FIRST DRIVE | The McLaren GT is all about serene speed

19 September 2019 - 07:35 By Denis Droppa
The McLaren GT is designed to cross continents in serene comfort. Picture: SUPPLIED
The McLaren GT is designed to cross continents in serene comfort. Picture: SUPPLIED

A McLaren that wafts, surely you jest?

The GT is the most comfortable McLaren yet, and it does waft — relatively speaking.

The car takes the carbon fibre body and mid-engine concept but packages it into a more comfortable car that swallows a lot of luggage and covers great distances with a plush ride.

Above the mid-mounted engine is a 420l luggage compartment that can take a pair of golf bags (and apparently a bicycle with its front wheel removed), and there’s also a 150l compartment in the nose. Inside, the seats are more padded and the cabin bedecked in more luxurious materials than is the race-bred McLaren norm.

The GT is designed to cross continents in serene comfort, says Thomas Taylor, Global Product Manager at McLaren Automotive.

“It has the comfort and refinement of a GT with the McLaren DNA of lightweight build and driver engagement.”

After spending a few hundred kilometres driving through the south of France at the world launch, I found it to be a civilised McLaren without being a sanitised one. There is plenty of sporting adventure available from its 4.0l V8 turbo engine, and from an active suspension system that turns the car from plush tourer to corner carver at a button press.

Yielding suspension and a traffic-friendly drivetrain allows the car to be ushered through busy urban grind without feeling like it’s always chomping at the bit for more action. In its mildest drivetrain and suspension modes the GT eases through the stop-start urban grid with an easygoing nature and a throttle that doesn’t feel snatchy.

There’s enough ground clearance to tackle the vagaries of everyday commuting. The car has the same entry/departure angles as a Mercedes C-Class and can be confidently guided over speedhumps and steeply angled driveways without scraping the undersides.

A more plush interior than McLaren’s usual fare, and softer-padded seats. Picture: SUPPLIED
A more plush interior than McLaren’s usual fare, and softer-padded seats. Picture: SUPPLIED

This isn’t to suggest the McLaren is watered-down or boring. Swapping the busy bustle of the French riviera coastline for the twisty hills, the GT displayed no shortage of corner-carving hustle.

McLaren didn’t include a track as part of its launch drive for a change, because that’s not the GT’s primary raison d’ etre. But in those mountain passes it delivered the typically nimble handling of a mid-engined car, in the way the car seems to rotate around you in turns.

The steering doesn’t feel as sharp as McLaren’s sportier models — a characteristic that is caused by the softer suspension as the steering ratio is actually the same at that of the more athletic 720S.

It’s not as edgy or as powerful as a 720S but neither does it have as firm and unrelenting a ride. The proactive damping control that debuts on the McLaren GT is a more advanced active suspension system and plays a major role in making this a superb tourer and very accomplished handler.

The traction from the Pirelli P Zeroes is excellent, and in its sport and race modes the car sharpened up into a very fine cornering tool. I like the way the stability control finesses the power delivery when the throttle is booted early out of a corner, rather than rudely cutting the torque.

The McLaren GT stays fairly well muted so as not to drone annoyingly on long trips, but an exhaust flap opens in the sports and track modes to give the car more vocality — it’s a deeper and bassier sound but I’d score it around seven out of 10 for aural emotion. 

At 1,530kg the carbonfibre car is the lightest in its segment by a good margin, and with 456kW and 630Nm from its 4.0l twin-turbo V8 engine, the superlight GT has a very respectable power-to-weight ratio of 298kW per ton.

Active suspension turns the car from plush tourer to corner carver at the press of a button. Picture: SUPPLIED
Active suspension turns the car from plush tourer to corner carver at the press of a button. Picture: SUPPLIED

The performance is suitably ballistic with a claimed 0-100km/h time of 3.2 seconds and 326km/h, and the 630Nm of torque is on call from low rpm making it an engine that doesn’t hanker for revs. But where’s the fun in that?

In the more easygoing sections the car was sipping just 13.2l per 100km, a very respectable fuel sipper.

It isn’t McLaren’s most dramatically styled car; the rapacious Senna and the windsculpted Speedtail jostle for that award. But the GT has the typically elongated and low-slung look of a grand tourer;  it’s a simpler and sleeker design sans too many busy body curves.

The nappa leather-bedecked cabin radiates a more luxurious vibe than the suede or alcantara used in other McLarens. The well-padded seats proved comfortable over an extended drive, and all the touchpoints are soft. 

Some of the interior finishes aren’t quite up to scratch for this price range however, though these were pre-production models we drove and perhaps the customer versions will be better.

McLaren, the bastion of hardcore sports cars, has softened its stance here. The British sportscar firm has nailed the grand tourer concept with the way the GT adopts a Porsche 911 Turbo-like recipe of being an everyday supercar, blending performance with finesse and daily useability.

Getting into the car isn’t a simple Porsche-like exercise due to the GT being so low slung and having a wide sill but the upside is that most observers’ attention will be taken by the drama of the McLaren’s dihedral doors, rather than how gracefully occupants ingress and egress.

Local McLaren importer, Johannesburg-based Daytona, will launch the GT in SA towards the end of the year at a price still to be announced.

It is one of 18 new models or derivatives McLaren is launching over the next five years, and the British firm insists no SUVs are part of that strategy, making it one of the few carmakers to hold out against the tide. But what of a family McLaren with more than two seats? Apparently that’s not in the pipeline either, according to the company’s new PR director Piers Scott.

He says a new Ultimate Series car, the lightest McLaren yet, will be launched soon to be pitched between the 600LT and the Senna.