So here it is. This month’s new McLaren. I can feel some people drifting off at the back… Come on, guys! It’s
a new McLaren that does 327km/h and 0-200km/h in nine seconds flat. Plus it’s got a carbonfibre monocoque and a 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 with 456kW at 7500rpm and 630Nm from 5500 to 6500rpm. If we can set aside the fact that McLaren launches rather a lot of cars, I think we can all agree that the GT is worthy of our attention.

Yes, it’s called the GT. Which is McLaren’s extremely subtle way of telling you that this new car is a, um, GT. In fact, such is its confidence that this is a new sort of McLaren that the GT falls outside of the usual Sports Series (570S and variants), Super Series (720S) and Ultimate Series (Senna, Speedtail) structure.

Oddly enough the company hasn’t really given this new branch an official title, but the idea is that the cars that fall within it retain many McLaren qualities but add a new layer of luxury and refinement.

Space, too. The GT is 140mm longer than a 720S, and with up to 570 litres of luggage space split between the front compartment and rear deck (the latter with a special cooling duct running beneath it so the engine doesn’t melt your luggage).

There’s also much more detail work to shift the focus away from pure supercar thrills to a more understated and practical everyday experience. The engine features a higher compression ratio (9.4:1, up from 8.7:1 in the 720S) and low-inertia turbochargers for a torquier and less manic power delivery. McLaren says 90 per cent of the peak 630Nm is available between 3000 and 7250rpm and that the new exhaust system is much less intrusive. Front ground clearance is also much improved, and, of course, McLaren will delight in selling you tailored luggage and golf bags, too. Even the monocoque itself is revised to create more space and gets its own delightfully McLaren designation of MonoCell II-T (for Touring).

Suspension is by double wishbones, the GT retains hydraulic power steering, and typically it’s the lightest car in its class. At 1530kg it makes a V12-powered DB11 (1800kg) look positively bloated, and I’ll save Bentley’s blushes and refrain from revealing the Continental GT’s weight for comparison. Even if you’re not too sure about comparing a mid-engined McLaren to a front-engined Aston Martin or Bentley, the 1600kg of a 911 Turbo S illustrates the inherent advantages of McLaren’s familiar but fabulous architecture. Even when weighed down with more sound deadening, new NVH-reducing wheelarch liners, special noise-limiting tyres from Pirelli and a host of other measures.

This is a dangerous game. By attempting to inject gran turismo qualities onto a mid-engined platform designed for agility and outright performance there’s the very real risk of creating a heavier, softer, less precise supercar that doesn’t have the true character and effortlessness of a traditional GT car either. McLaren has half-heartedly been down this road before with the 570GT, which perfectly illustrates the risk. Cool car and the seven people who bought them really love them, but it didn’t exactly capture the imaginations of the buying public and didn’t really feel fully resolved until it adopted the chassis settings from the 570S. It couldn’t break free from those supercar roots.

So, does the GT feel different enough? I think so. But the realisation is a creeping one… The drip, drip, drip of an even more supple ride despite not adopting the full hydraulic suspension of the 720S, the noticeably reduced road and tyre noise, the refined braking actuation, the much-changed power delivery and sound, and steering that still has nuance and feedback but isn’t so instantly alert nor coarsely textured. It’s a world away from a 600LT and yet still there’s a lightness of touch that makes it unmistakably a McLaren.

Gliding through the busy streets of Cannes (yes, McLaren really wanted to sell us the full dream on the launch) the GT is an extremely pleasant place to be. The ride is exceptional in Comfort mode, the engine still has some bite but is calm and nails the feeling of latent, relentless power being just an ankle flex away, and although there’s a bit of suspension noise revealed by chasing away road and tyre roar, it feels pretty luxurious in a cool, minimalist way and rather special. There isn’t that imperious, old-school glamour of something front-engined, but it’s a cut above a 911 Turbo S in terms of theatre. Does it tick the GT boxes? Just about.

Of course, the advantages of creating a car with GT sensibilities but supercar underpinnings is that when you get away from the treacly traffic of Cannes you can enjoy the inherent advantages of a stiff, lightweight structure with a low centre of gravity and balance and traction in abundance. At least that’s the theory. However, on the fabulous roads above Cannes the GT initially feels a little too compromised by its new manners.

I’m quickly up to Sport mode for both Handling and Drivetrain to reduce some of the body movements and sharpen response, but the first set of really tricky corners reveals more understeer than expected and a slight reluctance where I’d expected sharpness and that supercar core to shine through. The brakes aren’t helping. Ceramics are optional, but the standard iron set-up is quickly groaning under the strain of slowing 1530kg and the pedal starts to sink away from me. It’s a shame, because the engine still feels mighty. It lacks the fury of a 720S unit (there are Funny Cars that lack the fury of a 720S) but the huge power band, accurate throttle response and increasingly hard-edged noise are highly charged and pretty damn supercar-y. The seven-speed ’box is punchy and responsive and so all the signals are telling you to drive like you might a 720S…

Simply put, the GT can’t quite live with that kind of aggression. The front end will wash away, the standard brakes will protest, and although Track mode dials in more body control there’s always a sense that you’re managing the engine’s power and response rather than fully unleashing it. However, I hold the GT to exceptionally high standards because the 720S has quite astounding breadth of ability. And when you just rein in expectations even a few percentage points, the GT comes good.

In fact, the slightly softer-edged handling brings its own rewards. The GT is staggeringly progressive on the limit on these dry, well-surfaced roads. Once you’ve got the nose hooked in you can really tweak and play with its stance and the GT captures the delicacy of the smaller 570S, recreating that sweet balance that seems to work all four tyres equally up to and beyond the limit.

So, perhaps you can’t decimate a road in the way you might in a 720S, but the speed, clarity of communication and precision is still a cut above what you get from heavier, more traditional GT cars. It’s a fine line indeed between versatile mid-engined gran turismo and lazy, soft-edged supercar, but McLaren has negotiated no man’s land to create something with a character and feel all of its own. If you can’t think of it as a gran turismo then how about a subtle, understated supercar that would slip effortlessly into your daily routine? Sounds more than acceptable to me.
Jethro Bovingdon

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