The new McLaren 720S is everything the F1 division’s MCL32 is not. It’s class-leading on the straights. It’s class-leading in corners. It’s class-leading to drive and it feels bullock strong, everywhere, all the time. A generation ago, McLaren launched its audacious programme to build a road-car business that could go toe-to-toe with Ferrari and still be standing at the close of the 12th round.
The MP4 12C became the 12C and a host of new models followed, all on the same core carbon-fibre chassis tub and all with the same core 3.8-litre, twin-turbo V8 engine.
McLaren is now on track to squeeze out more than 3,700 this year, 4,000 next year and it’s just hit the biggest early milestone any emerging carmaker can hit. It’s just delivered its first second-generation car. And it’s already sold 1,400 cars, which is the full 2017 production run, and it thinks it will move 100 cars a year in Australia alone.
It is, right now, almost certainly the best, most agile, most coherent production supercar in the world, belittling both the Huracan and Aventador, surpassing the 488 GTB, superior to the 911 Turbo and disdainful of the Audi R8 Plus. It all starts with a new carbon-fibre chassis tub, which now extends up and over the roofline, replacing the steel and aluminium of the predecessor, shrinking the thickness of the windscreen pillars and the C-pillars in the process.
Inside this, McLaren fits a revamped biturbo V8 engine, stroked out from 3.8 to 4.0 litres and slotted in 120mm lower in the chassis than before. McLaren claims more than 41 per cent of the V8’s parts are new, including the low-inertia, twin-scroll turbochargers, intercoolers, pistons, the crankshaft and the eight connecting rods. And it has gristle.
All of its huffing and puffing gives it a full 530kW of power at 7,500rpm, which would be enough all on its own. A full 2,000rpm earlier than that, though, it’s thumping 770Nm of torque through the crankshaft. It’s a ferocious engine, full of phenomenal forces, delivering phenomenal numbers.
Sure, a 2.9 second sprint to 100km/h is pretty impressive, especially when it’s only the rear tyres that are doing the pushing. The second 100km/h chunk only takes 5.9 seconds (7.8 seconds from a standing start) and the third 100km/h bite is 13.6 seconds. The 650S is no sloth, hanging on to the 720S’s coattails to 100km/h, but trailing away as the milestones tick by. It’s a tenth of a second behind the 720S at 100 km/h, but 0.6 seconds behind it at 200km/h (the Ferrari 488 GTB is claimed to be half a second slower to this mark, too) and a full four seconds slower to 300km/h.
But it’s the way it does it that’s impressive; the effortless brutality of it all at full throttle, in any gear, and then the almost comical calm tootling through traffic, like a thug whistling his innocence as he walks past the police.
More of that later, but McLaren completes the mechanical layout with a Graziano seven-speed dual-clutch transmission behind the V8 and then bolts both of them into the middle of the car, surrounding them with some of the most impressive suspension theatrics known to man.
It spent six years developing an algorithm with the University of Cambridge to give its Proactive Chassis Control II suspension system the ability to ride the rough stuff in comfort and attack the track like a pro racer. Besides the wishbones all around, the car also has three accelerometers and sensors attached to the unsprung mass on each corner, to let it tune each damper individually on the actual input on its wheel.
McLaren claims the 720S, with its disturbingly dominant eyeball air intakes (to cool the transmission) above and below the daytime running light, is more than 100kg lighter than its equine-badged foe, but it’s hard to tell. It claims a dry weight of 1,283kg, which is ridiculous, frankly. It’s 1,419kg at the more realistic DIN calculation (with all of its fluids and 90 per cent of its fuel capacity), which leaves it 130kg lighter than the none-too-tubby 650S it replaces and 85kg lighter than Ferrari’s 488 GTB.