The 720S's 2017 debut started a new era for McLaren. Its carbon monocoque – a version of the one from the P1 – and twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 didn’t just create a brilliant car, but they formed the base for limited-production icons like the Senna, Elva, and Sabre. Its design, with its sinister eye-socket headlights and aerodynamic curves, marked the beginning of a brand design language. McLaren is rightfully proud of the 720S.
Replacing a car that important is a delicate process, which is why the 2024 750S doesn’t abandon its predecessor's formula – or even its platform. While the two share 70 percent of their parts, the 750S makes very good use of that remaining 30 percent. Some key engine tweaks provide 30 extra horsepower and 22 more pound-feet of torque – totaling 740 and 590, respectively. A meticulous weight-loss program cuts 66 pounds, while revised dampers promise greater comfort and performance. Finally, whether from the hypercar-chic center-exit exhaust or newly standard Apple CarPlay, the 750S sounds even better.
With such extensive and detail-oriented changes on the docket, I’ve got a few hours of Portuguese cobblestones and 30 minutes of track time to figure out two things: Did McLaren achieve its goal of making the 750S better all around than the 720S? And could I possibly hope to match its pace?
|Quick Stats||2024 McLaren 750S|
|Engine||Twin-Turbocharged 4.0-Liter V8|
|Output||740 Horsepower / 590 Pound-Feet|
|0-60 MPH||2.7 Seconds|
|Top Speed||206 MPH|
|Base Price|| |
My first chance in the 750S came in the picturesque Portuguese countryside. The more refined nature of the 750S is plainly apparent on the freeway. Like the smaller Artura, suspension and powertrain get their own drive mode toggles mounted atop the hooded gauge cluster (the folding unit from the 720S is gone), making alterations an easy finger-stretch from the steering wheel. Set up for maximum comfort, the 750S is a smooth operator, with genteel throttle tip-in and a well-damped ride. Long-distance trips in a 750 seem like a reasonable proposition.
That is, if your body agrees with the seats. The comfort seats are comfortable in name alone, offering very little thigh support, and I constantly felt like I was sliding off the front. And the standard carbon fiber sport buckets are far too narrow and heavily bolstered for easy entry and exit, much less the pressure points on my hips after about three minutes of seat time.
All that said, the 750S is still pretty comfy for a supercar. McLaren’s prescribed route took me through brick-paved towns and over robust raised crosswalks, and the 750 never exhibited any harsh behavior in exchange for its exceptional body control. Its best low-speed feature, however, is the attention it grabs. It’s an instant win any time a car can get a throng of schoolchildren to demand engine revs while waiting for the bus. The improvement program hasn’t forgotten to be a little bit immature, thank goodness
My first, poorly timed stint behind the wheel was in a 750S Spider just as the early autumn skies started to open over Portugal. I dropped the retractable hardtop anyway – gotta hear that new exhaust sing, right? – and set off. Even at a pace dictated by weather rather than emotion, the Spider is a thrill. That center-exit exhaust angles upward from the rear deck, and it sounds incredible if you spend time near the 8,500-rpm redline, but even heavy-throttle blasts to the speed limit inspire goosebumps.
The engine’s added power is thanks to a set of lightweight pistons borrowed from the 765LT, as well as more boost from the pair of twin-scroll turbochargers, a freer-flowing auxiliary fuel pump, and cooling upgrades to support that power increase. A shorter final drive ratio also improves response out on the road, making the already sharp throttle and minimal turbo lag feel even snappier. The sprint to 60 miles per hour is done in 2.7 seconds, a tenth faster than the 720S, and yet, the 750S gets marginally better fuel economy.
Some thanks might go to the 720-to-750 lightweighting process, which cut 66 pounds (30 of it unsprung) via revised suspension components, new wheels that weigh just 16 pounds each, a thinner windshield, and the fixed-in-place instrument cluster. The overall package comes in at 3,062 pounds for the coupe and 3,170 for the Spider – both the Lamborghini Huracán Tecnica and Ferrari 296 GTB are around 200 pounds heavier, and the McLaren benefits from incredible lateral and longitudinal reflexes as a result.
Making the 750S even more involving and enjoyable is its sharp steering, which feels a bit light for my tastes but is nevertheless incredibly accurate and quick. The electrohydraulic rack also transmits abundant information to the wheel, which proved very useful on the drizzly mountain roads surrounding the town of Sintra. The Pirelli P Zero tires had excellent lateral grip, with very little slip even when dive-bombing into tight corners, but every time I eased onto the throttle, I was met with a flashing traction control light and a little wiggle from the rear end – since these aren’t avowed track tires, I’d have expected a bit more wet-weather grip.
I toned my pace back and treated the drive as a reconnaissance run, an attempt to memorize the curves for my stint behind the wheel of a coupe. Luckily for me, the drizzle stopped and the sun peeked through the clouds to dry the roads for my second lap around the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park.
With the suspension and powertrain set to their middle-ground Sport mode and the transmission in manual mode, the 750S hardtop is probably 95 percent as exciting to drive quickly as the 765LT, with most of the thanks going to that shrieking exhaust. While the Spider is commendably stiff and nimble, the coupe feels even sharper. With the steering chatting to my palms and the rigid bucket seats delivering information into the base of my torso, the McLaren provided me with non-stop data. And as I learned in college intramural athletics, “Open and honest two-way communication is the key to success in any relationship or volleyball team.”
That made it easy to exact tons of control over (and extract an equal amount of thrills from) the car. Even on slightly drier roads, the Pirellis still wanted to create rubber pebbles with every throttle application, but the 750S let me know exactly what was going to happen beforehand, giving me time to adjust my attitude and fall in line. Luckily the on-board stability controls are pretty unobtrusive, the throttle is easy to modulate, and the twin-scroll turbos provide linear and predictable power delivery. Dialing in exactly the amount of power to lunge forward – but not so much as to overwhelm the rubber – became a flattering exercise in traction management.
My inner control freak also fell in love with the seven-speed “Seamless Shift Gearbox.” Like most dual-clutch transmissions, it evinces a little snarl from the exhaust when shifting at high revs, which combines with the McLaren’s flat-plane countertenor engine note for one hell of a thrill. I wish the paddle shifters were mounted to the column rather than to the wheel, but McLaren does it this way to ape F1 cars, and thank goodness the car responds to paddle inputs smoothly and instantaneously – truth in branding.
That Type A sensation continues to the left pedal. The coupe I drove was kitted out with the standard carbon ceramic braking package – McLaren offers a track setup with monoblock calipers for the truly hardcore – and it boasted strong initial bite that felt like it could extract a loose tooth if I pushed hard enough. And yet the pedal was pretty easy to modulate, making mid-corner corrections much easier and less dramatic. The 750S’ active rear spoiler is also larger than it was on the 720S, pivoting upward during hard braking to improve stability and grip.
Am I becoming a better driver, or is the McLaren just that good of a car? Time to head toward Estoril Circuit to find out.
Right On Track
I would have three chances to prove myself. Each stint behind the wheel would encompass five laps of Estoril, which inspires fear via a high-speed sweeper and complicated uphill hairpins on the backside, leading into a terrifyingly long front straight that ends in a hard 120-degree right turn with precious little runoff. My long-suffering instructor, a handsome McLaren tester named Jack Barlow, would be sitting next to me the whole time, barking orders in my ear to help me put down a clean lap. Spoiler alert: I wouldn’t be successful, but he did get me close.
My first go-round was largely a disaster through no fault of either the car or Jack, and at the end, the pro driver told me in no uncertain terms to trust two things – his instructions and the car’s high levels of performance. On the second run, I took his advice to heart. The McLaren could handle it, after all – the 750S relegated for track duty had those monoblock calipers derived from the Senna and even more aggressive track-day seats.
That second attempt was somewhat successful on all but the complicated Turns 9 and 10, better known as Curva Gancho. This set of left-right chicanes climbs an average 7 percent grade from entry to exit, and the early braking zone repeatedly caught me by surprise. In my worst stint, I scrubbed off way too much speed on the entry, then ham-fisted my way through the second apex with too much throttle in an attempt to recover some time.
"What didn’t you do there?" Jack asked with a tone that said he wasn’t mad, just disappointed.
"I didn’t brake hard enough."
"That’s right," he replied. "You didn’t brake hard enough."
One last stint, and this one’s for all the marbles. After a couple of corners, Jack’s exhortations became far less frequent and urgent, yet the moment I entered the front straight’s braking zone at nearly 170 mph, I remembered his advice to trust the car, trust the brakes, and trust the aero more. I hit those carbon-ceramics with every muscle in my leg as we slowed with zero drama or wiggle from the rear end. I was finally braking hard enough.
The next three-and-a-half laps finally felt natural and zenlike. Track mode gave the McLaren a stiff ride over Estoril’s varying surfaces, but with limited bump steer and track-spec P Zero Trofeo tires, the 750S had no trouble maintaining its grip on the pavement.
Track also uncorked one of the car’s most interesting electronic features – the limit downshift. When slowing down from high speed (that long front straight, for example) the driver can command a downshift via the paddle, and the car will carry it out as soon as the speed falls to the point that it won’t overrev the engine. That feature proved most useful as I planned ahead for Gancho, my nemesis.
Once again, the early braking zone caught me out, but I recovered a bit by trusting the carbon-ceramics to do their job and applying more pressure. Lined up for the entry, I ever-so-slightly trail-braked into the corner – a Barlow no-no that he let slide – then waited, waited, waited for the apex before squeezing onto the throttle. Cresting the second apex, the McLaren’s downforce kept us planted into the pavement, and I sped my way into the final constant-radius corner named for Ayrton Senna.
I didn’t quite achieve my goal of matching the 750S’ capabilities, because let’s be honest, it would probably take months or years of training to get to that level of driving proficiency. But the middle-child McLaren is a brilliant piece of engineering, improving on its predecessor in every quantifiable way. The changes might only amount to 30 percent, but the emotions they inspire add up to far more than that.
2024 McLaren 750S