Driver’s cars of 2018, meet your benchmark.
– Los Angeles, California
Each year, we move closer and closer to an inevitable future where driver involvement is the lowest priority. I spent more time in 2017 with my hands removed from steering wheels, testing semi-autonomous technologies, than I have in any year before. But I’m not ready to give up that connection between car and driver. And thankfully, I’m not alone.
Despite the push for driver assistance tech, many automakers are pouring research-and-development money into building some of the best driver’s cars I’ve ever known. I’ve enjoyed a bumper crop of great-driving cars this year, from cheap and cheerful coupes, to wild hot hatches, to freaking fast SUVs, to sophisticated supercars. And at the very top of my personal best list – the car I will use as the benchmark for all great cars in 2018, the car I talked about more than all the others, the car I have more pictures of in my iPhone’s camera roll, the car that when I talk about it with other auto writers, we agree that it’s simply amazing – is the McLaren 720S. This is the antidote to boring cars. The inverse of driverless technology. The car that never stopped making me drive faster, harder, and for longer periods of time.
No car I drove in 2017 compares to McLaren’s incredible 720S. Here’s why.
“Goes like hell” is an understatement.
I’m not just talking about the 2.8-second 0-60 time here. Sure, that’s damn impressive in its own right. But the McLaren’s real ass-kicking moment is in its mid-range punch. This car’s ability to quickly go from, say, 50 miles per hour to triple-digit speeds is simply astonishing. The initial acceleration is enough to make you giggle, but it’s that second rush of power from the biturbo 4.0-liter V8 that’ll really drop your jaw. The transmission drops gears with seamless immediacy, accompanied by a noise that mixes V8 roars with turbo spools and air-gulping wooshes. It’s an intoxicating rush that’ll have you slowing down just so you can mash the throttle and rocket up to warp speed over and over again.
A visceral, euphoric drive.
You feel this car through your whole body, the steering wheel giving you a high sense of friction at road level, the chassis sending information about rear-end grip and overall stability through the seat and up your spine. I feel so utterly confident in this car, like I can really reach the outer limits of my own capability without peril. I never feel like I’m under-driving the car, like it’s got so much more potential that I will never achieve.
But on the opposite end, it never feels like I’m beating on the 720S, giving it anything more than it can handle. It’s just, well, brilliant. Balanced and poised. Aggressive and assertive. Steering that’s perfectly weighted and so beautifully direct in action. No roll through the corners. No understeer. Predictable oversteer only when I demand it. Incredible brakes. Impressive stability. Every other supercar engineer in the world could benefit from a drive in the 720S. This car sets a high bar for driver involvement.
A super car at any speed.
“Easy to drive” isn’t necessarily what you want, first and foremost, in your supercar package. But what’s so special about all McLarens, not just the 720S, is how they can go from docile to devilish in the blink of an eye. I can’t think of another 700-plus-horsepower car that so effortlessly flexes between docile and devilish. For as stunning and rewarding as this car is on a good road or race track, it’s a doll to drive around town. A lot of high-power cars can pull off the “everyday supercar” theme now, but I’ll argue that none do it quite as well as McLaren’s 720S.
A truly special interior.
Open the dihedral doors and you’ll find an interior that’s as simplistic and elegant as it is comfortable and purposeful. Two beautifully sculpted, leather trimmed seats; a thin center stack with a vertically oriented touchscreen infotainment system; a few simple controls for the drive modes; three toggles for Reverse, Neutral, and Drive; and a fully digital instrument cluster that can electronically fold down to reveal a simple, horizontal display with speed, engine rpm, and gear. The steering wheel is perfectly shaped, in both overall diameter and thickness, and is free of buttons, so there’s nothing left to do but enjoy the brilliant action at speed. A lot of supercar interiors try too hard, with superfluous buttonry (Lamborghini) or excessive sculpting (Acura NSX). The 720S is my favorite fast-car interior in the business, hands down.
I can’t call this a “beautiful” car, though I think it makes a bold statement, even in the purple-tinted, not-quite-black “Quartz” color of this test car (which is very hard to photograph). Instead, what this car lacks in classic beauty it makes up for in space-age sex appeal. The profile is stunning. The rear design integrates taillights and exhaust in a way that doesn’t even seem road legal. Every surface on this car has aerodynamic purpose, but looks to have been lovingly sculpted by hand. I can’t think of a recent review gallery I’ve shot that’s included this many detail shots. There’s a lot going on here, and the end result is a design statement that’s both true to McLaren, and different from anything else on the road today.
My list of complaints can, at best, be described as tiny nitpicks. I don’t like the glass panels on the tops of the doors (where they extend into the roof) because they don’t come with shades and aren’t tinted enough to reduce brightness (and heat) on sunny days. The R/N/D toggles are a little slow to react and require a very firm foot on the brake pedal. But that’s it.
As far as I’m concerned, this is as close to perfect as any modern supercar gets.
Photos: Steven Ewing / Motor1.com