When you look into someone’s eyes, you can tell a lot about them. You see a small part of them, be it a mischievous, sad, childish or haunted look. The eyes are the gateway to the soul, and McLaren’s new Super Series car, the 2018 McLaren 720S, has wildness in its gaping eye sockets.
The 720S’ eyes have caused a fair bit of controversy as well. See, they’re not like your usual headlights, as they’re whacking great holes on the front corners of the car. Now, the internet being the internet didn’t like them all that much because in pictures they look a touch ungainly. Its rear, though, is by far is best angle. The design team knocked it out of the park here, though nothing about the 720S screams “uggo” at all.
Mercifully, those peepers look rather good in the metal, and they serve an important purpose — cooling. Those holes feed air to the 720S’ many radiators, so the car doesn’t overheat. In fact, the way the car is cooled is mighty smart. In profile, you can’t see the two huge air ducts that run alongside the doors to feed air to the 720S’ (almost all) new 4.0-liter V8. And those strakes in the hood funnel air into the car, as well. So while it’s not covered in overt holes, it’s actually got 15 percent better cooling efficiency than the old car.
Seeing as we’re talking improvements over the old car, let’s talk performance. McLaren’s been flogging the ol’ 3.8-liter V8 for a while and saw fit to give it a spruce in the 720S. This time, it’s playing with 4.0 liters and, as before, a pair of turbos. It’s based on the older one, sure, but it’s been fiddled with to produce 720 horsepower and 568 pound-feet of torque. That’s a hefty bump over 650S if ever there was one.
The sprint from 0 to 62 mph takes 2.9 seconds, and 0-124 mph is dealt with in a mere 7.8. It’s quick then. So quick, it’ll scalp 212 mph if you’ve got a big enough runway or a big enough supply of bravery pills. While it does so, the engine sings. Some turbocharged motors are muted because of their blowers, not so here. Much like the speed, hearing the noise is addictive.
Going fast in a straight line is one thing, but carrying it through corners is another entirely. McLaren’s “active” panel allows you to switch the car’s drive modes at will. There are three modes in two areas: Powertrain and Handling. Comfort (McLaren-ese for “normal”), Sport, and Track all change how the car feels at the flick of a switch.
Stick the car in Comfort and it rides remarkably well. On rural Italy’s genuinely hideous roads, it wasn’t as uncomfortable as you’d expect a supercar to be. Other supercars, though, would have surely struggled. Keep the handling set to Comfort and whack the powertrain into Sport and the car comes alive. Its engine and gearbox are keen to rev higher and higher, to violently change gear and to surge as fast as possible into the distance.
The perfect 720S setting is having everything set to Sport. The chassis feels taught, turn-in is mildly telepathic and the power is addictive. The speed you can gather, then carry around bends, is mind-blowing. And addictive. It’s the kind of pace that makes your cheek pull away from your jaw. There’s scant body roll, while the steering tells you what the front is doing in minute detail and the traction control keeps the 720 horses from getting too wayward. For a good road, there’s no better way to enjoy it.
Its speed is best enjoyed on a track, else some owners may find themselves enjoying some time behind some bars. It’s the fourth-gear pickup that’ll get you. Once you’re there and it hits its torque curve… you’re doing “arrest me now” velocity.
On track, that’s when the 720S gets into its own. Flip all the dials to Track, point it at the start line and fly. The ride becomes hard, the steering even finer and both engine and slick dual clutch gearbox are imbued with the spirit of a thousand really irritated bees. It pushes hard, yet is alarmingly easy to drive fast, and it’ll stop quickly thanks to carbon brakes. Pitch in to a corner, balance the delicate throttle right, and when the moment’s right, nail it — the car shimmies slightly while it fires you to the next bend. It’s nothing short of astonishing how fast it is, even in the hands of a track novice.
McLaren knows that a fair few of its drivers will want to track and learn to push their new 720S, so it’s built in something called variable drift control (VDC). VDC is there to bridge the gap between having lots of fun with the car in Track mode and turning all the toys off. Activate VDC in Sport or Track and you’re shown a sliding scale of a sliding car — this sets how far the car will slide before putting you back in to line. Don’t be fooled though, it’s not like the Ford Focus RS’ drift mode. Drive badly and physics still wins, but use the extra slip to build your limits up to match the car’s and soon you’ll be ready for some everything-off fun. It’s a tech-heavy, and oddly responsible move.
While you’re getting your skid on you’re sat in a new cockpit, one that you can see out of thanks to McLaren’s new Monocage II tech. The car’s carbon fiber safety cell now covers the roof and windshield surround, offering a strong roof. It also means you get thinner C-pillars so you can actually see what’s behind you. It’s as close to full 360-degree visibility as you’ll get from a supercar, and it’s excellent for tricky overtakes.
Its lightweight construction, and super smart engineering, means it weight in at just 1,283 kgs (2,829 lbs), heavy enough to make Porsche’s new 911 GT3 feel positively porky.
Inside, there’s a new infotainment system. It’s pretty slick, though in the limited time I had to play with it, I never quite got to grips with it. Compared to Ferrari’s efforts, it’s a breeze, though Porsche’s new system remains top dog. Oh, and the GPS, while excellent, doesn’t duck your music while telling you where to go, it simply stops it. Kinda ruins your flow.
If information’s your jam, you’ll love the new instrument panel. It’s big, all digital, and offers all the information you could possibly want. It changes what it displays depending on the mode you’re driving in and, if you’re in Track mode or simply want fewer distractions from driving, it’ll fold away entirely, showing only gear, engine speed and land speed. It looks cool, though as it folded away our test car made some odd creaking noises.
There has to be a downside to the 720S on top of a minor creak. Sadly, there are a few. While it now comes with more luggage space in the nose there’s not too much sensible storage in the cabin. The new (and super cool) doors sometimes refused to close properly, and the bucket seats fitted to our test car caused my bottom to go numb after a couple of hours behind the wheel.
Stepping in to the 720S’ was, tiny irritants aside, a rather transformative experience. The technology, pace, handling and feel of the thing makes not only its predecessor, the 650S, feel outdated (even though it’s still a stunning machine), but pretty much everything else feel a bit old as well. Your move, everyone else.