There’s nothing quite like driving a really full-on supercar in the middle of a gloopy, filthy, bone-chillingly freezing British winter. For starters, it’s a massive – and in this case a nuclear-strength orange – V-sign to those who buy cars like these without any passion for them, but merely as assets from which to harvest a return on their investment. Shunning the dehumidified storage facility and getting out there for a drive is what these cars were born to do; it’s what they want to be doing, and it’s what you’d want to do with them too, given, say, the slender key to a 720S for your pocket. Nothing looks cooler than a proper supercar with a thick layer of winter grime all over it. The chance to drive this McLaren in such conditions is also a reminder that it is a car of intriguing contradictions, and a confirmation of why it was our 2017 Supercar of the Year.
As for the Track Pack bit, well, you get a host of trackday-applicable options grouped together. It could amusingly be called a ‘value’ package. Amusing, because it costs $75,800 on top of a car that already lists at $515,080. This particular example, with plenty of additional visible carbonfibre options amount adds another $75K in options, bringing the total damage to over $665,000 before on-road costs.
The pack, which claims to shed 24kg from the weight of a standard 720S, consists of lightweight 10-spoke forged wheels, carbonfibre race seats (available in ‘breathe in’ or ‘second portion please’ sizes), a sports exhaust, McLaren’s integrated track telemetry set-up (including three cameras), an Alcantara-trimmed steering wheel, carbon extended gearshift paddles, a titanium roll-cage and harness bar, and six-point harness. Oh, and the rear wing is glossy carbon in finish.
Unfortunately, driving the Track Pack car at this time of the year in the UK and exclusively on the public road means I can’t tell you about the benefits or otherwise of its upgrades, except to say they’re all very pleasing to the eye. Our test car is also fitted with a distinctly non-track-spec set of Pirelli winter tyres, which although a senior McLaren engineering figure has told me have almost as much grip as a standard road tyre of 10 years previously, are always going to be fighting a losing battle against the 770Nm from the 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8.
Nevertheless, the 720S isn’t skittish or alarming on this rubber, even in truly horrible conditions. You feel as though you can put your trust in its powers of retardation when required, and driven smoothly everything feels weirdly normal – that’s just one of the many fascinating traits associated with this car. Visually, it looks as extreme as ever – defiantly original, and shot through with McLaren DNA; I could spend an hour or more just drinking in the shapes, surfaces and proportions. I know this car divides opinion more than most, but I’ve yet to meet someone who’s spent proper time with one and hasn’t come away with at least some appreciation of how it looks.
It’s the same when you fall as graciously as possible down into the bucket seat (once you’re in there’s no moving around, because the embrace is very ‘friendly’ across the hips). There’s just nothing quite like the 720S’s capsule-like cockpit, or the view out from it. Yet ranged against all this is the fact that the car rides incredibly well, as we’ve said before. In non-Active mode and with a light throttle it really is viable everyday transport (if you can live with the various warning bings and bongs it makes seemingly at every opportunity). Which when you think about it is a bit crazy, sort of useful, and quite some engineering conjuring trick.
But all the time the devil is there – the 529kW devil that is, loitering on the shoulder, every now and then prodding and whispering and encouraging with its own inimitable wooo of a ghostly turbo-fed voice. Just a few millimetres more throttle, sometimes even less, and the traction, the grip that seemed so reliable, vanishes in a heartbeat, and then you’re into applying unintended opposite lock down a motorway slip-road in fourth gear, which is, umm, interesting. That’s with the stability control on, which is possibly just as well, and so finely judged is the system that it feels like you’d have to do something truly reckless to prevent it from sorting the situation out. In fact, it’s fun to provoke the car on and around this knife edge, which the ESC will allow.
So full-bore acceleration is a rare occurrence in a 720S this time of year, but those occasional moments when the rear tyres can hook up with the road’s surface are all the more special, and a reminder just what it means to have 529kW under your right foot. A rear-wheel-drive car that can reach 100km/h from rest in 2.9sec really is a formidable device to take control of.
However, the 720S is about so much more than mere acceleration. The weather and road conditions don’t prevent you from enjoying the beautiful precision and natural feedback of its steering, or the chassis’ composure over a typical B-road as it parries bumps and dances over the top of the road’s surface. After a while the engine recedes to become a vast reservoir of excess forward motion that you dip into as and when necessary, always assured in the knowledge that however much you need or desire, there’s more to come.
We’ll look to get back into the Track Pack car once temperatures have risen in 2019, and then use it in the environment that its makers intended it for. After all, any potential opportunity to gain time in this sublime car has to be grasped with both hands. Adam Towler
Engine V8, 3994cc, twin-turbo
Power 529kW @ 7250rpm
Torque 770Nm @ 5500rpm
Weight (dry) 1259kg (420kW/tonne)
Top speed 341km/h
Basic price $590,880