McLaren 765lt 2020

2021 McLaren 765LT review

International first drive

Don’t think of it as an expensive 720S, rather a cut-price Senna.
- shares

The problem with building all your cars using the same components is that people will say they are all substantially the same. It’s been an issue for McLaren since the launch of the MP4-12C back in 2012.

From that point onwards, almost all of the company’s road cars have used evolved versions of the same carbon-fibre tub, twin-turbocharged V8 engine and twin-clutch transmission. So why pay the huge supplement for the punchier and angrier versions?

It’s an argument that the new 2021 McLaren 765LT fights both sides of. This is a car that gets desperately close to delivering the same level of performance as the almighty Senna that was launched as recently as 2018 – despite costing, in most parts of the world, less than half as much. You’d have to admit it’s a better looker as well.

Yet, on the other side of the coin, the 765LT also proves itself to be entirely worthy of the supplement it carries over the hugely fast, hugely talented 720S that it shares pretty much all of its core DNA with. If you had a budget that enabled you to choose either, you’d take the LT every time. It really is that good.

This is the third outing for McLaren’s LT branding, referencing the ‘Long Tail’ nickname of the motorsport-evolved McLaren F1 GT of 1997, and following on from the 675LT and 600LT.

LT is the code the company applies to those products that are track-biased but still road viable, lighter and harder-cored than the regular models, with the bias thrown towards ultimate performance rather than everyday livability. Long Tail is a bit of a misnomer with the 765LT – it’s all of 9mm longer than the 720S – but the rest of the spec is still mouth-watering.

Amazingly, McLaren has managed to pare 80kg of mass from the svelte 720S, already the lightest car in its segment by a considerable margin. That’s come through lighter alloys, racing seats, a spectacular-looking quad-tailpipe exhaust system, and even details like polycarbonate rear side glazing.

Getting to the headline 1228kg figure that McLaren quotes would mean foregoing both air-conditioning and entertainment systems – something very few buyers are likely to do. But even with the 11.5kg penalty for keeping them in place as zero cost options hardly turns it lardy.

McLaren’s original plan was to let us experience the LT on both road and track, but COVID-19 limitations in the UK reduced the number of cars available, and meant my drive was limited to the UK’s Silverstone Circuit, on the 2.98km International layout. That denied the chance to sample the 765 on-road – a shame given how well-rounded the cheaper 600LT was in the real world. But it did give the chance to confirm that the new car is truly special on-track.

Buyers shouldn’t expect any bling. The cabin is big on carbon fibre and light on fripperies, with pretty much every surface covered in either woven carbon or Alcantara. There are no carpets as standard, and the test cars had also been fitted with the extra-cost option of the Senna’s barely there padded carbon buckets and six-point harnesses.

Surprise and delight are pretty much limited to the way the instrument pack folds down when the car is put into its Race mode, reducing the view to a narrow digital rev counter and a speed readout.

It’s loud. Even leaving the pit lane, and listening through the padding of a crash helmet, the engine is filling the cabin with harsh harmonics. Harder use increases the volume to near painful levels, yet strangely McLaren has given a change-up chime noise (similar to the one on the Mazda RX-8) that works in conjunction with the colour-changing hint lights.

Acceleration is brutal, with organ-sloshing forces substantial enough to cause physical discomfort. Don’t have a lunch of oysters before taking to the track in an LT. The 4.0-litre engine makes 563kW – 25kW less than the lighter Senna – but works through shorter gearing.

Straight-line acceleration gets desperately close to its hypercar sister. The 765’s 2.8sec 0–100km/h time is impressive, but it is the 7.0sec 0–200km/h time that tells the true story – that’s 1.4 seconds faster than the 720S and just two-tenths shy of the Senna over the same benchmark. An 18.0sec 0–300km/h time is just half a second adrift of the Senna.

Mechanical grip levels are correspondingly huge. Even what feel like daringly early accelerator applications in some of Silverstone’s tighter turns soon turn out to be excessively cautious. Pushing harder reveals the ability of the fast-acting stability and traction-control systems to hold the car on the very edge of rear-end breakaway, with power getting fed back in progressively as steering lock is removed.

Beyond that there’s a more permissive ESP Dynamic setting that allows some rear-end slip, and even a so-called Variable Drift Mode. But, as with all McLarens, the 765LT’s mid-engined weight distribution and limited steering lock limit enthusiasm for real opposite lock, despite the heroic-looking tyre-smoking official pictures.

McLaren is offering the 765LT with the option of the upgraded brakes from the Senna, these using more thermally efficient carbon-ceramic discs very similar to those used in top-flight motorsport. It’s an expensive box to tick, but for anyone planning regular use on-track it's probably a worthwhile one – retardation is tireless even under the hardest use, with what initially felt like late braking points proved to be much too early. The ultra-fast tune of the twin-clutch gearbox is similarly unfaultable.

The big difference over the Senna is the LT’s relative lack of aerodynamic downforce. Strangely, McLaren refuses to say how much the new car can actually produce, only claiming the figure is 25 per cent higher than the never-divulged total for the 720S. But although there is far less than in the Senna – which makes up to 800kg at 250km/h – I can still feel the ‘hand of God’ squashing the car into Silverstone’s higher-speed corners and increasing confidence as it does so.

McLaren is heading towards a hybridised era, with the company’s first e-boosted V6 model due to be launched next year. Clever new tech will increase performance, although at the expense of adding mass, but it’s hard to imagine a future where it creates cars as visceral and thrilling as the 765LT.

It might not sit at the top of the McLaren hierarchy, but it feels like the most exciting car in the current range, and possibly the entire supercar segment.

The basics

  • Engine: 3994cc, V8, twin-turbocharged
  • Transmission: Seven-speed twin-clutch, rear-wheel drive
  • Power: 563kW at 7500rpm
  • Torque: 800Nm at 5500rpm
  • 0–100km/h: 2.8sec
  • Top speed: 330km/h
  • Weight: 1339kg (EU) (1228kg ‘dry’)
  • MPG: 12.3L/100km [WLTP combined]
  • CO2: 280g/km [WLTP]
  • Price: TBC