The McLaren 720S Spider Basks In The Twilight Of Combustion Supercars
Embrace these times, friends, for the end of combustion performance is nigh.
Our world is in the midst of a dramatic transition. Climate change is real, and its effects are making waves throughout numerous industries, forcing adjustments to how companies consume energy, produce materials, and emit pollution. With a shift toward greener practices, the automotive sector is a driver of many dramatic changes to how we go about our daily lives. In an effort to reduce emissions, improve fuel efficiency, and change infrastructure for juicing up our vehicles, electrification is becoming more common among powertrains in everything from basic commuter cars, all the way up to the most performance-focused makes and models.
While enthusiast drivers can't fight the inevitable, we can still embrace the dynamic sensations and emotions we feel when enjoying petrol-powered machines along our favorite stretches of pavement. For a little while longer, McLaren is helping support this addiction with which many of us cope. As I was recently reacquainted with my favorite all-around supercar--the McLaren 720S Spider--I couldn't shake the feeling that this is the exact point in time when the enthusiast car was poised to make a tectonic shift.
As The Numbers Go
Figures for the McLaren 720S Spider are nothing short of monumental. Packing 710 horsepower (or 720 PS) and 568 lb-ft (770 Nm) of torque, the M840T is a twin-turbocharged V8 is potent. Mated to McLaren's 7-speed dual-clutch DCT and rear-wheel-drive, the 720S Spider will sprint from 0-60 MPH in 2.8 seconds, hit 124 MPH (200 KPH) in as little as 7.9 seconds, and trip the lights at the end of a 1/4-mile run in just 10.4 seconds. Top speed with the roof closed is 212 MPH, and after the top drops, the 720S Spider will still scream at 202 MPH.
Built on a carbon fiber Monocage II chassis, the McLaren 720S Spider uses a power hardtop that operates at up to 30 MPH to allow you and a passenger to feel the sun and wind. With extensive use of carbon fiber for its body panels, the 720S Spider maintains a low curb weight of just 3,236 pounds (or 1,468 kg). The Spider's mass is only slightly more than its coupe sibling, which does save the frugal supercar shopper around $15,000.
Speaking of money, starting at a base price of $315,000, McLaren offers dozens of options to craft your perfect 720S Spider, including access to its MSO department if the usual off-the-shelf upgrades make you feel like a commoner. After ticking several options boxes from the factory--including Azores orange calipers, lightweight forged wheels, 360º parking assist, heated and memory seats, sport exhaust, an electrochromic roof, and an upgraded audio system--this Silica White 720S Spider racked up an MSRP of $359,820 after destination.
Positives That Stand Out
Few cars look as if they're going fast while sitting still as well as the McLaren 720S Spider. An exercise in CFD with space age design elements, everywhere you this open-top McLaren will involve attracting a crowd. When you open the dihedral doors, it screams supercar. I love how the profile lines are smooth and flow effortlessly around the shape of this convertible, without needing massive intake vents on display along its flanks. Utilizing LED headlights, more room up front is made to accommodate intakes behind the space where conventional light housings would reside.
McLaren may have given the 720S Spider spaceship looks, but its packaging is as tidy inside as it is outside. The carbon fiber steering wheel is devoid of any buttons. Paddle shifters mounted behind the wheel are huge, and easy to engage with a positive click. The infotainment screen is simple and driver-focused, with every control easily within arm's reach, maintaining a minimalistic center console that neatly flows downward to the cupholders and armrest.
As convertible tops go, the McLaren 720S Spider has a seriously cool configuration, with a massive clamshell tonneau cover that incorporates speedster humps just behind each occupant's head, met with ingenious buttresses made from transparent material to make for easier visibility out of the cabin. Spend an extra $9,100 to opt for the electrochromic roof panel option, which can eliminate daylight in the cabin or let in loads of sunshine through a quick tap of a button that toggles the glass top's opacity.
Things That Aren't Wonderful
To enable massive cockpit space while maintaining cargo functionality up front, the McLaren 720S Spider's front end has a long overhang. This complicates making entry into your driveway complicated exercise in graceful entry, even if you opt for the power front axle lift. Scrape a few too many times, and you won't enjoy the bill to replace that carbon fiber front splitter either. Storage in the cabin is a bit limited too, in true supercar fashion, with no glovebox. There is a small space in the center armrest for tucking in little items alongside the USB ports, and McLaren conceals a neat pocket in the doors for your sunglasses, which is some consolation.
Operating McLaren's transmission selection buttons nor infotainment setup are intuitive, but after a few days behind the wheel, you'll get used to its behaviors that allow the 720S Spider to benefit from less real estate dedicated to the center stack and screen. My justified gripe with the infotainment system is that its portrait orientation restricts it from working with Apple Car Play. I also wish there were simple buttons installed for the climate control system, so I didn't have to take my eyes off the road to make adjustments.
Surprisingly Civil As A City Car
Little first world problems aside, the McLaren 720S Spider is a remarkable joy to daily drive. A departure from the experience in several performance cars, McLaren's trick adaptive suspension allows the 720S to glide over compromised textures on city streets with relative ease, while still providing positive feedback. Cabin disruption is minimal over bumps, which was great when driving around the awful streets of downtown Austin.
For having over 700 horsepower ready to strike, throttle and brake inputs are composed when you're buzzing around town at a normal pace. Get a hint of weight in your right foot, and the 720S Spider will quickly remind you what it's capable of. Mind your behavior with the throttle, and you'll easily hit the EPA fuel economy estimates of 15/22/18 (city/highway/combined) MPGs. While the powertrain is focused on being blisteringly quick, in the normal drive mode, the 720S Spider is calm and predictable, and I love how smooth the Seamless Shift Gearbox changes up and down.
The cockpit is exceptionally quiet when you have the top up, and even when you open the roof, the windscreen is smoothly sculpted to reduce turbulence around the cabin, and the smaller power operated rear window acts as a wind deflector to minimize any blustery conditions. I will admit it's easier to get in and out of the 720S Spider with the roof open, helped a bit by those billionaire doors, because of the monocoque's larger sills. Once seated inside the McLaren 720S Spider, you're spoiled by extremely comfortable bucket seats that still look the supercar part.
Surprisingly practical, McLaren gives the 720S a big front storage area, capable of storing two carryon-sized roller bags... or a guy's week of groceries. If the frunk space gets wiped out, and you happen to have the top up, McLaren designed the tonneau cover to pop open to allow you to stash away smaller items like a backpack. If you really need more space in your supercar, McLaren does offer the GT, with a massive cargo capacity I exploited during my recent review. If you want a more minimal cockpit, tap a button to the side of the instrument cluster to make it fold down and reveal a more compact display (which is the default setting in track mode).
Annihilating Any Twisty Road Or Circuit
Unleash the fury of the McLaren 720S Spider at your own risk. This car is not made for the amateur motorist, and will quickly strike if you let your attention slips or your talent runs out. Engage its potential on a winding back road, and the talented driver will be rewarded with obscene levels of power, grip, and joy as the wind rushes over the open cockpit. Quiet farm-to-market roads are annihilated by the 720S Spider, quickly sprinting from one bend to the next as you set a massive amount of power and torque loose.
The optional sport exhaust's notes rumble as the McLaren 720S Spider's twin-turbo V8 is put into its sport or track modes, and gear changes take on a new level of ferocity. While the automatic transmission setting will get the job done, offering wickedly fast shifts, I stuck with manual changes via the paddles for optimal enjoyment. Tap the "active" button between the two knobs that allow you to select normal, sport, and track modes for each the powertrain and handling configurations, and make your choices accordingly.
For slaying your favorite canyon road, I recommend putting the engine and handling knobs in sport, while you get more accustomed to the McLaren's behaviors. As your comfort level grows--and as long as your driving abilities permit--engage the 720S Spider's engine track mode, and tap the ESC button once to enable the dynamic setting. Here the 720S is alive, with an engine that opens its taps with ease, a suspension responds brilliantly, sublime steering weight and feedback, and a chassis that allows modest slip angle as you carve a corner.
Entry and exit speeds through corners are unreal, with unreal levels of mechanical grip, coupled with a suspension that employs some sort of dark magic to steady any mid-bend disturbances I've felt in other supercars. I'm not in love with the Pirelli P Zero tires fitted to the 720S Spider I tested, which have a tiny operating window, supplying less grip than I prefer when flogging a car of this caliber near its visceral limits. More composed than the hardcore race car for the street McLaren 620R I tested, the 720S Spider keeps you comfortable when slaying the twisty stuff.
Should a tighter corner sneak up on you--or local law enforcement officer rapidly approach just after testing the McLaren's launch control--massive 390mm front carbon ceramic rotors with 6-piston calipers and 380mm rear discs with 4-piston calipers help the 720S Spider scrub itself from 124 MPH to a halt in 4.6 seconds, covering just 387 feet, and slow from 62 MPH in 2.8 seconds over 100 feet to a dead stop.
If you get the chance to dispose of the McLaren 720S Spider capabilities around a circuit, you'll be astounded by how fast it lays down a lap. At a fraction of the price of a McLaren Senna, I've lapped the 720S around Circuit of The Americas just two seconds slower than its iconic stablemate.
Embrace The Pure Supercar While You Can
Should the extreme power and high price make you a bit timid, the McLaren GT I reviewed--with just over 600 horsepower and a sticker price that's nearly $100,000 less--hits the supercar sweet spot. If you've got the cash, and want to take some instruction, the 720S Spider is hard to beat. When I first gave the the 720S Spider a comprehensive evaluation two years ago, I said it was the best all-around supercar on the planet, and still feel that way.
A couple days into this test, a thought came to mind that I couldn't escape: We've hit the pinnacle of performance from supercars that simply employ combustion engines. McLaren still sells a car with over 700 horsepower, two driven wheels, and performance that can easily end you along a canyon road. In the McLaren 720S Spider, there's a stout turbocharged engine mounted behind the cockpit, powering only the rear wheels, and there are no extra electrified components. There is no wild extra surge of acceleration supplied by massive battery packs hooked up to separate drivetrain components to deliver the power and maintain grip in the hands of an amateur.
The McLaren 720S Spider is as simple and pure as we're going to see for a long time. Even the Woking outfit knows that change is necessary to survive in the supercar world, as emissions and fuel economy regulations become more stringent. The new Artura replaces the McLaren Sports Series models, and introduces not only a new design language, but also employs a new hybrid powertrain. With an emphasis on performance as much as reducing its environmental impact, the Artura is McLaren's first meaningful step (the P1 was a limited run car, with an astronomical price) into a series production model for a wide supercar buying demographic.
We have to accept that electric cars are the way ahead, and that supercars are going to be a big part of that movement. I will certainly embrace this change, and try to be optimistic about the sensations I'll enjoy behind the wheel of performance cars of the future. But for now, I'm going to take advantage of what we have left of combustion engines, and flog the hell out of every single one I can get my hands on.