||All rights reserved.
is now so good that Ferrari 488GTB should feel its leading position
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
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
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
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
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
the best looking McLaren so far.
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
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
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.
outward visibility afforded by large glass area, including the glazed
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.