QUICK LOOK: 2018 McLaren 720S is not subtle

Cars like the McLaren 720S require drivers with experience and ability

Published: May 28, 2018, 8:35 PM
Updated: November 21, 2021, 3:02 PM

McLaren 720S

We call this a “Quick Spin” at Autofile, and you’d better believe that any drive in a 710-horsepower supercar is going to be quick. It’s very easy to drive really, really fast in any McLaren and what’s more, you’ll definitely be noticed. This car draws onlookers like bees to honey – there’s just nothing subtle about it.

First, the answer to the question everybody asks: It starts at around $350,000. Cars like this don’t really have a fixed MSRP. Believe it or not, keeping production low maintains exclusivity and there won’t be much haggling at the dealership. At McLaren Toronto, which last year sold 45 McLarens and was named Global Retailer of the Year, there are no prices listed for new stock. In any case, most people lease supercars instead of buying them outright.

The next question will always be about horsepower, and it’s best explained with a shrug and saying that zero to 100 km/h takes less than three seconds. It’s probably more when you drive than it is for some skinny test driver with no luggage and barely any fuel in the tank, but whatever – it accelerates like you’ve been kicked in the backside by a horse.

And lastly, the third question, usually posed by young men when the door swings up, is best answered with a sly, “No, you can’t sit in it. I’ve got to get going.”

If only the 19-year-old guy in Toronto who just wrecked his sister’s 720S giving a show-off joyride to a stranger had heeded this advice.

In that reckless young driver’s case, the police were quick to point out that a car like the McLaren needs a driver with experience and ability. If that’s you, and money’s no object, then read on. If it’s not, well, read on anyway. This is a great car.

Where did it come from?

The McLaren 720S is the latest evolution from the MP4-12C that debuted in 2010, and which kickstarted the British performance company back into business. That 12C had a carbon-fibre composite chassis, for lightness, and a 3.8-litre twin-turbo V-8 good for 592 hp. It was a bit rough inside, with a difficult-to-see display screen mounted vertically (like a Tesla) on the centre dash, push-button transmission selector and a suede finish.

It was easy to drive and not especially loud, and apparently, early buyers were disappointed by its refinement. They wanted a more raw experience – more of a race car to remind them of the seminal F1 3-seater from McLaren’s past.

The 12C was replaced by the 650S and 675LT, which both retuned the 3.8-litre V-8, and now the 4.0-litre 720S. There’s a convertible on the way, too. McLaren also makes the less expensive 570 and the much more expensive P1 hybrid. Every single one of them will attract attention on the street.

Can I sit in it? Please, Mister?

Inside the 720S, the cabin is significantly more refined to the touch, with leather seating and a much improved, more easily read central display screen. You get a choice of three different trims: Luxury, like the test car, Performance, with a racier appearance, and unnamed, which is the basic vehicle (and very far from basic). There’s plenty of space for driver and passenger, and even a ledge behind that can actually be used as a storage shelf. Forget about seeing out the back if you place anything there, though.

The controls are all in odd places, but that adds to the car’s distinction and helps it to feel special. The mirrors are adjusted with a knob to the right of the steering wheel; the seats are moved with buttons just below your knee.

The transmission selector is still in the centre stack, but the buttons are replaced by toggle switches, and the selectable Drive modes above them, for both power and handling, are designated as Comfort, Sport and Track. “Comfort” is a word that was never used with the 12C.

Want to start it up, then?

Press the red starter button for the big V-8 and the 720S dumps a smidge of premium fuel directly into the exhaust, to give a crackle to the pipe and get your blood pumping. There’s a Launch control button on the centre stack, too. “Don’t touch it!” said the man from McLaren, who presumably wanted to sell the car with its double-clutch intact. It made me want to touch it all the more, but I’ll never tell if I did. Suffice to say, it helps get you closer to the claimed 2.8 seconds of its zero-to-100 km/h.

There’s also a Variable Drift Control feature that’s selectable from the centre display, in which you can adjust the amount of torque vectoring supplied to the wheels and control the amount of potential oversteer. If only that Toronto teenager had known how to operate this, he might not have skidded his sister’s car into the Audi R8 parked at the side of the road.

Perhaps the cleverest trick in the 720S’s repertoire is the folding gauge display. Press a button and the large and fully customizable TFT screen that holds the tachometer, trip meter, speedometer and temperature gauges will rotate down and fold itself into the dash, leaving just its top edge visible. That edge includes a simple LED tach, speedometer and gear display, supposedly less distracting on the track. This feature is worth the price of admission alone.

Let’s go!

Yes, the 720S is incredibly fast. Yes, it steers where you want it to go, and its suspension can be (relatively) soft or racetrack stiff. Stomp on the gas and it’s not about zero-to-100 km/h but zero-to-200 km/h (which is a claimed 7.1 seconds and I have no reason to doubt this).

More important is the slowing-down bit, and the brakes seem quite soft in regular driving. They’re not, of course, since they have 390-mm carbon fibre discs, but have been tuned this way for a more forgiving daily drive. Press more forcefully on the pedal and the car will stop on a dime, gluing its sticky 245-mm and 305-mm tires to the asphalt. As well, the rear wing will raise itself almost upright, pressing the car down against the road and totally blocking your view of the police vehicle behind.

The aerodynamics of the 720S are actually the car’s cleverest trick: much more clean and cooling air passes over the smooth upper profile than dirty air that’s swept beneath, creating a natural downforce with speed that helps keep everything firmly planted. It’s needed, too: the chassis is at least 18 kg lighter than the 650S and now uses a complete carbon-fibre tub for the cabin, for a total dry weight of 1,283 kg.

Was it good for you, too?

In the world of expensive supercars, each brand needs something to make it stand out. Ferrari has history and Formula 1; Lamborghini has Italian flair; Aston Martin has James Bond and British sophistication. So, what’s McLaren’s schtick?

The U.K. company is going for style and performance, which are usually a costly combination. The 720S won’t disappoint on a track, but its driver will probably spend more time posing at Polson Pier than driving at the motorsport park. Its gorgeous sleek lines make it stand out both moving and still, and don’t even try to avoid conversations when you open those swing-up doors.

If you’re only 19, though, it’ll be best to keep driving to your parents’ garage. This car needs somebody behind the wheel with both skill and experience. Anything less is just a waste of money, and potentially a YouTube embarrassment.