The McLaren 720S builds on the success of is 650S predecessor and offers a sharper, faster and more imposing rival to Ferrari and Lamborghini. Jonathan Crouch reports.
The McLaren 720S takes the basic formula of its 650S predecessor and tweaks the suspension, increases the aerodynamic downforce, ups the power, improves the styling and smartens the cabin. Small but incremental improvements everywhere have resulted in a markedly better car.
Yes, McLaren established its road car reputation with the incredible F1, but production of that model ended in 1998. It took another thirteen years before another road car rolled out of Woking, so when the 12C arrived in 2011, it was effectively a whole new start. Many considered that it wasn't quite on a par with the Ferrari 458 Italia, but was pretty close. Take into account that this was McLaren's first attempt in a segment dominated for decades by Ferrari and that's not a bad start.
Still, McLaren is a company that always strives for class leadership and being second best doesn't wash. So in 2014, they brought us the 650S, a development of the 12C with 25% new parts and an uprated 650PS engine - hence the name. In the course of its production life, the 650S was continually improved but what McLaren as really working up to was this, the 720S, its primary 'Super Series' model.
The headliner with the 720S is its power figure - 720PS, or 710bhp in old money. It's worth putting into some sort of frame of reference quite what that means. Many thought the performance of the old McLaren F1 would be a benchmark that might never be beaten. Then the 650S came along and made 62mph from rest in just 3s, a figure this 720S model improves to 2.8s. So it's very fast: but then you knew it would be. What you need to know if you're a potential buyer is that it's more agile than before too, thanks to an 18kg weight reduction and a lower centre of gravity.
There's double-wishbone suspension front and rear that's linked front to back and side to side by McLaren's hydraulically connected damper system, Proactive Chassis Control II. This works via three selectable damper settings - 'Comfort', 'Sport' and 'Track': 'Comfort' will be your default option most of the time. As for the engine, well McLaren says that 41% of it is new, the previous 3.8-litre twin turbocharged V8 uprated to one 4.0-litres in size this time round. That's mated to a 7-speed dual-clutch paddleshift automatic gearbox.
The 720S takes certain elements of the old 650S's frontal treatment and delivers a far more assertive face, a styling direction which McLaren say they will carry over to future models. There's no doubt that it's a more aggressive, confident piece of design work. There are no longer any visible ducts on the doors which instead feature top channels that reduce cabin width slightly. What's under the skin is mostly carbonfibre and partly aluminium. 'Super Series' McLarens like this one feature active aerodynamics and the rear wing, which acts as an air brake, is now full width across the back of the car, so it's 30% more effective than before.
The cabin is more spacious than you'd expect it to be - and easier to access thanks to re-designed doors that now hinge to all but vertical and take up a foot less width in the process. The driving position is difficult to fault and there's a pop-out instrument binnacle and a revised central stack, on which you'll find a revised touchscreen controller that's far easier to use than that of the old IRIS system. As you'd expect for the money, the materials used are lovely, with carbonfibre trimming and stitched alcantara.
Does a £13,000 price hike over the old 650S for all that lot sound like a lot to ask? It doesn't to us. That translates into an asking price of just over £208,000 for the Coupe model. Standard equipment includes carbon ceramic brakes and the much-improved (in other words, it now works) IRIS infotainment system, which includes satellite navigation, DAB radio and a reversing camera.
It also gets a four-speaker Meridian audio set-up, with two speakers encased within each door. The Meridian Surround Sound Upgrade can also be selected as an option, which adds three further full-range speakers - front centre and two rear. In line with this, the amplifier changes to a seven-channel unit, providing increased power output and greater control over the audio settings, allowing front-to-rear fader control and configurable EQ settings to suit broader user preferences. You can also buy additional carbon parts to dress the car and some rather lovely lightweight carbon seats.
It's probably fair to say that residual values for the old 650S were a bit softer than McLaren had hoped for, with some customers cycling through their ownership periods quite rapidly, some grumbling about things like the car's non-functioning IRIS infotainment system and lack of aural fireworks. Those issues have both been fixed now and the 720S leans a little on the undoubted halo-effect of the mighty Senna hypercar model. Add to that critical acclaim that seems largely in accord that the 720S is a vehicle that will take the Ferrari 488 GTB's trousers down and administer a severe spanking and you have a recipe for improved retained values.
McLaren reckons that 650S customers added an average of £23,000 worth of options and that'll happen again here, creating a residual value impact that's often overlooked when calculating depreciation percentages. Over-supply isn't going to be too much of an issue. In case you're interested, the efficiency returns are both slightly enhanced over those of the 650S: expect a combined cycle fuel economy figure of 26.4mpg (24.2mpg before), while emissions are rated at 249g/km (275g/km before).
The McLaren 720S is a riposte that will take a lot of answering. Of course, we realised that on paper at least, the old 650S had the measure of its key rivals, but something was perhaps missing in terms of drama. The 720S doesn't try to ape an Italian rival, instead doing its own thing, but it's certainly a potent weapon. It's super stiff in the chassis and offers a breadth of abilities that is almost unprecedented in this sector.
McLaren is sometimes portrayed as a high-handed, somewhat arrogant company that knows it knows best. The 720S proves beyond any doubt that this is just a lazy stereotype. McLaren listens - and listens to the people that count: its customers. The 720S is a combination of a wishlist of 650S improvements from buyers and the latest in mind-warping technology from Woking. It works. Beautifully.
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