First Drive: 2020 McLaren GT
Grand touring, distilled.
THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: A Grand Touring car in the purest sense of the term.
- What’s Bad: New infotainment needs to have some kinks ironed out.
CÔTE D’AZUR, FRANCE – I now know the literal meaning of the word breathtaking.
The hills of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence are the least-populated region of France, located just to the north of the bustling French Riviera. Its roads, which are all but deserted by mainland Europe standards, feature narrow tunnels, dramatic switchbacks, and ribbons of asphalt so buxom as to bring even the most docile drivers to their knees.
These are the conditions the McLaren GT is made for; here, driving becomes a sensual work of art. The intermingling scents of fresh pine and premium leather. The gentle but present response to the slightest massage of a pedal, juxtaposed with the eager grip the wheels maintain with the road. The inhaling whine of the spooling turbochargers that creates rising anticipation for the ensuing roar of the exhaust.
With this car on these roads, I became so ensconced in the experience of the drive that for about 30 seconds I honestly and truly forgot to take a breath.
Some cars assert their performance credentials like a hammer to the head. The McLaren GT has no need for such grandiosity. Its aim, in the true grand touring style, is to be more subtle, maneuverable, controllable, and comfortable over a longer distance, with plenty of capability held in its back pocket to be summoned upon request.
It enters a segment too often usurped by those who slap a GT badge on a car because it sounds nice and, in doing so, throws down an imperial gauntlet.
McLaren’s New Endeavour
As far as grand touring cars go, this is the first standalone purpose-built GT built by McLaren’s road car division. Prior to the founding of the current iteration of McLaren Automotive in 2010, McLaren Cars produced the McLaren F1 in the 1990s and partnered with Mercedes-Benz on the SLR McLaren in the first decade of the millennium, a car that was also a grand tourer but didn’t carry the McLaren badge.
Over the last few years, the brand has neatly stacked its cars into categories: the 540C, 570S, and 600LT and related models are considered to be the entry-level Sport Series, while the 720S and 720S Spider carry the Super Series moniker. The top-tier Ultimate Series includes the sold-out Senna and the upcoming Speedtail.
The GT effectively creates a new category with distinct positioning as a road car, which more clearly defines the intent of the Sport and Super Series cars as having a heavier track focus. And that distinction plays out in reality through the GT’s smoother and more approachable drive dynamic befitting a car that’s intended to be a daily driver.
Not Track-focused, but Track-Ready
The McLaren GT may not be a track car first and foremost, but it wouldn’t let you down there. Its 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 produces 612 bhp and 465 lb-ft of torque that peaks between 5,500 and 6,500 rpm but is relatively flat across a broader range, from roughly 3,000 to 7,000 rpm. All along, a push of the throttle releases a goosebump-inducing whirr of spooling turbocharger, while the adaptive exhaust modulates engine sound based on throttle input and drive mode – it’s generally present and moving, but not as assertively raucous as a Sport or Super Series car unless you decide you want it to be.
Drive modes can be adjusted separately for the powertrain and the suspension: put both in comfort and the result is more subdued but still plenty lively; flip them to sport and the car brightens up considerably but is still eminently driveable. The track modes unlock the car’s full capabilities: getting from 0 to 100 in 3.2 seconds, 0 to 200 in 9.0 seconds, and up to a maximum speed of 326 kilometres per hour.
Were I to have the audacity to quibble, I suppose I’d say that the seven-speed automatic transmission could perhaps be more willing to downshift while in comfort mode. But the resulting sensations are more pleasant than droning for the most part, and it hardly comes with any sort of efficiency penalty – my co-driver and I averaged a remarkable 12.0 litres per 100 kilometres over a day of spirited driving. Officially, the U.S. EPA’s fuel economy figures, converted to litres per 100 kilometres, come in at 15.6 for city driving, 10.6 on the highway, and 13.0 combined. It perhaps even assuages some climate change guilt any potential owners may have. We don’t know how much time internal combustion engines have left, so why not enjoy the symphony while you still can?
More Power, Less Weight
A mid-engine layout is employed here and coupled with rear-wheel drive. This means that the McLaren GT has a heftier rearward balance, 57.5 percent versus 42.5 percent to the front, although that gets offset somewhat by any people and forward cargo that may be present. The centre of gravity ends up being at the driver’s hip level, and the intended sensation of the car pivoting around the occupants is a very present one. This gives life to the weight reduction efforts that place the curb weight at 1,530 kg, resulting in a power-to-weight ratio of 400 hp per ton.
Ground clearance can be a talking point in McLaren cars, but the GT’s is a very manageable 110 mm with a forward approach angle of 10 degrees, which raises to 130 mm and 13 degrees using the lifting feature, equal to a Mercedes-Benz C-Class. While Sport and Super Series cars absolutely benefit from the lift feature, we went over speed bumps without using it at all and had no issues.
Another interesting feature that’s been integrated here is proactive damping control. There’s an active damping element to this that responds to input within two milliseconds, but the car also uses readings from various sensors and artificial intelligence to so that it can predict what’s coming and learn to prepare for it in advance. It would take more time to see if this had a long-term effect, but this short excursion produced not a single jarring motion whatsoever on roads that certainly could have provided them.
A Stunner, With Less Compromise
No one needs to be told that the styling on this car is nothing short of stunning, inside and out. There’s an effortless minimalism to it that demands attention without carrying an air of audacity. That said, cars of this nature always require some level of compromise in exchange for their beauty, though that’s less the case with this car than it can be with some others.
A total of 570 litres of cargo space is available, with 150 litres of that being at the front and the remaining 420 litres coming from the rear just above the engine. A set of golf clubs is meant to be accommodated in the latter space; other items such as hard-sided carry-on bags aren’t as natural a fit, though mine slid into the forward hold comfortably.
Visibility is excellent all around apart from through the rear window, where it isn’t stellar but still is quite good for the body style. (The aforementioned set of golf clubs would likely change that. But at least it can fit in there to begin with.)
And if coffee is important to you, it’s worth noting that neither of the cup holders is in an ideal location. Using the one in front requires maneuvering your beverage under the touch screen, while the contents of the one in the back could easily get in the way of the driver’s elbow. Anything much larger than a tall could get precarious. On the other hand, the interior is so beautiful that you might well forbid people from bringing along anything with the potential to defile anyway.
A Much-needed Technology Boost
If there’s one element of McLaren’s cars that needed attention, it’s the infotainment, and this first look at its next generation is promising. The interface is vastly improved and now looks and operates more like a dashboard-mounted smartphone with clearer graphics and real-time traffic information. McLaren says this system is five times faster than the previous version, which matches the experience provided on this test drive.
However, there is one snag: the screen fully crashed at one point in the middle of a pre-programmed navigation sequence. Even a full off-and-on power cycle didn’t reset it. It did reboot itself after a couple of minutes, but by then we’d missed our turn and had to navigate a rerouting through busy city traffic.
The version tested here is a pre-production implementation, so it’s entirely possible this kink will be ironed out before it gets into the hands of customers. In the meantime, I’ll allow myself to be amused by the fact that the man on the HVAC control screen is wearing a tiny helmet.
All the Right Moves
The McLaren GT’s greatest strength is one that makes any grand touring car great: it excels at amplifying all of its most invigorating sensations while keeping the less desirable ones at bay. This car takes the best things about an exceptional drive and distills them down into an experience that’s more enjoyable and accessible to a broader swath of drivers.
Pricing starts at $250,000 Canadian, and deliveries begin in October 2019.
2020 McLaren GT
BODY STYLE: Two-seat, two door grand touring car
CONFIGURATION: Longitudinal mid-engine, rear-wheel drive
ENGINE: 4.0L twin-turbocharged V8; Power: 612 bhp @ 7,500 rpm; Torque: 465 lb-ft @ 5,500 to 6,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 7-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY: (Premium Gasoline in L/100km) 15.7 city/11.2 highway/13.8 combined (converted from U.S. EPA estimates)
PRICE: From $250,000, plus destination and other fees
WEBSITE: McLaren GT