McLaren 720S Spider Driving, Engines & Performance | Top Gear
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Driving

What is it like to drive?

A roadster has a different remit to a coupe. Car firms may try to make them as similar as possible structurally and dynamically, but a convertible is always going to be more liberating, more immersive, more involved with its surroundings, the sounds, sights and smells. All about opening up rather than hunkering down, getting away from raw speed and into experience.

You could very happily potter about in the 720S without ever knowing just what it’s capable of. It’s very good at going slowly: there’s no drivetrain shunt or engine histrionics at low revs, left to its own devices it’ll be in 6th by 30mph, and the ride on the cross-linked hydraulic dampers is uncanny. This system links the diagonally opposite suspension components, negating the need for conventional anti-roll bars. Instead hydraulic AR bars are used to limit roll but flex under compression. The system, not fitted to McLaren’s entry level Super Series models (not even the 600LT) delivers a remarkable ride: flat, yet wonderfully supple.

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It’s a characteristic even more suited to the roadster than the coupe, aided no end by the Spider’s structural rigidity. No steering column shudder or windscreen tremor here. OK, that’s not 100 per cent true - we took the 720S down a section of dirt track. Washboard surfaces did penetrate the defences. But afterwards no rattles or squeaks.

Roof up it’s very refined, and if you want to let a bit of the outside in you can drop the electric rear glass. You do get more exhaust noise, but not an exceptional amount. But then the McLaren’s flat-plane crank V8 has never been the most tuneful. The noise – rasping, purposeful, hard-edged higher up – is fine, but it’s no Lambo V10.

It’s what the engine is capable of that’s so shocking. No, it hasn’t overcome low rev lag like the Ferrari 488, but the mid-range performance is so uncomfortable as it squeezes you deeper and deeper into the seat that you almost never feel the need – or desire – to go beyond 5,500rpm. High revs (it’ll go to beyond 8,000rpm) are something to be kept for special occasions, periodic reminders that even among supercars the ability to hit 124mph in under eight seconds and complete the quarter mile in only a little over ten seconds is something very special indeed.

The chassis can keep up. And so can you. This is perhaps the 720S Spider’s greatest achievement. The McLaren has been so well calibrated, is so clear, clean and faithful in its responses that you have utter confidence in its manners. The steering is, I believe, the best of any supercar. Not artificially brightened by a super-quick rack, instead it behaves naturally, with open lines of communication back from the front wheels. It feels relaxed, not edgy, and this sensation pervades the whole dynamic experience.

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Although you sit preposterously low, it’s not an intimidating car to drive. The view out past the low scuttle is exemplary, allowing you to guide it accurately onto apices, the braking forces are remarkable, the stability, even when braking and turning at the same time is, thanks to those dampers again, completely trustworthy. It feels light in your hands, responsive and eager, but threat levels are – compared to most rivals – low. Unless you choose to slacken the traction or venture into the upper echelons of various modes. Then circumspection is needed.

But this is a supercar that pours itself along a difficult road with aplomb, doing such an amazing job of filtering the signals you need from the ones you don’t that it smooths your passage, calms your brain, gives you time, makes speed easy.

This led to accusations that the 720S coupe glorified outright speed at the expense of drama – something we refuted when making it our Performance Car of the Year in 2017 in a test that also contained the Ford GT and Lambo Huracán Performante. That said, its characteristics are perhaps even better suited to roadster form, where the emphasis on outright driving thrills is softer. And it’s this duality of character, the ability to both go hard and go slow that makes the 720S Spider such a stand out.

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