Following the introduction of the 720S coupe two years ago, the British supercar maker followed up with a convertible – a Spider in McLaren speak – and it’s quite the machine. The previous Super Series convertible – the 650S Spider – was formidable in its own right, but the performance of the 720S is at an entirely new level.
As a small manufacturer, a company like McLaren can make changes on the fly and it’s nice to see some simple updates in this 2020 model. There are a couple of minor but functional differences in the year and a half since I tested the 720S coupe.
For example, on the leading edge of the doors there is now a grille that prevents, dirt, gravel, stones, and all sorts of road debris from depositing itself into the scalloped portion of the door. The leading edge of the door forms the rear portion of the wheelhouse and in my early-production coupe, debris would collect in the door. Now, with the grill in place, that’s minimized and you’ll no longer be embarrassed with dirt falling out of your door at the valet stand.
If you’re not entirely familiar with McLarens, one of the coolest things is that the tub is made entirely of carbon fiber. This lightweight construction gives their cars unmatched rigidity and an exceptional platform for a supercar. Even as a convertible, the Spider’s chassis seems as rigid as the coupe and, in terms of performance, there's little difference between them.
The 720S is powered by McLaren’s 4.0-litre, twin turbo V8, which makes 710 horsepower at a peaky 7,500 RPM, and unlike most modern turbos, you’ll find its peak 568 lb-ft of torque all the way up at 5,500 through 6,500 RPM. In this way, it acts more like a naturally aspirated V8, begging you to run it through the rev range.
The turbos are the twin-scroll type and, as a result, you’d be hard pressed to tell that this is turbocharged. There’s no hint of turbo lag. One of the things I love about McLaren V8s is their distinctive note, which is more like a superbike than a supercar.
Power gets to the ground through the rear wheels through a seven-speed, dual clutch gearbox, into an open differential, and McLaren applies their racing expertise to control wheelspin. In most supercars today, you’ll find an electronically-controlled, limited slip differential, but McLaren uses the brakes to slow a slipping tire and thus maximize acceleration.
As is required in all modern supercars, the Spider does indeed have launch control – another bit of McLaren’s racing tech – allowing this rear-drive convertible supercar to accelerate from zero to 100 km/h in a remarkable 2.9 seconds. The quarter mile is dashed in just 10.4 seconds. Similarly, McLaren gives the 720S a drift control function. Yes, you can drift your $400,000 British supercar, if you dare.
Seating position is excellent and the view out the front is excellent. This is a mid-engine car, so the cowl is low and you have an expansive view. What McLaren does differently than its Italian competition is keep buttons, dials, and knobs away from the steering wheel. The only things you’ll find attached to the wheel are the interconnected shift paddles, leaving the wheel clear, encouraging you to give the 720S your full attention. Given its performance potential, you really do need to pay attention.
The hydraulically-assisted steering has wonderful feel and feedback, with a supercar-quick ratio. Brakes on the other hand, seem closer to something you’d find on a top-level racing car. It takes much more pedal pressure to actuate the brakes than in most road cars, supercars included. Brakes are carbon ceramics of course, and feel and modulation permit millimeter-level precision. And as much as you can place the 720S with the wheel, you can also change its attitude with the brakes. This is indeed a driver’s supercar.
For McLaren pilots, one key consideration is that the pedal box is very narrow, which is perfectly fine since this is a two-pedal car, after all. This makes the 720S one of the few road cars where the driver could benefit from driving shoes. For sports cars, I’m an advocate for skate shoes with their wide sole, but the 720S’s the pedals are so close together that you probably do want to wear a pair of narrow, driving-specific kicks.
The Spider handles absolutely brilliantly, with plenty of grip and feedback from the chassis, but also rides nearly as comfortably as any ultra-luxe sedan. Credit is due to McLaren’s own Proactive Chassis Control II suspension system. The dampers are hydraulically interconnected and control both wheel and body motion, but also roll. Yes, with this active system, there is no need for conventional anti-roll bars.
The front trunk is cavernous, relatively speaking, with much more space than a Lamborghini Huracan, for example. Like all supercars, there is a minimal amount of cabin storage. There is a pair of cupholders, a little space for your mobile phone, and a couple of tiny spots for storage. This encourages you to keep your personal carry to a minimum, which is the right thing to do when driving a supercar.
The way I prefer to drive the Spider creates a bit of a ritual when I start it up. Fire it up with the start button, then I hit the button to engage my powertrain and suspension settings (Track for performance, Comfort for handling, and manual shifting); followed by the button for the instrument panel returning it to upright, then pulling the shift paddle to engage first gear.
Track mode automatically drops the motorized instrument panel to its slim display mode, but I prefer the full information provided on the upright display screen. It’s a cool party trick that impresses your friends, but when so much time and effort has gone into making this car lighter, I don't understand why there is a motorized display screen in the cockpit.
What I love about the Spider is that it really changes the character of the 720S. The coupe is a little bit buttoned down and with all of the glass that surrounds the cabin, you've got an almost 360-degree view. For the Spider, the rear buttresses (C-pillars, perhaps) are now transparent so you can actually see through them. It helps in parking situations, but there are parking sensors and a full suite of cameras to provide necessary assistance.
When you're in traffic and you come to a stop, what you often find is that a wave of heat rolls into the cabin from the engine cover. On the other hand, it’s the smallest price to pay to fully experience the aural pleasures that the four-litre twin turbo V8 delivers.
Like the coupe, the Spider’s active rear wing deploys as required, but when you get into the brake pedal with some vigour, the wing stands up tall, acting as an air brake. Otherwise, it sits tight with the body and only activates when needed, which is very infrequently at legal speeds.
The Spider’s roof mechanism could be the quickest among the competition – eleven seconds according to the company. If you got caught in the rain, you'd have that roof raised before you can say McLaren 720S Spider Performance. With the roof up though, it completely transforms into an uncompromised coupe. As well, with it closed, the electrochromatic glass panel in the roof allows additional light into the cabin which gives the passengers the feeling of a much larger space.
There's no need to talk about the styling because either you appreciate it or you don't. McLaren's design language is very distinct and anyone who knows supercars knows that this is a McLaren. There's no confusing it for anything else. And that's what I like about it.
There's a significant amount of functional design that has gone into this 720S and if you examine it carefully, you can see how the air is moved around the car and how it's channeled through the car. That functional design that McLarens possess makes then distinctive among exotics.
McLaren's infotainment system is simple, straightforward, and works well. You can navigate around it fairly easily but it isn’t the quickest-responding system and it doesn't have Apple CarPlay.
With the top down, you really get to hear that engine. Even at highway speeds, click it up to top gear, cruising along, and you can have a conversation. As an open car, at least having the option of having the roof down, there really aren't any compromises. It acts much like the coupe with the roof up, plus you can drive with the top down. And, to me, that enhances and maximizes the 720S’s driving experience.
One of the things about driving the 720S Spider – particularly in its Papaya Spark metallic orange paint - is that it does attract a lot of eyes. If you’re an introvert, this may not be the car for you, but if you need a little attention, expect plenty of thumbs up and the occasional conversation in traffic.
Between the 720S coupe and the Spider, the Spider is my choice. It acts much like the coupe, but you have the option of driving with the top down. That’s the Spider’s magic – it’s uncompromised as both a coupe and convertible, and it’ll do everything you expect of a supercar, including letting the wind run through your hair.
YOU MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN...
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.