With eCoty 2018 honours already bestowed on the all-conquering McLaren 600LT coupe, can the Spider version shine equally as bright?

In the end, it’s all about one little button. The one down between the LT’s flab-free, vice-like bucket seats; the trigger that operates the electrically powered roof mechanism, right? Nope. Well, not for me at least. For me it’s a different button.

Yes, the provision to lower the LT’s roof will tempt many. It’s obvious why Spider versions of supercars are so popular, isn’t it? It’s that ability to combine immense performance with the sun’s unfiltered rays and the rush of sweet, fresh air battering the follicles at some illicit mach number. Not to mention that the supercar – and let’s be honest here – is an unmatched ego-boosting trinket for many, and if you can be seen to the outside world more easily, then that’s mission accomplished before you’ve even left your own driveway. Supercars, as a rule, aren’t for the shy.
With it being a McLaren, the pitch is that lopping the roof off our 2018 Car of the Year is a win-win. Due to the inherent qualities of the ubiquitous MonoCell – McLaren’s carbonfibre tub – removing the panel above the occupants’ heads should have no effect on a structure that derives its strength and rigidity via its longerons and bracing elements. Except of course there is a penalty – 50kg of additional weight carried relatively high in the 600LT’s otherwise svelte structure, which jars slightly when McLaren stresses the hard-won weight reductions of the Long Tail series cars.

Still, more than anything else, dropping down once again into a 600LT – whether an al fresco one or otherwise – is an exhilarating moment, and also an affirmation that this is a very special car. It’s a curious feeling, and one that runs deeper than the LT’s eminently formidable spec sheet; an aura – a conglomeration of your eyeline outwards, the sparsity of the cabin, the swathes of no-nonsense Alcantara, the immediacy and gravelly anger of the M838 V8, the vibrancy of the controls. There have been other open-top McLarens, but they don’t connect with the soul the way the LT does. Even before I’ve pulled the right-hand paddle for first gear the 600LT just feels so right; distilled, maximum-concentrate McLaren.

McLaren 720S Spider and 600LT Spider Global Test Drive – Arizona – Jan-Feb 2019
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A confession: in ‘normal’ driving I fail to tell the difference between coupe and Spider 600LTs, although Arizona’s grid of straight roads and flat plains don’t make that task any easier. Sure, it’s been a few months since I drove the coupe, and maybe if it was more like last week it would be different, but based on a longer-term memory, no, everything is very much present and correct.

So it should be, for the Spider’s specs read exactly the same: a lightly massaged version of the familiar twin-turbo 3.8 thanks to a remap and the short-path exhaust system, meaning 441kW and 620Nm. The same forged wishbones, recalibrated dampers and suspension geometry, firmer engine mounts, lighter brakes and wheels, and quicker steering ratio; the same weight-saving measures, such as thinner glass, nets instead of door pockets and no carpeting. This all means the 600LT Spider is 100kg lighter than a 570S Spider. To maximise the difference you’ll need to order the Clubsport pack, removing 5.58kg via its ‘Senna’ seats, titanium wheel bolts and various carbon parts. Performance is also as near as makes no difference: 0-100km/h still takes 2.9sec, while by the time you’ve reached 200km/h in 8.4sec you’ll only have dropped two-tenths off the coupe. All out, and roof raised, it’ll reach 323km/h.

So everything we’ve said about the 600LT in print and online so far holds true here. It’s a car with a towering level of ultimate performance but one that involves and thrills at much more modest velocities too; a car at home on the track, but bizarrely friendly in a way that encourages you to drive more precisely, to up your game, to do justice to its inherent abilities.

The discreetly packaged roof mechanism requires 15 seconds to go from one state to the other, and can be operated at road speeds of up to 40km/h – handy if the first droplets of a rain shower have started to plop down on expensive Alcantara.

So what is this mysterious button that makes all the difference? It’s actually alongside the aforementioned one, but a press lowers the rear window independently of the roof, which essentially means your ear canals are now in very close proximity to the LT’s topside vocal chords. Even with the roof on, you still get that feeling of fresh, unconditioned air swirling around you, but with amusingly loud sonic embellishment. McLaren’s V8 has never won any awards for acoustic sophistication, and doubtless never will, but there’s just something about the yowl emitted from those blistered mouthpieces – so raw, angry, and as we discovered back in a much chillier Scotland, when repeatedly provoked is accompanied by brilliant cones of blue and orange flame. Even without them, the view aft is distorted by the heat haze of the V8 on full boost. Cool.

Would I buy the 600LT Spider? No. Because I don’t want a Long Tail for the frippery; I want it to lap Spa until I’ve exhausted the tyres, fuel and myself, and for snatched late-night drives on the North Coast 500. But then I’m the sort of weirdo who’d order a 600LT coupe without air con to hit that -100kg figure, so make of that what you will. Having said that, what my coupe really needs is a little button that drops the bulkhead rear window. How about it, MSO? Adam Towler

Engine V8, 3799cc, twin-turbo
Power 441kW @ 7500rpm
Torque 620Nm @ 5500-6500rpm
Weight (dry) 1297kg (340kW/tonne)
0-100km/h 2.9sec
Top speed 323km/h
Basic price $496,000