'It makes you feel like Superman': McLaren 600LT tested on home soil
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It had been a bloody long day.
To the north the sun was setting, roughly a week worth of uninterrupted rain overtaken by an uncharacteristic day of pristine sunshine. It was almost dead silent, save for the Hunua Falls in the distance and the increasing interest from a curious group of nearby cows.
Getting handed the keys to a car like the McLaren 600LT, while incredible in opportunity, also raises challenges. It's hard to find time to pause and reflect when you're simultaneously trying to cover as many kilometres, drink in as many g-forces, and unlock as many mechanical secrets as possible.
But, as the day's light sunk behind the Hunua Ranges, there was finally chance for pause. No inane tourists leaning on the bright Myan Orange bodywork for selfies, no sneering glances or incredulous whispers from passers-by.
Instead, for a few silent moments, I considered two questions; “is this the greatest car that McLaren has ever made?” and, “is this the greatest car I've ever driven?”
The 600LT sits atop McLaren's 'Sport Series' range, above all the derivatives of the 570S. It's based on the same Monocell II carbon-fibre structure, and utilises a ramped-up version of the same V8 engine.
The model comes in two forms; a coupe as pictured, and the Spider convertible. The coupe is priced from $410,000, while the Spider sits at $445,000. Unlike most other drop-tops, the Spider doesn't lose any structural rigidity. Arguably, the only measurable downside is 50kg of added weight by virtue of the folding roof.
Those who worship the supercar world will be immediately aware of the connotations of the two letters slapped onto the end of the 600LT's nameplate. They stand for Long Tail — a name that denotes the added length created by the more comprehensive front splitter and rear diffuser set-up while simultaneously tipping a hat to the marque's motorsport heritage.
Anything that sports those letters is intended to be a meticulous, obsessive, best-of-the-best sort of supercar. All LT's to date have a firm place on McLaren's album of greatest hits. And the 600LT is no different.
Against West Auckland suburbia, parked in the harsh sun at Maraetai, perched on a Hunua ridge as the sun sets, or angled against the central Auckland cityscape in pitch black. Regardless of backdrop, the 600LT's looks are jaw dropping.
The 570S isn't what I'd call a natural beauty, it took quite some time to warm to the design departure of the 720S, and ... we don't really need to mention the Senna. But here, from the moment the press images were issued to the moment I saw it parked in the showroom, the 600LT's appearance made a significant impression.
One look, and you can tell that it's something special. A perfect visual balance between smooth svelte and wild extrovert. Plus, it may well be one of the last McLarens to sneak dozens of 'Kiwis' into its design language.
Like everything else in this segment, the numbers make up a big part of the story. So, it's only fair to air them. The 600LT is powered by a mid-mounted 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 that makes 441kW at 7500rpm and 620Nm at 5500–6500rpm (22kW/20Nm more than the 570S).
This makes for a 0–100km/h time of 2.9 seconds, 200km/h said to follow just 5.3-seconds later, and if your right foot is pinned for long enough you'll eventually hit 328km/h. There’s fractionally less on-paper oomph than the likes of the Porsche 911 GT2 RS, Ferrari 488 and Lamborghini Huracan Performante. But, the McLaren costs far less and is much, much lighter.
In its lightest form it weighs 1247kg — 100kg lighter than the 570S upon which. This is despite growing by 74mm in length via some of the most intricate and exhaustive carbon fibre artwork you could hope to see. In total, 23 per cent of the parts are new.
There is a slight caveat to that weight figure. If you ring up McLaren and put an order in for a 1247kg 600LT, you'll be rewarded with a car that doesn't come with air conditioning, a stereo, or front axle lifters. And you'll need to swap the already hard-core standard seats for the wispy race-spec buckets from the Senna hypercar.
But, I don't really want to dwell on the numbers. In this post-Nürburgring-lap-record world they generally only tell a portion of the story.
There are plenty of performance cars out in the world who hide behind their numbers, in the knowledge that behind the headlines and Top Trumps logic they lack soul, charm, and those other warm fuzzy bits.
It was a conclusion that some made about McLaren’s first return to the supercar space race; the surgically named MP4-12C. Now the tables have turned.
Admittedly, it’s difficult to feel where the extra $80,000 of spend has gone at first.
The 600LT’s initial manners feel very similar to the 570S. It’s surprisingly usable, even with the enormous carbon-fibre under-bite on the front. Ride quality is surprisingly pliant, and visibility from the driver’s seat is among the best in the class.
Like the 570S and 720S, it has a rather long brake pedal. There's about an inch of disconcerting travel before you can feel the carbon-ceramic discs getting clamped. But, muscle memory takes care of this quite quickly.
The interior doesn’t look a lot different from the 570S either. Among the few differences are standard fixed-back seats (borrowed from the P1), which make for a slightly awkward tilted driving position at first. But, you get used to it.
The way to learn about the 600LT’s character is through gradual increase. Add 10km/h to a corner entry here, add 20 per cent of throttle input there. Squeeze the Alcantara steering wheel tighter, and the low-slung McLaren rewards you.
McLaren continue to persist with hydraulic steering, and after driving plenty of quick cars with electric systems, it is such a breath of fresh air. It’s difficult to explain how much more interactive it is as a system. Every divot in the road, every change in camber, every threat of over-steer — all of it gets communicated to the driver with a rich by-the-millimetre texture through the wheel.
It’s important to not underplay the impact of McLaren’s tyre choice. The 600LT comes relatively under-tyred, with 225 Pirelli Trofeo Rs on the front and larger 285s on the rear. It’d be quicker on larger rubber, but it’d also be less of a communicator — less of a laugh.
In any other car the positive, feelsome steering would absorb the full focus of your fingertips. But, as those well read in McLaren’s back catalogue can corroborate, their dual-clutch SSG transmissions are equally renowned. The 600LT comes with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, with two carbon-fibre paddles positioned behind the steering wheel.
Truth be told, on any piece of road that isn’t a race circuit you only need third gear in the LT to have serious fun. However, those paddles are so tactile and the subsequent shifts so shockingly instant that you’ll soon find yourself playing with them on a constant basis.
The one area that’s always been contentious with McLarens are their engines. And, the 600LT’s twin-turbo V8 again packs plenty of good with a little bit of not-so-good.
Naturally, it is stupidly quick. There is some turbo-lag, but that simply adds to the sense of occasion every time the road ahead clears up and one decides to blat.
Insane, eye-popping power is never more than a few tenths away, to the point where the 600LT feels more than comparable with its big sibling — the 720S. Curiously, both cars have the same 0–100km/h time (the 720S claims the top-speed scalp, boasting 341km/h).
But, while it’s very fast, the ‘M838TE’ is also still quite the sterile thing. It revs confidently all the way to 8500rpm, gargles on overrun, and procures a big sharp bang with every shift in Track mode. It is objectively more beastly than that in the 570S, but it lacks the undeniable substance of a naturally aspirated Lamborghini V10 or the musical note of a Ferrari V8.
I’m sure that down the road when everything goes fully electric, I’ll be angry with myself for carrying on about an engine that’s otherwise immensely talented. When there are so few flies in the ointment, it’s only logical that the bad gets magnified.
So a good, lightning quick engine is hooked up to a sublime transmission and an addictive old-school steering system. It's all wrapped in carbon, and given a jolt of historic significance by the LT name.
What sews it all together? Well, the fact that it doesn't really take itself that seriously.
It’s easy to simply look at the 600LT and assume that it’s going to be a bit of a track-exclusive scalpel — too over-engineered to possibly be fun on the back-roads out Clevedon and Hunua way. But, not the case.
Clearly aiming to take advantage of how communicative the 600LT is, McLaren engineered plenty of accessible movement into the way it corners and puts down power. Driving it 'straight' is perfectly doable, but those wanting to feel like they’re on the ragged edge can do so with reasonable ease. Wheel-spin, bouts of over-steer — they're all on the cards at a level that’s very controllable.
It makes you feel like Superman. A true Jack-of-all-trades, no compromise, ball of stupendous V8 fun.
2019 McLaren 600LT Coupe
Pros: Fast, superb poise and balance, versatile, sharp gearbox
Cons: Spider possibly a better buy, not much else