Handling, performance, ride, refinement, stability
A real GT needs a more useable cabin and driver aids
What is it?
It's a McLaren all right, but the aim is to take the ground from underneath rivals' front-engined GTs. Just with a completely unique take on the cross-continent formula.
We’ll start with the McLaren bit: there’s a mid-engined V8 turbo, twin-clutch gearbox, and two-seat carbonfibre tub. But it's roomier, more practical and more refined than its 720S sibling.
It weighs a mere 1,530kg and is endowed with 620bhp. No-one doubts a mid-engined car with those numbers is going to be far better to drive down a great twisty road than a much heavier front-engined car.
How much has the GT sacrificed McLaren’s supercar edge?
That's what we're here to find out. For starters, McLaren has really made the effort. This may look broadly familiar, but more than two-thirds of the GT’s parts are new. The engine, a four-litre job like in the 720S, has smaller turbos and entirely redesigned plumbing compared to other McLarens. As we'll see, that brings a more appropriate power delivery, but it also makes the engine physically less tall.
That in turn means room above it for a surprisingly big boot under a glassy tailgate. It can swallow a bag of golf clubs, if that's your thing. Or two sets of skis or a guitar. And careful insulation and cool-air ducting means they won't melt. Another boot in the front can take a couple of flight bags, so in all it's good for 570 litres of luggage space if you don’t mind those litres being unconventionally shaped and spread.
What about dynamics?
The suspension has been recalibrated with softer front springs and careful anti-roll bar tuning to compensate. Yes, it has anti-roll bars, like the (now off-sale) 570 series, rather than hydraulic adaptive anti-roll like the 720S. The damping is adaptive and the steering hydraulic in true McLaren fashion.
The cabin is more luxuriously trimmed and quiet. The GT has also got decent ground clearance and well-behaved motorway manners, good visibility and tyres that work well in the wet.
Although it's longer than nearly all other McLarens, it's not as aggressive-looking. Or sounding. It won't wake the dead.
At launch, the GT sat alongside the 570S and 720S ranges, as McLaren aimed to fish for new customers rather than just making a substitute car for the existing lot. But in the years that have passed, the 570 series (aka the Sports Series) has ended production while the Artura hybrid is ready to step into a different space. Without the 570S and GT in its periphery, we’d say the GT carves out more of an interesting niche for itself.
What's the verdict?
This is a really good and thoroughly appealing car. The more you drive it the easier that verdict becomes. The harder question is whether it's the answer to the grand touring question.
Remarkably, the driving experience comes close to McLaren’s other products – at least the sub-700bhp ones. Yet the refinement and ride comfort are a big step ahead. Actually, better than McLaren’s front-engined GT rivals, which try to compensate for their weight (and massive alloys) by running stiff springs and sharp damping and very noisy tyres.
But the mid-engined layout does impose its own compromises. The cabin is too cramped, not so much for the people but for objects. And the load space, although big, demands you pack it thoughtfully.
In the end then this is a compromised GT. But the thing is, so are all the rivals, albeit for different reasons. Small wonder the cars most rich people really use for long trips are SUVs. But for people who love driving, this McLaren will do the GT job like nothing else. It sits in a curious corner of the market, but you’ll be besotted with it if it meets your similarly curious needs.