuit ahead of time, owners will be able to do a straight swap without adjusting other settings, likely taking the opportunity to firm up the coilovers at the same time. It is possible to specify three-stage adjustable dampers from the regular Sports Series for extra cost, but doing that would miss the fun of getting busy with the spanners.
I got to drive on the fast but technical Snetterton Circuit in Norfolk, with the stiffened and slick-shod 620R feeling immediately at home under even the hardest use. Despite the brutality of its performance specs, the 620R is more of a surgical tool than a blunt weapon. Hugely quick, but also impressively unscary for something with such an extreme power-to-weight ratio.
It rips through its gear ratios with savage glee – loud and animalistic, even when heard through a padded helmet. Changes from the seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox are as ferociously fast as always, especially with the torque-bumping ‘Inertia Push’ in Track mode.
The huge carbon-ceramic brakes are unflappable, even under the hardest use.
McLaren says that the slick tyres only offer a modest increase in peak performance over the Trofeo-Rs – a four per cent gain in lateral G – but they are much more tolerant of prolonged high-speed loadings.
The 620R certainly feels tireless on-track, although it is soon clear that the slicks don’t have much tolerance for mistakes. Getting on the throttle too early in tighter turns results in missing apexes by some embarrassing margins.
Discipline brings greater precision, and both traction and high-speed stability feel impeccable, with the aero pack’s downforce contribution increasingly obvious as speeds rise.
McLaren says production of the 620R will be limited to just 225 globally; a fall on the 350 it was originally planning to build. That number is an accurate reflection on the rarefied appeal of something like this: a car that is substantially compromised most of the time to be exceptionally good at one thing.
While the lesser 600LT is a far superior all-rounder, it’s never going to be more than an enthusiastic amateur on-track. The 620R is a steely-eyed pro.
Engine: 3799cc, V8, twin-turbocharged
Transmission: Seven-speed twin-clutch, rear-wheel drive
Power: 456kW at 7500rpm
Torque: 620Nm at 5500rpm
Top speed: 322km/h
Weight: 1386kg (EU) (1282kg ‘dry’)
MPG: 12.2L/100km [WLTP combined]
CO2: 278g/km [WLTP]