The 720S is the first model in McLaren’s revised Super Series range, replacing among other things the fabulous 650S reviewed here. This has not been a case of playing around with an existing car, giving it a facelift and maybe a few more bhp and pretending that it’s something no one has seen before. The 720S is new to its roots, being based on a carbonfibre structure called Monocage II which, unlike the previous Monocell, extends over the heads of the driver and passenger.
There are obvious benefits in terms of stiffness. Monocell II has also allowed McLaren to give the 720S a larger cockpit with narrower sills (much easier to climb over) and thinner, though equally strong, windscreen pillars which improve visibility no end.
The doors are much larger, so you don’t have to be quite so athletic to get in and out. They still open upwards, though. This remains my major – possibly only – objection to the car. How are you supposed to get out of it if you’re unlucky enough to land upside down? The thought of doing this in a river or if there’s a fire is a thing of nightmares.
The twin-turbo V8 engine is from the same family as everything McLaren Automotive has built in its short history, but 41% of its components are new (lighter pistons and conrods, a stiffer crankshaft, unique turbochargers and intercoolers, and so on) and the capacity has been raised from 3.8 to four litres.
By McLaren standards it sounds relatively subdued. The 720S is quieter than the 650S was at idle and has less of a bark when you’re pushing it hard.
Do not be deceived by this. The 4.0 V8 is, when unleashed, an absolute monster, capable of producing 720PS (hence the car’s name, though in Imperial units the figure is 710bhp) at 7500rpm, just over 500rpm short of its electronically limited top speed. At a much more modest 5500rpm, when it’s producing maximum torque, it can churn out 595bhp, more than any of the Monocell-based Sports Series can manage at full chat.
With the help of this engine, the 720S can accelerate from a standstill to 62mph in 2.9 seconds, to 124mph in 7.8 and to 186mph in 21.4. It can come to rest much more urgently. According to McLaren, 186mph to zero takes just 6.9 seconds, thanks to a combination of superb brakes and an air brake which pops up when the car senses that radical deceleration is required.
This is all terribly exciting, and will render your mates slack-jawed at the pub when you tell them about it. But after an hour or so behind the wheel of the most powerful car I’ve ever driven I felt that a 720S with, say, 300bhp would be 99.99% as good as this one – a high-tech successor, if you will, to the first-generation Honda NSX, which wasn’t up to much in a straight line but cornered beautifully. Never going to happen, of course.
The point is that, like all other road-going McLarens of the present era, the power output is the least important thing about the 720S. No, it is. It is! If you think the car is all about straightline performance (which you’re hardly ever going to be able to use anyway) you’re ignoring many other delights.
The steering is a thing of wonder from walking pace upwards, just as effective as but less darty than that of the 650S in the same way that the engine produces far more power but doesn’t shriek about it. The handling is so friendly that you wonder just how strong the engine would have to be before it caused the chassis any real concern. 800bhp, maybe?
On full throttle, going to the red line in first and second gears, there is some squirming at the back end, but so little that even on an only moderately well-surfaced country road you don’t have to do anything about it. The car can easily take care of this itself.
Turbo lag is more noticeable than in less powerful McLarens, so unless you’re on a track there’s not much chance of getting full power in mid-corner. This is probably a good thing. Think of it as an extra form of traction control.
Both the suspension and the seven-speed semi-automatic gearbox have three modes called Comfort (a word McLaren has not used before now, preferring Normal), Sport and Track. A spokesman said that this gives the 720S a broader range of ability, but I disagree. For road use at least, it has a very broad range of ability already. The modes merely provide different nuances. You can use any of them in any situation and the car will still feel superb. (The McLaren chap quite liked this train of thought when I mentioned it to him.)
For example, in Sport mode the gearchanges feel punchier. Lovely, but they’re not actually any quicker than they are in Comfort and Sport. I do think there’s a case for switching modes for the suspension, simply because in Comfort there’s more body lean just after turn-in. If you didn’t know there was a choice you wouldn’t give this a moment’s thought, but because you do it seems appropriate to shift into Sport through the twisty bits just to tidy things up a little.
My favourite thing about the 720S over the discontinued 650S and the current Sports Series may seem trivial, but it’s important to me. In the other cars, the pedals are placed so that you have to move your right foot quite far over to press the brake. It seems to be set up more for left-foot braking, which is fine if you’re comfortable with that but not if you’re not.
In the 720S, the spacing is much better. You can use whichever foot you like on the brake. It’s within easy reach of both.
You can’t, of course, drive the 720S quickly all the time. It doesn’t matter. One of its outstanding features is that it behaves beautifully at very low speeds. Some owners might like to think that when they’re in slow-moving traffic onlookers must assume that they are struggling to tame something which has emerged from the pages of the Book of Relevations, but in fact it’s no more difficult to drive in these conditions than a Ford Fiesta automatic.
There are those who say that this is not how supercars ought to be – that they should present a challenge all the time. Phooey. Creating a car which can get you to the wrong side of the national speed limit within ten seconds of pressing the starter button but can also be managed easily by someone who passed their driving test at the age of 85 is a huge achievement, to be praised rather than deprecated.
The performance version of the 720S costs £218,020, including everything but registrations fees and first-year Vehicle Excise Duty. This is very much a base figure. You can spend a great deal more, as illustrated by the test car, which had nearly £57,000 worth of options including £8890 for carbonfibre front splitter and rear bumper, £4750 for a sports exhaust, £1100 for coloured brake calipers and – a scandal, this one, shocking state of affairs, strongest possible terms, etc. – £510 for a ruddy luggage retention strap.
Still, signalling your monetary value by spending ridiculous sums on things you don’t need (which McLaren Automotive CEO Mike Flewitt happily acknowledges as a description of his company’s cars) is psychologically important to those who think it’s psychologically important, and there’s no doubt that the 720S provides plenty of opportunity for it.
I don’t want to think of it in those terms, and I don’t have to. For me, it is simply a glorious car, even better than the one it replaces. I would once have found this difficult to believe, but it’s true.
Price £218,020 (see text)
Engine size 3994cc
Top speed 212mph
0-62mph 2.9 seconds
Fuel economy 26,4mpg combined
CO2 emissions 249g/km
Towing capacity not applicable
Euro NCAP not tested
Information correct at publication date