Bruce and Colin are no longer with us, but their philosophies still guide the companies they founded. And the McLaren 720S is the best demonstration yet of McLaren’s core principle of Peace through Superior Firepower. With 710 horsepower, its twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 is 49 horses up on the Ferrari 488GTB, a car that’s rarely accused of sluggish road manners. At the same time, the McLaren’s power-to-weight-ratio advantage has been sharpened further with an even more carbon-intensive architecture.
To go faster, simplify, then add lightness. While Colin Chapman’s still-quoted adage defined the early years of Lotus, his fellow garagista Bruce McLaren took a subtly different tack as his fledging team came to dominate Can-Am racing in the late 1960s with a succession of increasingly brawny Chevrolet V-8–powered monsters: Add lightness, and then add more power.
The Same but Very Different
So, while the fundamentals of a carbon body and a mid-mounted V-8 sending torque to the rear wheels remain the same, pretty much every detail has been tweaked or changed. Visually, the most obvious difference is the loss of the 650S’s side air intakes, with the 720S looking sleeker and more muscular without them; air is now directed to the engine and radiators by a well-disguised channel next to the rear windows. While our praise for the design at the rear is unalloyed the back bears a distinct resemblance to the McLaren P1 with the rear wing in its deployed position the new dark headlight apertures (which incorporate air intakes as well as lighting elements) are very color sensitive, the metallic white of our test car giving the 720S a deadeyed look that is evocative of a fish market.
The well-trimmed cabin is supremely functional, but it lacks much of the showbiz of flashier rivals. Getting in and out is easier with the 720S’s lower sills and wider-opening doors, which now gain a top hinge thanks to the composite A-pillars. Visibility is good enough to justify McLaren’s frequent assertion that it was inspired by jet-fighter design. The thin front pillars dramatically improve the forward field of view, and new glazed C-pillars pretty much eliminate the over-the-shoulder blind spots that have defined mid-engined supercars since they first emerged from the primordial ooze. Switchgear has been simplified, with climate controls moved from the doors to the central touch screen (which lacks the sensitivity and usability of more mainstream systems). There is some supercar theater in the form of the power-tilting digital instrument display; it folds away and is replaced with minimal rev-counter and speed-readout information when the car is switched to Track mode.
Playing in the Bandwidth
While we’ve previously been impressed by the dynamic differences that McLaren has been able to instill into models based on similar core architecture, the 720S has pulled off an even neater trick: combining the virtues of the entire range. This is a car that’s as civilized as the 570GT while being faster than the seminal 675LT. In bandwidth, it’s the equivalent of one of those apocalypse-defying server farms buried under a Colorado mountain.
Haydn Baker, the man who led development of the 720S, said his baby is quicker around a circuit than the 675LT was exceeding the original engineering brief for the project and admitted that it’s actually faster than the almighty 903-hp P1 around most tracks. That fact alone pretty much justifies the $288,845 price of admission.