At the wheel of McLaren's 328km/h 600LT
We unleash the R5.25m track-bred supercar onto Gauteng's roads
Once upon a time, when we were listening to Nirvana and renting VHS videos, there was just one McLaren road car: the F1.
Everyone remembers the iconic three-seater that for a long while held the title of world’s fastest car. It holds as hallowed a place in automotive history as legends such as the Ferrari F40 and Lamborghini Countach.
Today, you could fill a small supermarket with the number of McLaren derivatives that have been launched since the brand resuscitated itself in 2011 with the MP4-12C. Even “in-the-know” sportscar enthusiasts must concentrate to keep up with the sheer pace of new models being churned out by Woking’s skunk works in the UK.
The McLaren 600LT is the latest twist on the mid-engined, carbon-fibre-bodied theme started by the MP4-12C. It is the faster, more track-focused cousin of the McLaren 570, which, if you’ve been paying attention, is the brand’s entry-level range of cars.
The 600LT recently arrived in importer Daytona’s newly opened showroom in Melrose Arch, Johannesburg, and it’s yours for R5.25m, without any optional trimmings.
The 600, as per modern McLaren convention, refers to the car’s output in old-fashioned horsepower, which is 441kW in modern-speak. Along with 620Nm of twisting force, the two-seater coupé is good for a top speed of 328km/h and a 0-100km/h blast in 2.9 seconds.
The LT stands for Long Tail, to account for the car being 7.4cm longer than the McLaren 570S by virtue of an extended front splitter, lengthened rear diffuser and a fixed rear wing.
Apart from having more power than its 570S cousin, the 600LT has been more purpose-built for a racetrack by being 96kg lighter, having quicker steering, sharper throttle and brake-pedal responses, and firmer engine mounts. It wears high-performance Pirelli P Zero tyres, and to better harness all the drive going to the rear, the back ones are wider and grippier than the fronts — 285/35 ZR 20s compared to 225/35 ZR 19s.
For all that track-attacking spec, it’s a surprisingly civilised road car to drive.
The first time I opened the dihedral door and sank into the racing-style bucket seat, the 600LT’s “born for the track, let loose on the road” marketing blurb had me mentally steeling myself for a ride that would feel as comfortable as sitting on a railway sleeper.
But this soon faded when I was able to usher this race-bred car quite comfortably through Jozi traffic. The ride’s not half-bad on a smooth road, and though bumpy tar revealed some more spine-jolting thumps, it was nothing that would really scare me away from using the 600LT as a daily commuter.
The body-hugging driver’s seat was well-padded and felt comfy for the duration of my 220km drive. The cabin, which is bedecked liberally in sporty suede and carbon fibre, has all the expected mod-cons, including dual-zone climate control and a touchscreen infotainment system that includes a track telemetry function and lap timer.
There was no opportunity for track time, but my test drive on the quieter roads of the Cradle of Humankind affirmed this McLaren’s ballistic abilities. The car accelerates like a startled greyhound (the dog, not the bus), and the performance across the rev range is satisfyingly swift and lag-free.
The acceleration isn’t nearly as brutal as its McLaren 720S stablemate (all 530kW of it), making the 600LT fast, but still relatively approachable. It’s probably the car that’s more fun to drive, unless your name is Fernando Alonso, as you get the visceral satisfaction of being able to thrust the throttle a lot more and still keep the beast on its leash. With additional power would come the necessity to hold back and go easier on the fun pedal, especially through corners.
Steering-mounted carbon-fibre shift paddles continue this McLaren’s race-bred look and feel, and they turn with the steering rather than being fixed in place on the column, meaning you can manually shift gears during corners unlike in a Lamborghini.
The McLaren swept fleet-footedly through curvy roads, displaying beautiful mid-engined balance and grip aplenty. But it really yearns for a racetrack to extract the full talents of the chassis and the sticky Pirellis.
There are different mild to wild modes for the driver to select from (normal, sport and track), affecting the engine and gearbox responses, as well as suspension stiffness.
But even in its most hedonistic setting, the car wasn’t as raw and unfiltered as a Porsche GT3 RS. Certainly not the noise, with the 3.8l twin turbo V8 failing to make as gregarious a howl as the normally aspirated Porsche. That said, there is a lively bark made on downshifts by the McLaren’s bazooka-sized twin exhausts that exit flamboyantly over the top of the rear deck.
As further testament to its affable nature, the 600LT displayed great high-speed directional stability, where the GT3’s steering gets quite twitchy, especially on bumpy roads.
McLaren describes an LT as the most extreme expression of the brand, and the purest distillation of driving pleasure and driver engagement.
I can’t disagree.
And while it’s a car that will be best exploited at track days on weekends, the 600LT’s relatively amiable nature means it won’t necessarily be confined to the garage during the rest of the week.