Touring the Midlands in McLaren’s grand British supercar
– Northamptonshire, United Kingdom
Country lanes, humpback bridges over canals, rose-covered pubs, ancient churches, fields of grazing sheep – all very bucolic and... English. Perfect for a top-down saunter in an MGA. Or a blast in a 200-mile-per-hour McLaren 570GT.
I’m kidding right? I am here writing this in my office, and not from behind bars, so, yup, I am kidding. Not about the car though. Just the bit about deploying its 562 horsepower through all seven ratios on the A361 between Chipping Warden and Priors Hardwick. Take it from me, you wouldn’t get away with it. The good news is McLarens saunter, too.
Especially this one: the 570GT, launched in the U.S. during Monterey Car Week and arriving in showrooms around now. Its GT moniker is not so much about GT racing – even though McLaren’s Alvaro Parente has just claimed the 2016 Pirelli World Challenge Driver Championship with the 650S GT3 – but far more to do with gran turismo in the traditional sense.
Other McLarens win or lose on race tracks, so the acid test for this one has to be a spot of good old-fashioned “grand touring.”
Other McLarens win or lose on race tracks, so the acid test for this one has to be a spot of good old-fashioned “grand touring.” Time then for a blast – sorry, officer, saunter – around an unspoiled bit of the British Midlands called Northamptonshire. A Great British supercar through the heart of England; it won’t be fast but it should be fun.
Of all the McLarens the new GT is the most suited to the job. It’s one of the Sports Series family, which is McLaren’s entry range, and it comes with a set of very un-McLaren-like unique selling propositions: it’s softer sprung, quieter engined, and more practical than its 570S coupe brother, with the sporting edge knocked off its agility (slightly lower geared steering). It is, asserts the firm, the most refined and road-biased McLaren yet, designed for day-to-day usability and long-distance comfort.
With 562 hp it is the least powerful of all the McLarens (elsewhere there is a 540C but America has said no to that one) and it tips its hat as much to the passenger as the driver with GT-type refinements to help wile away those long interstate trips: huge sound system, glass roof, heated seats, cupholders, and vanity mirrors.
With a 204-mph top speed, 0-100 mph in 6.6 seconds, and the same carbon-fiber MonoCell II tub as all the other McLarens, it really is a supercar.
All of this makes it quite a bit less focused than the 650S from the next series up, which is why this is a “sports” car, not a “super” car. They say. But with a 204-mph top speed, 0-100 mph in 6.6 seconds, and the same carbon-fiber MonoCell II tub as all the other McLarens, it really is a supercar. If it looks like a duck and swims like a duck…
It certainly looks the part. All the Sports Series cars are pleasing, with the least obvious aero and most resolved styling of all the McLarens, but the GT with its glassed-in “touring deck” is to me the pick of the bunch. I love the “tendon” on the body sides. The design is notably more friendly and approachable than the 650S track beast or the other-worldly P1 monster. Which is right for the GT of the clan.
It’s equally friendly and approachable to drive. Undemanding everywhere, in fact, and comfortable and refined, too, when you have both powertrain and chassis toggles set to Normal. Alas you have to be pretty normal driving a fast car in Britain these days.
So how much of a drive can you have in Britain in a car like this? The reality, in Northamptonshire as elsewhere in the U.K., is the speed limit plus a bit when no one’s looking (or photographing you). There is no shortage of speed cameras here.
In terms of high-rev thrills about the best you can hope for is a second-gear squirt out of a roundabout and maybe winding out third when joining a motorway.
In terms of high-rev thrills about the best you can hope for is a second-gear squirt out of a roundabout (yup, lots of those here) and maybe winding out third when joining a motorway. But in third at the power peak of 7,500 rpm the car will be travelling much faster than traffic, and you do tend to stand out when that happens.
The motorway limit here is 70 mph but you are generally safe at 85 mph and there’s not the paranoia over speed that you get in some other countries and which results in such mindless traffic clumping. So, yes, there is still pleasure to be had even on crowded motorways, and even in a car that can virtually triple the official limit.
On derestricted main roads (A roads) the limit is 60 mph, or 70 if dual carriageway, and again you can push that a bit, which makes for a fun drive in a good car because these non-freeway roads often have some interesting curves. Even in a McLaren, you can feel the chassis working and do some of the steering on the throttle.
Smaller country roads, our B roads, used to be 60 mph but are increasingly restricted on speed. It’s a bit academic: Speed here is dictated by how far up the road you can see (i.e., often not as far as the tractor round the next bend) and how wide the strip of bitumen is. Unnecessarily wide cars (that’s most cars these days then) are a handicap on these lanes.
The 570GT is a smaller-than-average supercar, and with such a good view out for a mid-engined car, and such alert responses, it feels more compact still.
The 570GT is wide but not too wide. It is a smaller-than-average supercar, and with such a good view out for a mid-engined car, and such alert responses, it feels more compact still. Always a good a thing that – and something that makes all McLarens particularly suited to British roads. They fit them.
Of course, the 570GT could double these speeds without raising a sweat. The temptation to press on is always there – fast cars generally always feel better the faster they go, don’t they? – but thankfully also always there is McLaren’s navi with its unmistakably loud countdown “bongs” to each speed camera.
So we saunter. And enjoy. Enjoy what exactly? The ride is totally brilliant. The only thing you have to watch is scraping its bottom on big lumps and bumps. Otherwise the all-round compliance and control are astonishingly good. Flick a stalk below 30 mph and the nose rises to swallow our “sleeping policemen” without tripping up.
The cabin. Elegantly crisp and simple, and roomy too: I’m six-feet and five-inches, and found no shortage of leg or headroom. The standard seats are terrific without resorting to holding you in a vise. The graphics are clear, the controls intuitive – and, a bonus, there are no buttons on the steering wheel. It’s all beautifully trimmed even without the nappa leather that’s standard on all U.S. cars.
You could drive this car all day and not complain about it being too noisy.
The refinement. British roads are pretty much rubbish these days, not just for potholes but really coarse, noisy surfaces. Road roar is generally the loudest noise – a quieter exhaust really keeps engine racket low – but special Pirelli P Zero tires with the Noise Cancelling System (PNCS) make for impressive hush. You could drive this car all day and not complain about it being too noisy.
Docility and refinement can be a double-edged sword for supercars – the danger is the cars become so easy to live with they are boring at any speed other than flat out. But just try telling that to a couple who have just got out of a 570GT after driving it from New York to Los Angeles.
My Northamptonshire saunter wasn’t so epic but it did serve to show up other touring strengths. Like my 100 miles of “normal” (but not economy run) driving returning 22.6 miles per gallon (27.1 imperial), which unusually is bang-on its official average consumption. That gives a decent range of 260 or so miles.
You can get stuff in this car too. The front trunk is usefully deep and squarish, while the “touring deck” will take a soft bag or two, or a suit laid flat – forget the golf clubs though. Incidentally the side-opening tailgate glass – echoes of E-type fixed-head – is hinged on the left for the U.S.
What the 570GT will do first, is be a true McLaren in every regard, while putting two big fat ticks in those boxes for day-to-day usability and long-distance comfort.
Something I have always loved about driving a McLaren in Britain was to the fore with the 570GT – the fact that Brits love McLarens, the way they don’t always love German or Italian supercars. It’s good when people smile as you drive past.
Disappointments? My preference would be for more meat to the steering feel. The electric seat buttons are fiddly in the extreme. And a tilt, rather than just height, seat adjustment would improve under-thigh support. Yes, and I would like a bit more low-speed music from the engine bay to remind me I am driving something this special. As it is, the GT looks and sounds louder and more purposeful from the outside than when you are in it, which makes it tricky to impress your pals when they demand a ride to see what it’ll do.
What the 570GT will do first, is be a true McLaren in every regard, while putting two big fat ticks in those boxes for day-to-day usability and long-distance comfort. It’s no great surprise then that around a third of all Sports Series orders in the U.S. are for the GT version, at $198,950 plus taxes and invariable options.
Photos: Bob Murray / Motor1.com