McLaren 720S

Debut: 2017
Maker: McLaren
Predecessor: MP4-12C / 650S

 Published on 3 Jun 2017 All rights reserved. 

It is now so good that Ferrari 488GTB should feel its leading position seriously threatened...

Last year, McLaren delivered 3286 cars, almost matching Lamborghini (3457 cars) and Aston Martin (3687 cars), if still some way behind Ferrari (8014 cars). It sounds even more impressive considering McLaren had just returned to supercar business since 2011, and before that, it sold only 100 cars in its entire history! During these 6 years, McLaren made a lot of progress. The first MP4-12C was not quite in the same league as the contemporary Ferrari 458. It simply lacked the aesthetic, the drama and handling finesse to do so. However, Woking learnt quickly – certainly more quickly than its F1 team in recent years. It took less than 3 years to improve the MP4-12C into 650S, and then one more year to build the remarkably good 675LT. Meanwhile, the MP4-12C family, now called “Super series”, got two more brothers, P1 and 570S, to complete a healthy product portfolio. All these cars are built upon a common architecture to enable quick development and cost saving. You feel that McLaren is well planned, well funded, and it has the right talents to develop good cars.

After 6 years, the first generation Super series is finally retired. Taking its place and upping the game is 720S. From its name, you can already tell it has quite a lot more horsepower and performance on offer, yet that is not the whole story. In fact, the car is improved in every way, no matter looks, performance, handling, practicality or emotion. It is now so good that Ferrari 488GTB should feel its leading position seriously threatened!

Sexy, futuristic and dramatic, like a modern-day Jaguar XJR-15.

The first positive impression comes from its new exterior design. It looks a lot sexier than the MP4-12C! Remember how I described that car? “From some angles, the MP4-12C could look a little bulky – the nose is not slim enough, the whale mouth a little clumsy, the inward-facing eyes lack sparkles, the A-pillars too thick, the waist line appears too high, the side air scoops oversized and the butt too big…” I guess no other automotive journalists were more critical about its design! Now McLaren finally admits its underwhelming design, but oddly, no one stands out to take responsibility. They said the MP4-12C was already designed before Frank Stephenson taking the helm, although I found Mr. Stephenson joined the company in April 2008, 17 months before the first MP4-12C prototype was unveiled online. Anyway, the 720S has all its faults corrected. It is penned by designer Rob Melville and is the last McLaren overseen by Stephenson, who has just left Woking last month.

The 720S looks very sleek and flowing. The nose is pointy and the front splitter is razor-sharp. The front bonnet is set low and the windscreen is large and curvy – a profile should have been adopted by all mid-engined sports cars. The waistline is also low enough, and it flows sexily over the front and rear wheel arches. Unlike its predecessor's, its A-pillars are incredibly slim, thanks to using carbon-fiber instead of aluminum tubes to construct them. The glasshouse cockpit has large glass area and black rails to relieve visual mass. The butterfly doors now open also the roof to aid entry, like LaFerrari or Enzo. Meanwhile, the huge rear spoiler is clearly inspired by P1, curvy yet recesses flush at the tail before tilting up at speed (for up to 30 degrees, or 80 degrees when it acts as airbrake). Overall, the 720S is a good looking supercar, appearing sexy, futuristic and dramatic, like a modern-day Jaguar XJR-15. You might say it is a bit heavy-handed in some styling elements, but it is unquestionably the best looking McLaren so far.

The hidden side intakes are probably inspired by TVR...

Two of the design elements are really unique to the McLaren. The first is the “eye-socket” headlamps. They look large, but the LED beam elements actually occupy a small portion of them, leaving the rest for air intakes to cool the radiators mounted just ahead of the front wheels. Some might find them strange, but I do like them because, as I grown up with 1980s supercars, modern LED headlamps look too slim to my taste.

Another clever innovation is the arrangement for the side main intakes. Modern turbocharged supercars need cumbersome side intakes to cool the engine – Ferrari 488 is an example – which usually have the aesthetic damaged. To avoid this problem, the 720S cleverly uses a trick tried by TVR in the 1990s, i.e. layered body panels. TVR Griffith and Tuscan etc. used one curved body panel to lay over another curved panel in order to hide its wide and varying assembly gaps. The McLaren uses it not to hide gaps, but the huge intakes for radiators! If you view from the side, you can’t see the intakes at all. Turn to the front, Aha, now you can see the intake sandwiched between 2 layers of body panels. Thanks to the recessed air channels, fresh air flows smoothly towards the radiators, enhancing cooling efficiency thus the radiators can be made smaller and lighter. To make possible the curvy double-layer design, most of the body panels are made of superformed aluminum. Carbon-fiber is reserved for the successor of 675LT, obviously.

However, carbon-fiber does serve as the stressed structure. While its predecessor was built around a carbon-fiber tub called MonoCell, the new car has added upper structures to the tub, creating a monocoque called MonoCage II (note: the first MonoCage was used by P1). Thanks to the T-bar roof, the A, B and C-pillars can be made slimmer to improve outward visibility. The C-pillars are even transparent and glazed, so the 720S easily offers best-in-class all-round visibility. The stronger yet lighter carbon-fiber upper structure also lowers center of gravity slightly and allows the door sills to be lowered to aid entry.

Best-in-class outward visibility afforded by large glass area, including the glazed C-pillars.

As before, aluminum subframes are attached to the front and rear of the carbon monocoque to support the suspensions, powertrain and crash structures. The all-round double-wishbone suspensions have been overhauled with new geometry and control arms, saving 16 kg of unsprung weight. The Proactive Chassis Control, a hydraulically interconnected damping system supplied by Tenneco, is carried over, but it gets a more sophisticated control system with 3 more sensors each corner to measure the acceleration of each upright and the pressure at the top and bottom of each damper. The steering remains electrohydraulic assisted, a relieve to keen drivers.

The 720S weighs 1283 kg dry or 1419 kg with fluid as measured by DIN standard. It is slightly lighter than the 650S, and officially 87 kg lighter than Ferrari 488GTB. However, as Autocar found out on scale, it is actually 135 kg lighter than the Ferrari.

Meanwhile, its engine offers 50 more horsepower than the Ferrari as well, making it the first in class to enter the 700hp Club, so it is unquestionably the faster car. According to official figures, it can sprint from rest to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds, a tenth faster than Ferrari, while 0-124 mph is accomplished in 7.8 seconds, half a second quicker! The latest Lamborghini Huracan Performante needs 8.9 seconds to do so, so you can see how superior the McLaren’s straight line performance is! In its class, it is simply unbeatable. Even a Ferrari F12tdf, which costs 60 percent more to purchase and is considered a class higher, loses to the McLaren by a tenth of a second. As for top speed, the 720S is also class-leading at 212 mph.

212 mph! This is easily the fastest car in its class!

Such a staggering acceleration is provided by the new M840T twin-turbo V8, a 90-degree flat-crank unit developed by Ricardo. It is derived from the outgoing M838T, with capacity increased to 3994c.c. thanks to a 3.6mm longer stroke. Some 40 percent of its parts have been changed, including lighter pistons, con-rods and stiffer crankshaft. The titanium-aluminum turbochargers are now twin-scroll type for faster response. Strangely, the fuel injection remains port-injection, probably the last of its kind these days, but it gets twin-injectors each cylinder for more precision. Boost pressure should be higher than before, otherwise it would not have produced 720 hp at 7250 rpm. Peak torque of 568 lbft is released at 5500 rpm, which sounds peaky for a turbo engine. The V8 is capable to spin to 8500 rpm, when fuel is cut out, but its redline starts at 8200 rpm.

The transmission continues to be the Graziano 7-speed twin-clutch. The McLaren still uses an open differential, lacking an LSD or active differential. It relies on only the brake-actuated torque vectoring called Brake Steer and an upgraded stability control called Variable Drift Control. If these electronics are so effective, why all other rivals bother to waste mass and money on active differentials? Responsible for putting the power to the ground are Pirelli P Zero tires (or P Zero Corsa for track use). The front rubbers gain 10mm wider to improve bite and cut understeer. Stopping power comes from large carbon-ceramic pizzas, of course.

On the Road

Get into the cockpit, and the first impression is the easier entry thanks to the wider-opening doors, the slightly lower sills but most important the opening of the roof section. Once inside, you will find the place as snug as before, since the carbon-fiber monocoque is not known for width. You sit close to the center line and your passenger. However, the ambience is made more airy by glass roof, expansive windscreen and large windows all round. The promise for best-in-class outward visibility is true.

MonoCell II adds carbon-fiber upper structure to aid access to the cabin.

Depending on your choice, you can have the cabin and seats trimmed with leather or Alcantara, or even gets lightweight fixed carbon bucket seats, though it is not recommended for everyday comfort. There are bits made of carbon-fiber, but more for looks than actual weight saving. The interior design might look new, but it is also obviously evolved from the MP4-12C / 650S, especially the center console with portrait LCD. The infotainment system is said to be new, but the touchscreen’s response and software interface remain average. The main instrument is now a TFT screen. When you switch to Track mode, it will fold down and reveal a simplified digital readout of only rev, speed and gear selected. Why not simply reconfigure the screen to display these info? It sounds gimmicky and in practice doesn’t look stylish. Still, for ease of entry, quality and visibility, this cabin is a big improvement from its predecessor. It also gets a luggage space above the engine compartment in addition to the front boot.

Driving slowly in Comfort mode, the 720S is as easy-going as your BMW. Its hydraulic suspension offers a ride comfort superior to anything in the class, especially on poor B-roads. Tire roar is well suppressed. Exhaust note is subdued. The twin-clutch gearbox in automatic mode shifts smoothly. The superb all-round visibility makes it easy to place and park. If it had more cabin space or narrower door sills, it could have been as practical for everyday use as a 911.

But the McLaren is designed for driving fast, not for cruising. Give it more pressure and its V8 responds positively. With twin-scroll turbos, the Ricardo V8 responds to throttle quicker than its predecessor, but compared with Ferrari’s marvelous V8 you can still feel noticeably more turbo lag low down, and you need 4000 rpm to really wake it up. Once it is fully awoken, it becomes a beast, revving eagerly towards 8000 rpm. The power delivery above 4000 rpm is smooth and seamless, more like a large naturally aspirated V12. Unfortunately, it lacks the aural drama of V12. Even by the standard of turbocharged V8s, its noise is too subdued, too industrial. It is more about wastegate whooshes and induction noise rather than Ferrari’s angry howl or AMG’s pops and crackles. Even with optional sport exhaust fitted, it is not a memorable soundtrack.

The Ricardo V8 still lacks aural drama...

Still, the 720S feels lightning quick on the road, thanks to its lack of mass and instantaneous gearshift. Moreover, it attacks corner with an eagerness not found on the previous 650S. The weightier yet feelsome steering is more confidence-inspiring. The chassis balances much better, with less understeer on display. Although it offers plenty of traction and enormous grip, when you really push it mid-corner, it will be happy to oversteer slightly, and it will continue to respond to your counter steer and throttle to adjust its angle. This makes it far more interesting to drive than the 650S, although 675LT still has an edge in terms of sharp response. Understandably, being a road car in the first place the 720S has to give up some of the LT’s agility for stability, and it is well judged.

Nevertheless, there is still room for improvement. While its handling becomes more adjustable, it can’t sustain a power slide beautifully like Ferrari, blame to the lack of active differential. This means the so-called “Variable Drift Control” is somewhat misleading – it is more about allowing slight oversteer than holding a drift. Another flaw is the brake pedal, which lacks initial bite and could feel wooden sometimes.

Having said that, the 720S is a huge improvement from the 650S. It is even good enough to win over 488GTB to many, at least in the eyes of British motoring writers. To me, however, it still lacks the passion of Ferrari – the keen throttle response, the emotional engine sound and the ability to power-slide precisely on track. However, the McLaren is clearly faster and probably more interesting to look. Most important, it finally shows a confidence to beat its rivals. The car costs £209,000 on its home soil, 25 grand more than the Ferrari. Nothing else can be more indicative. 


Length / width / height
Valve gears
Other engine features
Max power
Max torque
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Suspension features


Kerb weight
Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)
0-100 mph (sec)
0-124 mph (sec)
0-150 mph (sec)
Mid-engined, RWD
Carbon-fiber monocoque, aluminum subframes
4543 / 1930 / 1196 mm
2670 mm
V8, 90-degree
3994 cc
DOHC 32 valves, DVVT
720 hp / 7250 rpm
568 lbft / 5500 rpm
7-speed twin-clutch
All: double-wishbones
Hydraulic interconnected adaptive dampers
F: 245/35ZR19
R: 305/30ZR20
1283 kg dry / 1419 kg kerb
212 mph (c)
2.8 (c) / 2.9* / 2.7**
5.5 (c) / 5.6* / 5.1**
7.8 (c)
11.5* / 10.2**

Performance tested by: *Autocar, **R&T

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