When I was growing up, the supercars of my era evoked emotion.
The numbers didn’t matter as much as the wild styling, lack of practicality, and the way these cars sounded. Models like Lamborghini’s Countach, Ferrari’s Testarossa, and later in the 90s, the McLaren F1 were and are still cars that give me goosebumps each and every time I see them. The modern supercar has evolved significantly, and today’s entries represent all of that, but have a few more traits that are considered noteworthy. The 2019 McLaren 720S Spider tested here is absolutely wild to look at, sounds incredible and goes like a cheetah – but is that all it takes to sit on the podium?
Sitting behind the driver is a behemoth of a motor, a 4.0L twin-turbocharged V8, the same motor that powers the fixed-roof variant of the 720S. The 710 horsepower comes on at a screaming 7,500RPM and torque is 568 lb-ft. at 5,500RPM. It sprints to 100km/h in the high two-second range and more remarkably, 200km/h in the seven-second range. Owners are going to the track and running 10-second quarter mile times without any issue, and the 341km/h (212mph) top speed is nothing to scoff at.
Acceleration from anywhere in the power band is rearrange-your-organs fast, and the 720S Spider does it without any sense of a struggle. This car isn’t just fast; it’s supersonic. A seven-speed dual clutch gearbox is one of the best in the business, and pulls off shifts in milliseconds. The exhaust note is angry and wails right up to the 8,500RPM redline. The 720S doesn’t sound as dramatic as the Lamborghini Aventador (reviewed here), but the way it carries itself is more contemporary and new age.
The McLaren handles with more precision than just about anything else on the market today, at any price. The steering is direct and has plenty of feel, with response from the chassis seemingly coming on even before your brain acknowledges that you’ve decided to make the maneuver. McLaren uses a tub called the Monocage II, which has significant improvements over the previous 650S in structural rigidity. It uses carbon fiber and is much lighter as well, and the Spider comes in right around the 3,000-pound mark dry.
Not only does the 720S handle, but braking performance is also second to none. We have seen references to certain cars having “racecar brakes”, but this phrase is truly applicable here. The pedal is extremely firm and responsive, but you do need to stand right on it at a stop, lest the car get away from you. McLaren uses six-piston carbon-ceramic brakes up front and four-piston in the back, 15.4” and 15.0” respectively. Braking from higher speeds also deploys the active rear spoiler, which is one of my personal favourite visuals on the 720S.
The 720S Spider adds 108-pounds over the coupe, so there’s really no additional compromise. The glass roof, when in place, is electro-chromatic on our test vehicle, which means it can go from fully transparent to tinted at the touch of a button. It’s a similar system to Mercedes-Benz’s Magic Sky Control, as well as the windows of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, but the McLaren application is almost instantaneous rather than gradual, which makes for a great effect. The Spider drops its top quickly and gracefully, and can do so at neighbourhood speeds – no need to be completely stopped.
Perhaps one of the most impressive traits of this car, and there are many, is the damping and overall suspension calibration. McLaren calls this adaptive system Proactive Chassis Control II. This layout uses a hydro-pneumatic setup that forces compression of the suspension to eliminate natural extension on the opposite side, which virtually eliminates body roll. It’s firm, and at times can feel a bit too firm, but this car is one of the best-damped supercars ever. Going over hilltops feels astonishingly good, as the damping takes care of everything for you and your body doesn’t feel that sudden “drop”.
The 720S has been referred to as a daily-friendly supercar, and that’s mostly true. There is an Active Dynamics Panel that allows drivers to alter the powertrain and handling characteristics for the particular driving situation, meaning everything can be adjusted between more aggressive and comfortable settings. Putting the car into its performance-oriented modes also causes the instrument cluster to flip forward and display an F1-style simplistic cluster that only houses a digital speed readout and tachometer.
A nose-lift feature allows drivers to lift the front end and prevent the lip from damage when entering driveways or going over speed bumps. This system is similar to what other automakers offer, and it’s fairly quick in operation. One challenge however is that in order to activate this feature, the wheels need to be pointed straight ahead. This means some careful planning can be required. Entry and exit from the vehicle is fairly easy, and the doors opening upward means you can park in tighter garages that need not be too wide.
Our test vehicle was pretty aggressively equipped, but also my ideal spec for this model. On top of the stunning Papaya Spark paint that garnered plenty of attention, the car had lightweight forged wheels, Bowers and Wilkins audio, sport exhaust, Carbon Fibre Exterior Packs 2 and 3, carbon fiber steering wheel and shift paddles, 360-degree park assist, McLaren Track Telemetry with cameras, and a Stealth Pack. The total cost comes to $456,610 before taxes.
Pricing is somewhat in-between Lamborghini’s Huracan and Aventador, but that’s not the point at all. A supercar isn’t necessarily about benchmarking numbers and seeing which one is a split-second faster than the other. It’s largely about what the heart wants; a completely emotional purchase. The 2019 McLaren 720S Spider is truly a heartthrob, but one that has immense track credentials and performance. It’s by far one of the fastest cars on the road today, and quite possibly the only car with this much performance that’s actually livable on a day-to-day basis.