Most days in our office office, the editorial team gets to test out subcompact economy cars, crossovers, and mainstream mass-production luxury vehicles. A little less frequently, however, supercars and things on the extreme end of the price spectrum find their way into our garage for the week. This is the 2020 McLaren 720S Spider Luxury, and with a much broader range of models in their arsenal compared to just the McLaren F1 of the 1990s, McLaren now has the production volume to sustain more engineering powerhouse prowess than ever.
With the aspirational but not too over-the-top look of the 720S Spider, as well as the rest of the McLaren range, they tend to appeal to those who are into supercars for the sake of performance and driving, rather than being seen (don’t worry – plenty of that still happens!).
The 720S in the model name cuts straight to the chase: 720 metric horsepower (PS). For the rest of us, that translates to 710 brake horsepower at 7,250RPM, as well as 568 lb-ft. of torque at 5,500RPM. With the 720S Spider, there’s a power-operated roof that allows for more of an open-air motoring experience. As part of the Super Series of McLaren – they go Grand Touring, Sports Series, Super Series, and Ultimate Series, respectively – this represents supercar performance that is still not too much for street driving. If the 720S isn’t enough for you, products like the wild-child Senna fall under the Ultimate Series.
All this power and torque comes from a mid-mounted 4.0-litre V8 behind the passenger cabin, with two twin-scroll turbochargers. Unlike supercars of old, this engine is an absolute delight from idle right up until redline. Turbo boost pressure builds very quickly, and it’s more than possible to have plenty of fun while driving at a low-to-medium sense of urgency. While the forced induction V8’s soundtrack doesn’t quite compare to naturally aspirated V8, V10, and V12 Lamborghinis or Ferraris, it is still capable of putting on a siren song that gives you goosebumps. On deceleration and downshifts, a gunshot-like pop from the exhaust can be heard occasionally. This thing is special.
Nominal performance ratings from McLaren are also absolutely nothing to scoff at: the sprint from zero to 100km/h happens in 2.9 seconds, and only 7.9 and 22.4 seconds are needed to get to 200km/h and 300km/h, respectively. Top speed is 341km/h (212mph), if in the event one had enough space to try that out. All of this happens with a curb weight (US standard with all fluids and 100% fuel) of 1,473 kilograms (3,247 pounds) and a weight distribution of 42% in the front, 58% rear.
As one might expect out of a performance car of this calibre, fuel economy is not going to be a strong suit. Nominal American figures are 15 miles per gallon city, and 22 miles per gallon highway – for us Canadians, that translates to 15.6L/100KM and 10.7L/100KM, respectively. Observed economy over about 250 kilometres of testing netted 17.5L/100KM in mixed driving. In order to enjoy this car, mileage will suffer, and that’s fine by us!
Shifting duty is carried out by what McLaren calls the Seamless Shift Gearbox (SSG). It’s a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that really is seamless in all types of driving, with excellent refinement anywhere you go. Upshifts are instant, which helps keep turbo boost pressure up, and allows for uninterrupted acceleration. Downshifts are also impeccably tuned, even when multiple gear changes are called for. For sedate cruising, setting the powertrain in Comfort and automatic mode (as opposed to Sport or Track, and manual) allows the 720S to be just as good as a grocery getter as it is ripping up to top speed.
As another party trick, the suspension of the 720S Spider features what McLaren calls Proactive Chassis Control II. Developed at the University of Cambridge, data points such as wheel acceleration, damper position/pressure, and suspension upright position are all collected and mashed into a real-time output that truly balances both comfort and performance. Although it’s expectedly firm, it is far from punishing. Despite it all, the McLaren is ready to tackle long tours without breaking backs. For daily practicality, a nose lift system also helps when it comes to the ingress and egress of driveways.
When the controls are turned up to either Sport or Track modes, the 720S wakes up and allows drivers to really put both themselves and the car to the test. The available mechanical grip and steering feel out of the 245/35R19 front and 305/30R20 rear Pirelli P ZERO MC PNCS (a McLaren-specific compound) is astounding, and it remains extremely easy to work corners quickly and confidently. The advanced stability control system is not intrusive, and works with the driver to hit the car’s extremely high limits.
Inside, the 720S’ Vintage Tan interior is available only on the Luxury trim level. It’s a piece of kit that is very pleasing to the eye, and breaks up the monochrome dark interior on other configurations. The select stitching and optional carbon fibre trim pieces accentuate and amplify the premium yet lightweight look of the supercar, and the switchgear is considerably nice, as well. The infotainment system is cumbersome to use, but Bluetooth-paired phone conversations and audio streaming with the 12-speaker Bowers & Wilkins stereo work well. Finished off with the vertically-opening butterfly doors creating a big statement, it’s impossible to ignore the 720S when it walks into a room, inside or out.
No matter if pushing hard or not, each drive in the 2020 McLaren 720S Spider Luxury is truly a special journey. Whether driving with the roof down, or with the electrochromic roof shade activated, drivers and passengers alike quickly realize that they are in an engineering and design masterpiece that celebrates how far automotive technology has come over the last few decades. While one might argue that a Lamborghini Aventador (reviewed here) offers more personality and emotion, not everyone is looking to be flashy. Priced at nearly half a million dollars to start in Canada, the 720S Spider is for those who want something that’s among the best of the best, but with a little more refinement and a little less of the look-at-me attitude.