Is McLaren's 'practical supercar' more useful than the Porsche 911?
When McLaren launched the GT, the claim was that it was able to transport such unusually shaped objects as skis, golf clubs and guitar cases. And it can. All at the same time. Which, if you’re both a supercar addict and a juggler of unusual and ungainly items, might be the best news you’ve ever had. Provided you sacrifice your passenger. Couldn’t make them all fit under the full length tailgate, see.
But this made me think. The 911 is very useful, but being rear-engined (the GT’s load bay is on top of its mid-mounted motor) doesn’t really have an area that can take long items. So far, I’ve used Seasucker racks and the roof. Which spoils the easy 32mpg cruising economy.
I really thought I’d foxed the 911 this time. So I tilted the driver’s seat forward, flipped down the rear seats (the catches are one of those small satisfactions, beautifully engineered and light to operate), and quickly found you can get golf clubs, guitar and skis in the back. And still have room for a passenger. And probably another set of golf clubs.
OK, so the skis had to protrude through (forming a handy upper armrest), and the physical contortions necessary to load things into the back are much more likely to result in a hernia than simply leaning over the McLaren’s back deck where the worst you’ll suffer is mucky trousers and potential (and easily avoidable) exhaust-burned shins. But is there no end to the Porsche’s talents?
The key to it is the one thing most sports cars never contemplate: packaging. McLaren has done more than any other company to maximise the mid-engined format, but slinging the engine at the back means it’s out of the way. OK, so it’s taken Porsche nearly 60 years of development to get to this point, but within a much smaller footprint (it’s over 160mm shorter and, with the mirrors folded, the best part of 200mm narrower) it’s carved a phenomenally usable cockpit. The kind that really can be used every day without thought. I’ve taken teenagers to volleyball, picked up bulky bales of pet supplies. It does everything, and does it pretty much as easily as a Golf. Zero compromise.
So does driving it everyday and treating it like a Golf make it feel ordinary? Not for a second. Three main reasons for this: the interior design, the fact you sit so low and the quality and depth of the engineering. Sitting lower means you always feel separate from other traffic, and the cabin design and execution is just so, so good. So tactile, so easy to use, so satisfying. And that’s reflected in every move the car makes: each gearchange, each damper contraction, each twist of the steering. It’s just so rewarding every time I get in, no matter where I’m going or what I’m doing.
Which makes me wonder why you need ‘more’ 911. I drove this plain Carrera 2 back to back with the McLaren. Sure, the GT does feel more special: upward swinging doors, more visceral responses, genuinely wonderful steering, massive power. But at this time of year you can’t use any of it.
Even with the tyres and brakes fully warmed up it can’t deal with greasy, mucky roads. The traction light flashes all the time, it won’t accelerate harder than a hot hatch. The 911, also wearing Pirelli P Zeros, has astonishing traction, an engine that’s as charismatic (i.e. not all that), a more confidence-inspiring chassis and is generally more comfortable and manageable yet delivering just as much entertainment. And yeah, I could have put the 911 on winters, but I’ve decided not to because I don’t want to make it too easy for myself.
Nor do I find myself wishing this was a Turbo S or a GT3. As a car to live with, this basic Carrera 2 does the key stuff at least as well, if not better. And with considerably less financial investment. Don’t forget the only equipment options this car has are dimming mirrors, a reversing camera and Sports Plus seats (for a total of just over £1000). I rarely find myself wanting more power or the security of 4WD, and never want firmer suspension. Regularly wish for better noise, but I know the £1844 sports exhaust wouldn’t bring back the full nat-asp rasp.
One more thing: this was also a useful re-evaluation of the McLaren GT. It was in an unhappy place at launch back in 2019, sitting alone and apart from both the 570/Sports Series and 720S/Super Series cars, and doing a job very closely aligned to the 570GT. Plus McLaren claimed it was a proper GT. It wasn’t.
But this is a car that’s now bedded in. With the Artura around the corner and the dialogue having shifted, it has a proper role. Plus it’s pretty much as fluent and communicative as a 720S, more practical, arguably better finished inside and has useful, thoughtful detailing – the electric tailgate, tie-down straps and so on. At £163,000 (this one only carried £12,500 of options), it looks good value alongside everything from a Maserati MC20 or Lambo Huracan to a Porsche 911 Turbo. A convincing everyday supercar.
But one (or even two…) price tier down, the base 911 Carrera 2 does an even more impressive job, just so easy to appreciate and so damn brilliant at what it does. No wonder everyone shies away from building a direct rival to it.
I’ll tell you how well it’s fitted into life at home. We’re considering building an extension. The other day my wife and I climb into the 911 and apropos of nothing she says “you know, maybe we could have one of these instead”.