Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan / Don Cheng
Published: November 12, 2018
Where do you start with the 2018 McLaren 720S, a 710-horsepower British spaceship that costs $400,000? Because surely, conveying its ethereal, palpable, and enthralling driving experience through mere text and photographs will not do it justice. Some things were only meant to be experienced, not documented, but we’ll try our best to give you a brief vicarious glimpse into what it’s like to drive the 720S, McLaren’s equivalent of a Saturn V rocket.
Let’s begin with the first point of contact, the looks. Every curve and crease is breathtaking as your eyes naturally follow the panel lines ebbing and flowing into the next, creating a futuristic silhouette directly bred from the wind tunnel. Wrapped in an alluring shade of Amethyst Black, our 720S paint offers a unique twist on a purple hue. In darker lighting conditions it appears black but with some sunshine or slight overcast, the purple shades will begin to radiate like a fragment of violet quartz.
The negative space surrounding the headlights is a clever touch, as it hides the ducts and intakes that channel air through the side funnels and out to the rear active spoiler for more downforce. Back there you will also find a pair of stylish mid-mounted exhaust pipes, and while you can only peer into the engine bay behind metal gated meshwork, it will illuminate in red for your viewing pleasure.
We didn’t get to spend as much quality time as we would have liked in the 720S, but we were able to flog it around familiar city roads for a few hours. We had high expectations for this highly-touted and critically-acclaimed supercar from Woking, and we were pleasantly surprised by its attractive proposition as a daily driver. For those supercar enthusiasts who are tired of putting up with the sacrifices and limitations that come with ownership, the 720S is the magical remedy. The compromises are few and far between, resulting in a McLaren that is freakishly easy to live with.
Unlike the 570S or 650S, the 720S utilizes a one-piece carbon fibre tub that now extends to the roof - part of the roof swings upward along with the door giving it that Ford GT-style opening - lending a hand for better ingress and egress. You can actually walk into the cockpit and sit down without worrying about bruising your noggin. Sure beats the choreography needed to enter the BMW i8. The narrower door sills help too, lowering the risk of dirtying your pants when stepping out.
Furthermore, the 720S boasts an expansive, bright, and spacious interior thanks to an abundance of glass and windows. It’s the corner unit of a condominium, and while many supercars like the Huracan make me feel cramped and claustrophobic, the 720S delivers the opposite effect. The A-pillars are incredibly thin, aiding in better visibility, and each passenger even has their own personal sunroof. The most useful feature comes in the form of the rear window behind the B-pillar - a rare sight for a mid-engine car - that not only pushes more light inside but rids you of those treacherous blind spots. There’s even an optional 360-degree camera to partner up with the rear view camera.
The footwell is enormous and lengthy, allowing my six-foot figure to recline way more than I’m used to in a mid-engine car, trumping the space in the Acura NSX and Audi R8. The seats are stiff and lack sufficient lumbar support but headroom is generous with enough space to fit a helmet. Cargo options are excellent both inside and out. There’s a proper sized cupholder in the center stack, as well as a cubby area behind the display to store loose items. The front trunk is cavernous, large enough to swallow two duffle bags or a small suitcase. There is room behind the driver’s headrest as well like the 570GT, though the rear Gorilla Glass windscreen doesn’t swing open.
The McLaren 720S rewrites the rulebook on how comfortable and usable a supercar can truly be, but that doesn’t mean it sacrifices speed to achieve that goal. On the contrary. A new 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged flat-plane crank V8 sits behind the driver’s seat and while some may call up its similarities to the 3.8-litre V8 used in the 570S, this higher displacement motor is 41% new with lighter components and faster turbos.
As a result, this purple spaceship pushes out 710 hp and gets from 0-100 km/h in a scant 2.9 seconds, and that's already McLaren’s most conservative estimate. Some reports have it clocked at 2.6 seconds. Want evidence? Check out the flurry of YouTube videos showing the 720S decimating its rivals like the Porsche 911 GT2 RS in a straight line. It makes it look like a walk in the park too.
710 hp in this day and age is impressive but a Dodge Hellcat makes that amount too. Even the Demon rises above, clocks in at 840 hp, and is nearly one-quarter of the price of the McLaren. The real puzzle and why the 720S costs as much as it does comes down to how it translates that herculean power to the ground via the transmission, chassis, and tires. That’s where the 720S shines.
As our luck would have it, the roads ahead of us were battered with torrential rain so we couldn’t exploit the McLaren’s full beans. Not that we would on public roads anyways but it did mean we had to be extra careful on these slick Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires. That also meant launch control and putting the drive settings into Defcon 1 was out of the question. Be that as it may, we discovered that you don’t need to be barreling down an on-ramp at high speeds to feel how adept the 720S is at gaining speed and tackling corners.
Even when flirting with barely half of its capabilities, the 720S is exhilarating and never demanding. There is noticeable turbo lag and is a tad sluggish below 2,500 rpm but once the boost kicks in, boy are you in for a ride. The mid-range punch is immense and total, swinging you forward like Apollo 13 in its translunar injection. The accompanying 7-speed dual-clutch transmission shifts with speed and purpose, and though it’s minutely slower than Huracan Performante’s gearbox, it’s smoother and less visceral. Those carbon fibre paddle shifters make a satisfying click noise too, bringing back memories of a 90’s-style computer mouse.
The 720S weighs in at 1,322 kg (dry weight), 185 kg less than the four-wheel driven Huracan Performante and 48 kg less than the Ferrari 488 GTB. And while the 720S is significantly larger than the lithe 570S, it reacts with just as much verve and vigour. Much of that athleticism hails from the electro-hydraulic steering. Through the chatty wheel, you feel every nibble and bite from the tires. Get the rubber up to speed and the steering load will free up, becoming lighter but no less tactile. It’s as straight and clear of a telephone line as it comes. Point where you want and the entire body follows, not just the nose.
The 720S utilizes Proactive Chassis Control, a complex system that uses algorithms based on pitch, yaw, braking, and acceleration to anticipate and preload the dampers to ensure an optimal contact patch and maximum traction. You could almost say it’s got a mind of its own, telepathically adjusting the dampers on the fly and attaining phenomenal body control: softly sprung when set to Comfort and properly stiff when in Track. It doesn’t pitch or dive, and is never stressed or agitated no matter the surface underneath. Though the 720S is essentially a box of moving and combusting parts, they all feel married together into one cohesive package with the driver pulling the strings like a puppet.
The only complaint we had in our logbook (seriously, just one) was the muffled soundtrack from the stainless steel exhaust. It really doesn’t matter how close you sit to that V8, the 720S doesn’t emit the most enticing ensemble of noises. Ours even had the optional Sport Exhaust ($6,300), yet doesn’t come close to the banshee wails of a Ferrari V8 or Lamborghini V10, though still better sounding than the sterile GT2 RS. Instead, the 720S unleashes a more calculated and mechanical howl up to its 8,000+ rpm redline, replete with a salvo of turbo whooshes and intake noises. On the flip side, the 720S is properly hushed and quiet when dialed down on its comfort settings with nary a drone or unpleasant noise to disturb occupants at triple digit speeds.
There’s a level of intimacy that develops the more you drive the 720S. Initially, it may feel overwhelming with all the tech, aero, and the sensation that the car is doing most of the heavy lifting, when in fact it’s merely holding your hand through the basics before you begin to explore its full capabilities. While I was unable to experience the latter during my brief stint at city limits and in torrential rain, I was able to creep past the border of foreplay and momentarily witness this McLaren’s masterstroke of vehicular engineering. Exhaust noise aside, the race-bred 720S schools its rivals with world-class ergonomics and provides relative comfort, usability, and practicality without sacrificing speed, drama, or driving nirvana. Well done, Woking.
Model: 2018 McLaren 720S Performance
Paint Type: Amethyst Black
Base Price: $324,980
Price as Tested: $398,834 (without PDI, fees)
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,543 / 1,930 / 1,196
Curb weight (kg): 1,322 (dry weight)
Engine: 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8
Horsepower: 710 hp @ 7,250 rpm
Torque: 568 lb-ft @ 5,500 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Mid engine, RWD
Tires: Pirelli P Zero Corsa; 245 / 35 / R19 Front, 305 / 30 / R20 Rear