To get to know a car, you really need to live with it on tour. So where better to take the McLaren 720S than to northern France along the amazing coastal roads, smooth as silk autoroutes and picturesque country lanes?
It came delivered in a box to the door, in a fetching but discreet Sarthe Grey, almost as if it did not want to be noticed. Paradoxically it showed off the lines magnificently, reflecting every hue and dapple of the morning light in the sublime bodywork. Unboxing such beauty as the McLaren 720S is like all your Christmases at once.
The McLaren 720S has the mid-engine M840T 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 with 710 bhp and a whopping top speed of 212 mph. It’s rear-wheel drive with a seven-speed SSG transmission and electro-hydraulic power steering. 0-62 mph is a staggering 2.9 seconds and 0-124 mph in 7.8 secs. The stated medium mpg is 12.9 miles to the gallon, but I got an average of 24 mpg touring around France, and I was not hypermiling by any means, quite the opposite.
Our tour started in Surrey and we drove straight to Dover to put the car on Le Shuttle. I arrived around 11 o’clock, though I had the Flexiplus ticket so I could turn up at any time, and pillaged the first class lounge for macarons, chocolates and drinks. The other two cars on the tour were a 66 Mustang and a Ferrari 328 GTS. A heavenly convoy representing two great past decades and the future.
Driving the McLaren 720S onto LeShuttle is a blissful experience, piloting a supercar inside a train is absolutely surreal. Why have they not done this at 180 mph in a McLaren for Mission Impossible film yet?
The journey is lightning fast (35 mins) you barely have time to down a drink and chat with friends before you’ve arrived. There are no customs on the other side as you clear them at departure, so we roared straight out onto the pothole-free French motorway heading for the lovely village of Wierre-Effroy along the Opal Coast.
The Nord Pas de Calais is overlooked, mostly driven through rather than to, but it is just as beautiful as the South of France with magnificent beaches, quaint hotels and farmhouses plus numerous Michelin starred restaurants.
The Mclaren 720S has one of the most beautiful exteriors of any supercar. The first thing you notice is the side vents face backwards, channelling the air from the plectrum shaped headlights (eye sockets) to the rear heat exchangers. With lines and indentations that undulate like water. The entire aerodynamic masterpiece seems to have coalesced out of the very elements themselves.
The rear appears to solidify from a mass of alternating curves and inflexions, forming the ultimate shape to subtly direct and stabilise the wind as it blows past the car. It seems sculpted from the air, much like water carves the stones on a beach over millennia. Plus the dihedral doors are the cherry on the cake. Beauty that is both practical and life-enhancing.
And there’s the snowboard size rear spoiler, air brake and automatic drag reduction that rises from the back to stabilise the body when braking at high speeds. Just like the song “It’s all so beautiful…”.
During the tour, the McLaren received probably the best reception from every age group I have ever seen. In the tiny French town of Ambleteuse, it was surrounded by a crew of retired French engineers who loved it just as much as the 20 tattooed drunk French youths outside the whisky shop in Boulogne. Yes, the McLaren really does win you friends and influence people from every walk of life.
While chatting with the group of retired Ambleteusians assembled around the car, a woman whispers to me that her son has a collection of Ferraris. How did he get those I ask? Oh, he was a Formula One racing driver for Ferrari she explains. The old chaps nod in amusement. Lesson learnt, never underestimate the talent pool in a tiny French village.
The interior continues the theme, presenting a sparse cockpit with organic shapes that flow around the passengers. Soft, plush leather with white contrast stitching envelopes you, but there are no frills, only utilitarian buttons, all aimed at saving space and weight. The central pillar offers just the simplest of driving controls, the focus is on performance, not which button to push next.
Helpful tip, the access is larger now, so to get into a 720S you simply step in with your left foot, hold the inner dihedral door handle with your right hand and drop down into the seat, pulling the door down with you along with your right foot. The door slows your descent like a parachute so you land gently and are ready to go. They have made the entrance and exit way better than other McLarens. Once you mastered it, you can make it look cool, not always easy in super low cars.
Controls include Track, Sports and Normal mode for the suspension and engine, quick-change paddles on the steering wheel, an eight-inch vertical infotainment screen, plus a driver console that minimises down in race mode to show revs and speed… and that’s pretty much it.
So no distractions, just pure driving performance. The purest expression of the Super Series sports car. Design made to serve a function, to go really, really fast and stay on the road. McLaren designers take the film director as auteur approach, they don’t worry about what the audience thinks, they just do it right.
McLaren always swore that they would never make an SUV despite the obvious financial rewards such a model brings. They make sports cars, not whatever sells best.
Oh and the mirrors dip down in reverse for better rear view panoramic visibility. It’s the little things. One important detail is that the body panels line up beautifully, the gaps are consistent and superbly aligned and there are no flaws in the panels themselves, they are immaculate. No mean feat in a body with so many reverse cambers and curves.
McLaren’s sports seats hold you like a glove, but I would go for the more comfortable option for long tours. The Bowers & Wilkins 12 speaker system is superb, resonating throughout the cabin. The song for this tour on the Opal Coast was definitely “La Vie Est Belle” by Mc Solaar, the legendary French rapper.
The French roads give you plenty of opportunities to test the performance, but the McLaren 720S is off the charts. You can’t properly experience it anywhere but on a track. Luckily I had both this and the GT on track only a couple of weeks ago, but living and touring with the car does confirm my initial impression. The 720S is eye wateringly fast with road holding and suspension to match. This is the car the pros want to drive and truth be told you need to be a damn good driver to push it to its limits.
A Formula One driver who shall remain nameless took me around the hill track at Millbrook in the 720S and I have never seen performance like it. The hill track is a mess; potholes, bumps, invisible corners and inverse cambers. He took the corners at twice the speed I could, maybe more. It was a revelation at just how skilful the pros are. And how good the 720S is in the hands of an artist.
The acceleration is brutal in normal mode, but in track mode it is sublime. Slide the foot down and the rear wheels propel you forward like twin rockets. The whole car feels like a carbon fibre tub bolted onto an explosive engine with nothing but a steering wheel and brakes to control it. Exactly how a true racing car should be. The driver brings all the rest, everything else is dead weight.
0-124 mph in 7.8 secs or the quarter-mile in 10.3 secs says it all, this is hypercar territory. The moment you hit 100 mph you’ll be leaving other cars in your dust trail. Engine noise is raw Monaco Grand Prix stuff, coughing, spluttering, screeching and high pitched whines as the turbos spool out of control. A way away from the artificial lift music that some supercars pump out for those that enjoy auto-tuning on their pop songs. Suffice to say that people know you’re coming in normal mode and in track mode have time to bake cakes and put out the bunting for your arrival.
The carbon fibre one-piece roof and body Monocage II-S are lighter and stronger with front and rear aluminium crash protection. Legroom is surprisingly spacious so there must be quite a few tall high net worth’s buying McLarens. And thank the “deity of your choice” there is no lane assist or emergency braking as the next car to beep me pointlessly gets its electric innards ripped out.
Brakes are initially still a little soft for me, I’d prefer a more immediate bite, but it's speed adapted, so much better as you go faster. At higher speeds they are exceptional, along with the ABS they slow you down from 62 mph to 0 in 29.7 metres. Whiplash anyone? Cornering, you get just the response you want, the nose holds perfectly, so you drop down three-four gears and then bring it right back up again out of the bend. For more complex track work the 720S handles with much greater fluidity too, offering super-fast gear changes so you can throttle right on through. Super fast, dramatic gear changes are a core characteristic of the 720S.
Variable Drift Control can be altered to allow easy side drift or to keep it reined in a bit, turning even an average driver into a drifting demon. Turn it off and the real fun begins. Even at slower speeds on country roads, the torque is immense and it weighs only 1,419 Kg so those wheels can be made to burn rubber despite the highly developed software.
The suspension is astonishing, after any bump, however disruptive, the affected wheel slams back down on the road like Thors Hammer, keeping as much surface area as physically possible in touch with the tarmac. Remarkably smooth too, the hydraulically linked dampers and rigid body deliver Formula One stability in those turns enabling world-class performance on or off the track.
Touring the Opal Coast in the 720S is akin to being a famous rock star, people greet you with the same sound they make when fireworks explode overhead. My tour companions and I had a lovely night at La Ferme du Vert, a gorgeous farm hotel that goes out of its way to make its guests feel welcome, and visited their delicious cheese shop with every regional variety of goats and cows cheeses. Heavens to Betsy, they even had a cow's milk liqueur that tasted way better than it sounds. A particular delight was the whisky shop in Boulogne with a comprehensive range of international and French whiskies. Plus the coast road and the beach along that stretch are magnificent. Lunch at the La Cave de Monsieur Guy was delightful with their interior courtyard and the ride back on Le Shuttle was just as relaxing and simple as the way over, taking in the Flexlplus lounge to meet up with everyone one last time.
One of the things I love about Le Shuttle is that a normal ticket still gives you two hours leeway to catch any train, so think of it more as the circle line, hop on and off whenever you want rather than a train with a fixed timetable that makes you afraid to miss it. Course the FlexiPlus ticket means you can take it whenever you want, anytime, with priority boarding and the first-class lounge.
All in all, the McLaren 720S is utterly without compromise and a fabulous touring car. A Stradivarius violin, in the hands of a master it is the Platonic shadow of speed, the spiritual essence of racing. It may well be the most beautiful supercar yet as the design is so elegant and refined. The lines and shape elicit nothing but admiration rather than envy and bring happiness to all that see it. A sculpture of aerodynamic lines that precipitate from the very air. Whether you are into cars or not, it is a masterful and quintessentially beautiful object even at rest.
The McLaren 720S is the one to get when it absolutely has to be rear-wheel drive, drifting madness. In summary, the McLaren 720S is extreme performance plus stunning, exceptional beauty.
Standard, Luxury and Performance packages are available, along with MSO bespoke craftsmanship, plus three years unlimited warranty on all cars.
McLaren 720S starter price: £222,800
McLaren 720S optional extras: £49,210
McLaren 720S with extras: £272,010
PS the most common calamity befalling people travelling on Le Shuttle is leaving their remote start car keys in the terminal, but the car still starts as they are nearby, and driving on the train. Only to find they can’t start the other side. Whoops, time to circle back and do it again. Keep your keys with you.