McLaren 720S review: I drive the quickest McLaren you can buy

McLaren might be primarily known for its racing team, but it’s quickly becoming one of the most important supercar manufacturers in the world. After releasing the legendary F1 road-car in 1992, McLaren kicks off its supercar operation in earnest with the P1 – a hybrid hypercar that fused electricity and petrol energy for pure speed. Since then, McLaren’s range has expanded to a total of five cars – from the “day-to-day” 570GT to the spaceship that is the 720S.

McLaren’s current line up can be divided into three categories right now: the tamer, cheaper Sports Series, the extreme Super Series – and the utterly ludicrous Ultimate series, usually reserved for cars like the P1. The 720S sits in the Super Series, the category which McLaren says most echoes its brand ethos. With the hybrid P1 hypercar, the 720S is the fastest, most powerful McLaren sells right now, and earlier this week I was allowed to drive one.

Featuring a V8 engine capable of 720 hp of 60 mph in 2.8 seconds, and a 212mph top speed, the 720S is £208,000 of cutting-edge supercar. Here’s what the fastest McLaren around is like to drive.

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McLaren 720S: Design

In 2017, fast cars can come in all shapes and sizes. Cars like the deranged Mercedes C63s and precise RS5 hide their performance in the form of an executive saloon – but the 720S wears its speed on its sleeve. McLaren’s 720S is supercar through and through, and it looks incredible from every angle.

Low and wide, it’s got all the dimensions of a classic supercar, but take another look at the details here, and you’ll see it’s extremely innovative. Instead of a standard headlamp, the 720S front lights are formed from a combination of a vent with a light bridging across the middle, and another incorporated around the edge. It’s a level of detail you just can’t see on other supercars right now.

Walk around the car, and you’ll find it’s far longer than you’d expect too. The bonnet of the vehicle – which doesn’t contain an engine – is low and stubby, and the rest of the car flows behind, and it takes a while to finish, too. Unlike other supercars, which use prominent air intakes, the 720S bodywork is designed to coax air into its 4.0-litre V8 powerplant. From the side, the McLaren folds look more like pleats or fabric than carbon-fibre.

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McLaren 720S: Interior

The 720s looks wide and long on the outside, and interestingly that space translates to the cabin, too. It’s extremely wide inside, and even at 6’3 I was able to stretch out just enough. As for the cabin itself? Unique is the word.

Pretty much everything in the McLaren cabin is stripped back and focused on the driving experience. An impossibly narrow floating dashboard houses an infotainment touchscreen, which can also be controlled with several buttons below. To minimise time spent fiddling, and maximise your time driving, the 720S has a dedicated button for Drive, Neutral and Reverse, too.

There are also dials for what McLaren calls its Active Dynamics Panel, and despite the name,  they’re simple to use. There are switches for both Powertrain and Chassis, and you can dial each of them from Normal, Sport and Track modes – with the latter removing traction control.

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After you’ve pre-dialled your favoured settings, you simply hit the Active button to turn them on – and press it again to return the car to normal handling.

Like most cars nowadays, the 720S dispenses with analogue dials, and instead uses a reactive digital display which changes depending on the mode you’re in. Sport mode will make the gear you’re in more prominent than the speed, while Track mode will fold down the display to show a smaller, “Race Mode” dial.

By cramming all the essential information into a small slither, it’s designed to remove distractions from the road, and it gives you a better view of the car’s corners, too.

McLaren 720S: Drive

So what’s it like to drive the McLaren 720s? In a word: mesmerising. In a straight line, the V8 turbocharged M840T engine is relentless, and its acceleration pins you well back into your seat. However, it’s not just from 0-30 mph – the McLaren will catapult you to the horizon just as violently at higher speeds, too.

Because the McLaren made it, the M840T engine is turbocharged it’s not got the sweetest engine note – but that doesn’t seem to matter in practice. It’s loud and intricate, and when you hear things like the noise of the turbocharger wastegate, or the hiss of it spooling up, the lack of exotic engine note is forgotten.

That amount of power would be pretty worrying in a normal car, but thankfully the 720s is also crafted with pin-sharp handling in mind. Every 720s starts its life as a carbon fibre tub, and that means there’s an inherent rigidity and stiffness built into the car.

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Simply put, the suspension appears to have as much travel as a skateboard – especially on Sport mode – but the benefit of that is clear as soon as you start to push the car. Even at higher speeds, the McLaren feels squat and planted to the road, giving you the confidence to use a fraction more of its V8 powertrain.

Direction change is incredibly impressive too, and I found the 720s seemingly reacts to fingertip steering. However, it’s equally obvious that the 720s has just as much performance in the brake pedal as it does in the one next to it. Carbon ceramic brakes stop the McLaren as quickly as it accelerates, and it’s another aspect of the car that defies belief.

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McLaren 720S: Verdict

When you first jump in the car, it feels alien to drive. The brake pedal is racecar-firm, and as soon as you push harder, the car abruptly comes to a halt. The insane speed of the McLaren means you’re at the speed limit as soon as you touch the throttle. And the sheer wideness and lowness of the car mean you’re scared of incoming traffic and speed bumps.

However, after a few miles, the McLaren begins to make so much sense. In Sport mode, the McLaren 720s reacts instantly to everything you want it to do, and its snug bucket seats really make you feel like an extension of the machinery. Driving this car hard is an instant feedback loop of input and HD information, and so far no other car I’ve driven comes close. At £208,00 it’s expensive, but its performance is simply unrivalled. 

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