BBC TopGear
BBC TopGear
Car Review

McLaren Elva

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Published: 02 Jun 2021


What is it like to drive?

Where other fast cars can leave you numb at speed, McLaren has become very good at engineering and developing fleet-footed, feelsome drivers’ cars that tickle and tease your senses at slow speed, then tighten up the tourniquet and fire a shot of serotine and adrenaline as the speed builds.

So it’s not hard to imagine that when you take out some of the fat and turn up the wick on a Senna with the Elva that you’ve got one hell of a weapon. And that’s before you’ve even got to the fact of it having no bloody windscreen.

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The 804bhp twin-turbo V8 is responsive and utterly rampant in its delivery. The acceleration from 0-60mph (2.8secs) leaves you speechless. But when the traction is down and it’s really up to speed, romping between third and fourth gear is a Chiron-esque sensation as the 590lb ft of torque battering rams the breath out of you.

For some perspective of how fast this thing is, the Elva hits 124 mph in 6.7 seconds, which is a tenth quicker than the Senna and 1.1 seconds faster than the 720S. Let that sink in for a minute. And then recalibrate and realise you’re doing that with nothing protecting you from the elements.

Some say fast cars are like strapping yourself to a bomb, but nothing quite does it as effectively and realistically as the Elva. And as it’s got an actual engine with thrashing pistons, intake noise and exhaust, so there’s anger and theatrics to the performance – a build-up of energy as speed accrues - so that unlike an EV, it isn’t sickening to deploy.

However, unlike a motorbike, you don’t feel overly exposed and at risk – just like you’re in some mad four-wheeled IMAX. With no discernable boundaries of inside and outside (as long as it’s not raining) you can easily enjoy the experience that an unfiltered open-air performance of the environment delivers. But here’s the big question: does the McLaren Active Air Management System work? Well, it does make a difference, but it doesn’t quite live up to the claim of creating a ‘bubble of calm’.

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Up to about 50mph, you’re still comfortable and capable of a blustery conversation with your passenger. Anything above that definitely spikes the bubble of calm as the wind whistles in and around your ears and starts to compete with everything. But that shouldn’t put you off.

It’s not an unpleasant experience in the dry (driving it through hail or rain is), it's just different. Like cleaning your teeth with your opposite hand. But let’s remember, this isn’t new: Atoms and Caterhams have been doing this kind of thing for years.

But unlike them, the Elva takes the game to another level. Does it need over 800bhp? No. Does it need brakes that feel like they could stop the world? No. In fact, it’s kind of overegged it that way. The Elva and the sensation it serves up by having no screen and a wicked chassis would be fun with 300bhp. But would we turn down that 800bhp and those brakes? Hell no. It's unbelievably impressive and playful in a way a Senna isn't. 

Where the 765LT and Senna felt like they took their performance too far, became too serious and sacrificed fun for the sake of speed, the Elva is the opposite. Less downforce, less weight, sensational road-biased balance and suspension set up, means that you end up driving it in a way you never would a Senna. But the places you can uncork it are few and far between unless you’ve got some sort of pregnancy craving for prison food. But because it has no screen, slow-speed driving is enhanced.

And McLaren has thought about that, going as far as creating a new quad exhaust to give your ears a high-end experience. Two of the pipes are for high resonance, two for low – making bassy frequencies bounce off the road, and throw high notes vertically where occupants can hear them scream.

And unlike its Aston and Ferrari contemporaries, it actually works because you can hear the thing while you’re driving it instead of wondering why they didn’t just make them windscreenless EVs.

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