McLaren Unveils New 720S, Changes the Supercar Landscape

McLaren debuts its new 212-mph supercar in Geneva, but The Drive proves more efficient than the Swiss, reporting from our exclusive reveal in Manhattan.

McLaren’s breathtaking momentum continues, this time at 212 mph. That’s the terminal velocity of the new McLaren 720S, a 710-horsepower, mid-engine marvel that may upend the traditional supercar hierarchy. (Hint: Ferrari likes it on top.)

McLaren will officially unveil its second-generation Super Series model today in Geneva, but The Drive pored over the 720S – more like drooled over it – at a closed-door reveal in Manhattan in February that included lead 720S designer Paul Howse and Mark Vinnels, executive director of program development.

“This is one of the fastest cars around any circuit in the world,” Vinnels said of McLaren’s new baby, the successor to the 650S and 675LT.

Give Me the Beat, Boys, and Drift Away

McLaren test driver Chris Goodwin appeared via video, showing off his drifting skills in McLaren’s on-track video to underline a key 720S feature: Variable Drift Control makes a science of sliding, with drivers inputting the exact drift angle the car will allow via a fingertip screen slider on the infotainment system.

“Drifting isn’t just about showboating and having fun,” Goodwin said in the video, as gathered McLaren clients burst into applause over the 720S on display in New York. “It actually teaches us quite a lot about the car.”

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A damn sexy mid-engined supercar.

The 720S looks to return the favor, with technology and carbon-fiber capabilities that may school any number of competing sports cars. Let’s rip through the numbers: Compared with the departing 650S, there’s 69 more horses and 68 additional pound-feet (a total of 568) from the enlarged 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8. McLaren says the 720S will sprint to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds, and to 120 mph in 7.8 seconds; with its seven-speed dual-clutch automated gearbox that shifts up to 45 percent quicker than the 650S. A quarter-mile flies past in 10.3 seconds, whipping Tesla’s P90 Model D and likely Ford’s significantly heavier, less-powerful, V6-driven GT. A retina-detaching stop from 120 mph takes 4.6 seconds on standard carbon-ceramic discs. That 384-foot stopping distance is nearly 20 feet shorter than a 650S and nearly matches the P1 hypercar. On road or track, the 720S should easily top its ferocious 650S predecessor, including by generating a claimed 56 percent more aerodynamic downforce.

Every New McLaren Looks a Bit Better Than the Last

It’s a cliché, but pictures don’t do the 720S justice. To our eyes, McLaren design has made steady, felicitous progress from the rather generic 12C, through the more-distinctive 650S, 675LT, 570S and 570GT models. The 720S seems the apogee so far. From its sweeping haunches and novel air-management strategies to a teardrop canopy and markedly improved interior, the 720S is a design triumph: A heart-stopping, fully cohesive British supercar. The Mac looks especially spectacular from the rear three-quarters, or from directly above in plan view.

“We were a new company,” Howse says. “And once the look was cemented, now we can build on it and push it forward.”

In Manhattan, McLaren clients chattered like excited schoolboys over the 720S’s trick features. The Folding Driver Display unfurls when you open a door, showing upright views on an eight-inch TFT screen. Touch a button or move to Track mode, and the entire screen binnacle pivots flat to reveal a Slim Display that shows only speed, rpm and gear selection on a thin digital strip, for better outward views and less driver distraction. A digital color wheel selects ambient lighting tones, part of an intuitive new eight-inch center infotainment screen—created by JBL Kenwood—that finally banishes the notorious IRIS system, the Radio Shack-level bane of previous McLarens. McLaren Track Telemetry can record video laps, and aid driver performance by putting telemetry data and summaries in the driver’s sightline while lapping.

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Engine isn't red-hot, at least not yet: LED's light the engine bay during a "welcome sequence."

The hide-and-seek gauges, along with LED’s that bathe the engine’s cast-aluminum intake in red light when you unlock the car, will surely raise the ire of grumpy, self-important auto journalists. But gimmicks or not, these features seem fun, the kind of conversation-starters that are integral to supercar fandom. 

The rest is pure, remorseless function, beginning with the carbon-fiber Monocell II structure that helps deliver a class-whipping dry weight of just 2,829 pounds, about 40 fewer than a comparable 650S Coupe. The 720S adopts the latest generation of McLaren’s industry-unique ProActive Chassis Control, or hydraulically linked dampers that eliminate any need for anti-roll bars. But the company cites a radical new strategy for chassis software, based on Optimal Control Theory, or mathematical research McLaren backed at the University of Cambridge.

Advanced algorithms assess and react to vehicle parameters within two milliseconds, using data from 12 additional sensors, including one accelerometer at each vehicle corner  and two pressure sensors per damper. Electro-hydraulic steering is faster than the 650S’s, with McLaren promising even more steering clarity and road-surface feedback, in part through revised, stiffened front-suspension geometry. Re-engineered suspension uprights and double wishbones shave 35 pounds of critical unsprung weight.

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Dihedral doors, of course.

Redesigned, upward-swinging dihederal doors now take a gullwing-style bite out of the roof, with clear upper panels and a second top hinge that helps pivot them out of occupants’ way. Door sills are narrowed and tucked inboard compared with the 650S, and opened doors protrude six inches less on each side for easier operation in tight quarters.

“You almost had to limbo under the door before, but now you can slide right in,” Howse says.

For the sleek exterior, airflow technology alone might require a PhD dissertation. Digital headlamps, each with 17 adaptive LEDs, peer from deeply scalloped “eye sockets” whose aero duct channel air to low-temperature turbo charge radiators at the rear. Hood deflectors divert air up and over to reduce turbulence around the windshield.

McLaren

McLaren breathes through its eyelids.

McLaren’s signature air brake pivots up to slow the car, part of a three-position aerofoil-style rear spoiler and dramatic rear splitter. But the design tour-de-force is a pair of largely hidden channels atop the doors that envelop the greenhouse. Howse says that designers spent two weeks on a full-size clay model getting the lines exactly right. The provocative side cleavage creates a trompe l’oeil effect, the illusion that there are no intake or extracting ducts along the sides. In fact, the unique double-skinned dihedral doors channel air to high-temperature radiators that cool the mid-mounted engine. Despite the discreet ductwork, McLaren says the 720S delivers a 15-percent gain in cooling efficiency versus its predecessor.

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A stare-worthy back end.

The visual magic extends to the greenhouse. The transparent rear canopy initially appears to have no supporting members to block the view. But climb or reach inside, and you’ll find impossibly slender, glazed carbon-fiber roof pillars hidden below tinted Gorilla glass. Front A-pillars are also slim, and can be had in exposed carbon-fiber weave. From the driver’s seat, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced better sightlines in a mid-engine car.

“There’s almost jet-fighter levels of visibility,” Howse says.

It's What's Inside That Counts

McLaren has always talked up the daily-drivability of their models, but until the recent 570GT, that was largely hyperbole: McLaren’s ride quality has been reasonably good, but the cars themselves have often been high-strung and hobbled by poor ergonomics and uneven interior quality. Now, the 720’s interior represents an arguably larger leap than performance, on sensory and technical par with Ferrari, Lamborghini et al. Instead of the vaguely kit-car feel and wobbly fit-and-finish of previous McLarens, the 720S gets top-quality Bridge of Weir hides and notably improved switchgear. Construction seems tighter, the layout confident and cohesive -- including an alluring, Alcantara-wrapped floating bridge console. The new eight-inch display features a digital carousel wheel to manage key functions, with dedicated quick-access keys and climate controls on permanent display at the bottom. Cargo space is outstanding for the class: A generous luggage deck rests atop the engine, as in the 570GT, large enough for a pair of large carry-on bags. Together with the frunk below the hood, there’s about 12 cubic feet of useful cargo capacity.

McLaren

Interior a major design leap: Better materials, craftsmanship, ergonomics, infotainment.

The Widest Breadth of Performance of Any McLaren

McLarens also underlines that the 720S will ride more smoothly in Comfort mode than its Super Series predecessors, yet deliver Track-mode performance on par with its most hardcore models in history. One remarkable claim holds that the 720S, shod with versatile Pirelli P Zero Corsa street tires, generates the same level of mechanical grip as the 650S with faster-wearing Pirelli Trofeos that are monsters on dry tracks but near-useless in the wet.

The 720S will arrive in dealers in May, priced around $285,000 to start, or about $11,000 more than a 650S. That price would also be about $40,000 beyond a 661-hp Ferrari 488GTB or 602-hp Lamborghini Huracan LP 610-4. But it compares favorably with Ford’s limited-production GT, with 647 horses and a price that may soar to $400,000. Let the new supercar battle begin.

“We’re so proud of the thing, and we thing it’s a real revolution in the segment,” Howse says.