Following McLaren’s previous Super Series cars – the MP4-12C, the 650S, and the wicked 675LT - there’s no question that the 720S has to meet some pretty high expectations.
At the moment, you can have your 720S in three different flavours. Regular is your standard, every day 720S and Luxury trim adds a full leather interior for those boulevard cruisers. There’s also the Performance trim 720S, like this test car, with a leather and Alcantara interior, which is the right way to go. The Alcantara touches add function and purpose to the cabin and it’s simply a pleasure to lay your hands on the stuff.
The heart of this McLaren is the company’s latest take on their common power unit. Here, it’s a 4.0-litre, twin turbocharged, dry sump V8 and nearly half of it is new over the 3.8-litre in the 650S, plus it sits 120mm lower in this new car.
It’s not enough that this car makes much more power than the 3.8-litre unit from the old 650S and 675LT, but it’s the way it delivers it that makes all the difference. The turbos are the twin scroll type to ramp up boost pressure quickly at low RPM and the wastegates are electronically controlled. Sure that’s nice to know, but for us that translates into remarkably crisp throttle response for a turbo motor.
For clarity, the 720 stands for 720PS, and you German speakers know it stands for pferdestärke, which is just a German word for metric horsepower. This new four litre makes 710 brake horsepower at 7,500 RPM and it makes its peak 568 pounds of torque from 5,500 to 6,500 RPM. With that kind of output, that it revs to an eardrum-splitting 8,100 RPM, and that crisp throttle response, it’s actually got a bit of a naturally aspirated character to it.
Sure those numbers are impressive, but word on the street is that this engine is a wee bit underrated. Third party dyno runs suggest it’s producing closer to eight hundred horsepower, but whatever the true output might be, it translates into reality-bending acceleration.
Zero to sixty in 2.8 seconds. The quarter mile in 10.3 seconds. Don’t forget this 720S is a rear driver, without the advantage of all-wheel drive, which makes these feats of acceleration seem unreal. As well, it’s said to top out at 212 miles an hour. This McLaren is so quick, that it might be a bit foolish to put this much power into the hands of mere mortals. High performance driver education should be a requirement for any 720S pilots.
McLaren’s seven-speed dual clutch gearbox shifts more quickly than before and, as the company likes to do these days, the 720S eschews a limited slip differential for an open diff in concert with technology. The brakes mimic a limited slip by slowing the wheel that would otherwise lose traction and it works brilliantly.
One of the 720’s parlour tricks is its Variable Drift Control and perhaps the point is that you can thrill your friends with exciting Kenny-From-The-Block style drifts, assuming you have the courage and the real estate. On the other hand, there’s more to be said about a driver who can drift without electronic assistance.
The tub is 100% serious and 100% carbon fibre. It’s strong, light, rigid, and the perfect foundation for building a supercar. McLaren doesn’t hide the carbon tub and it’s clearly visible when you look around the cabin. It’s a reminder that you’re driving the latest and greatest in supercar technology.
The Proactive Chassis Control II suspension is a further development of the 720’s predecessor and it’s exclusive to McLaren. The name is a mouthful, but it’s an innovative system delivers impeccable handling, control, and comfort in a completely different way. For it’s remarkable capabilities, the downside is that it weighs much more than a set of conventional shocks, springs, and anti-roll bars.
It’s based on double wishbones at all four corners, but with a set of dampers that are hydraulically interlinked. Hydraulic fluid is pumped rapidly between dampers, depending on demand for handling or comfort, and there is no need for anti-roll bars. With these unconventional dampers, the 720 corners flatter than the Prairies and yet it’ll still ride as comfortably as any luxury sedan.
The massive brakes are carbon ceramics from Alcon, the famed racing supplier, and stopping power is sublime - and so are feel and modulation at speed. You’d expect to see something from Brembo here, but Alcon has clearly met McLaren’s performance targets. Rightly so, the brakes are exceptional.
It could take days to fully discuss the aerodynamic development that’s gone into this car since it’s so comprehensive. This is one of the few super cars that has had every exterior surface finessed for the aero purpose it serves. If you look carefully, you’ll see that the 720’s design is all about getting the air to move around and through the car in the most effective way possible.
McLaren has also paid attention to how air is managed under the car, which we really can’t see, save for the diffuser at the back. Then there’s active wing that serves a couple of different purposes. Of course, when deployed, it’ll add downforce, it’ll also chill out and decrease drag when you’re going for v-max, but its best feature is when it acts as an air brake. In under half a second it fully deploys, shifting the aero balance of the car 20% rearward for better braking performance.
On the road, the 720S has an innate ability to devour miles at absurd speeds. One moment you’re enjoying the drive, the next you’re doing go-straight-to-jail speeds,and despite obscene velocities, the 720 is as smooth as Dean Martin with a glass of whiskey in his hand.
How it builds speed, how it carries speed through corners, the pace at which you can turn in, all seems almost unbelievable, but push this McLaren as hard as you want and it doesn’t ever break a sweat. The 720S drives not of this world, but rather as if it’s from an alternate reality - an alternative reality where responsible speeds aren’t a consideration.
Jumping off from its predecessors, the interior is next level for McLaren, and it exemplifies the company’s principles of clean design and minimalism. And with nearly 360 degrees of glass, there’s more of that airy spaciousness to the cabin for which McLaren is known, never mind practical visibility in almost all directions.
The folding instrument cluster is like the appendix you never wanted or needed. In standard mode, the TFT panel displays various bits of prioritized information based on the drive mode. Then, when you want to get hardcore, the screen folds down into a slim, horizontal display that shows you just the basics: speed, gear, engine RPM, and an active shift light.
For track work, that slim display makes a tremendous amount of sense, plus the interior has a clean look with the display in slim mode. However, after spending countless hours and dollars engineering weight out of the 720, it’s difficult to understand why McLaren would insist on a motorized screen.
The seating position is pure, effective supercar. The pedals and the wheel are right where you want them to be and you can get that super close, racecar seating position if you’re a performance-minded driver. Plus, when the going gets quick, this is the sort of car that demands all of your attention and the seating position is near perfection.
The steering wheel design subscribes to the McLaren aesthetic with the simple, refreshingly button-free wheel. That’s the antithesis to the competition and, particularly if you track your 720, the lack of distractions is quantifiable, especially when you’re concentrating on nailing the apex of that hundred mile an hour corner in your 300 thousand dollar McLaren.
Like all McLarens, the shift paddles are connected as a single piece through the back of the wheel. It’s a unique design among flappy-paddlers, but you appreciate the extra tactility, plus you can shift one handed, if necessary.
Through the Dynamics Panel, there are three driver selectable modes: Comfort, Sport, and Track, but there’s actually a fourth. On start up, the default, non-active mode isn’t Comfort or Sport, but rather it strikes a balance between those two.
The take rate on the optional, one piece, non-adjustable buckets is an undoubtedly low percentage and most buyers spec the standard seats. If you’re a track rat, you’ll want the deeply bolstered seats because this thing can produce some serious the g-loads.
McLaren’s signature dihedral doors are among the coolest in the business and it’s no surprise the kids call them Billionaire Doors. The way these doors strike a pose impacts the 720’s environment and causes heads to turn, whether you like it or not – and if you’re driving a car like this, you do like it.
McLaren is proud to tell anyone who will listen that this 720S has this massively broad, dynamic range chassis - and it’s absolutely true. It’s uncanny how this car will go from comfortable cruiser to track ready at the drop of a hat, and that’s certainly part of what makes this distinctively British supercar so desirable.
As comfortable as this McLaren is, the 720’s limits are as expansive as the Rockies and this is just one of a handful of cars that can’t be understood by driving on the road. The 720S truly requires time on the track to be fully explored.
There’s also the unique, purposeful design. It’s an aesthetic that’s defined as much by McLaren’s principles as it is by aerodynamics. But it’s the 720’s flat out, insane performance that gets right under your skin.
Brian Makse is a championship-winning racing driver, performance driving coach, and an auto writer and presenter. He holds multiple road racing track records, has raced off road trucks, and has driven many of the world’s famous circuits including the Nürburgring Nordschleife, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Road Atlanta, and Laguna Seca. As a life-long automobile enthusiast and accomplished racer, his stories are filtered through the lens of a highly experienced driver, giving his readers and viewers a unique perspective on the world of automobiles. You’ll find Brian’s work in automotive publications around the world and on his YouTube channel.