2018 McLaren 720S review

Aliens left some of their technology on Earth: It’s called the McLaren 720S

McLaren has a masterpiece on its hands.
McLaren has a masterpiece on its hands.
McLaren has a masterpiece on its hands.

Highs

  • Smooth, unrelenting power
  • Grip: all of it
  • Ease of daily use
  • Alien spaceship design intrigue
  • Ride comfort and cargo capacity

Lows

  • Sporadic electronic hiccups

There is a type of laughter that betrays our pride — one that hides within us until a moment of weakness. The laughter in question may take the form of a supernatural vocal frequency or a goofy facial expression – or likely some combination of the two. When we properly prepare for something humorous, we control our reactions, but when a situation overwhelms us, it’s impossible to restrain this embarrassing display of joy. No method or degree of self-discipline can save us.

The good news is that these “occurrences” are typically rare. We look foolish for a moment, those around us snicker and poke fun, and then life resumes. However, there is an infallible trigger for this frightful spectacle – one that masks itself in an enticing form. The McLaren 720S is one of the fastest cars on the planet, and it keeps our dignity on a tight leash.

McLaren’s latest Super Series model succeeds the sensational 650S to fend off new rivals like the Lamborghini Huracan Performante, Ford GT, and Porsche 911 GT2 RS. Priced from $285,000, the 720S offers hypercar performance, technology, and design at a relative bargain. Our time spent with this British-built (and alien-engineered?) machine introduced deeper awe for this class of car than ever before.

This British-built machine introduced deeper awe for this class of car than ever before.

Despite the strides McLaren has made since the 650S was birthed five years ago, it remains the “alternative” supercar manufacturer to more recognizable brands like Ferrari, Porsche, and Lamborghini. Rather than mimicking its competitors, McLaren has pushed its form-follows-function design language further to create the 720S’ exclusive shape.

Enthusiasts recognize the 720S in an instant, but all other onlookers can merely surmise the car is special. Aerodynamics influence every bit of the vehicle’s form, but in such a non-traditional way that some may not appreciate the car’s styling. We, for one, find it enchantingly beautiful and appropriately distinguished — as all supercars should be.

Interior and tech

The McLaren 720S is built to go fast, and the cabin reflects that directive. Alcantara, leather, and carbon fiber weave together to create a sporty aesthetic with the right amount of stylized and premium details. The tightly bolstered sport bucket seats offer enough support and comfort for extended drives, but show their true merit when the cornering G-Forces get extreme.

An artful and ergonomic center stack layers the drive modes like knurled metal steps ascending from the launch button to the red ignition control. There isn’t a park button; drivers instead must engage neutral before pulling the parking brake tab to the left of the steering wheel. The wheel itself is covered in grippy microfiber suede material and features a flat-bottom. Mounted to the steering rack is a pair of oversized carbon fiber paddles.

Two digital monitors serve up ample data to the driver. The LCD driver display places the tachometer front and center, encompassing a digital speedometer. To the left and right of the tachometer is a rotation of telemetry, media, navigation, and vehicle alert information. Engaging reverse fills the entire TFT screen with a wide-angle image of the rear view. All this sounds typical of a luxury vehicle, but the 720S has a clever trick: the entire screen transforms from its standard upright position to a flattened orientation. At start-up, the screen erects, but the press of a button on the dash, or the transition to Track driving mode flattens the monitor to reveal just a horizontal tachometer, speed readout, and chosen gear.

An artful center stack layers drive modes like knurled metal steps ascending from the launch button to the ignition control.

The second, portrait-style monitor, sits adjacent to the powertrain and suspension adjustments. All entertainment and climate settings are configurable in this iPad Mini-sized tablet via touch controls, a large scroll wheel, and a small assortment of physical buttons. Passengers can connect their smartphone via Bluetooth or from one of the two USB slots, but Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are unavailable. Even without these interfaces, McLaren’s infotainment system is intuitive and responsive – certainly more so than the Huracan Performante we tested a few months prior.

We’ll gloss over the driver aids, because, apart from some parking sensors, the McLaren 720S doesn’t have assistance features. Those who need lane-keeping assist in their supercar are missing the point. The 720S isn’t without user-friendly accommodations, however. The butterfly doors, for example, feature center cutouts that avoid potential head-jam on entry and exit. Visibility is excellent, thanks to thin A-pillars and large windows. A large front trunk fits either a pair of small suitcases for a weekend getaway or a month’s worth of groceries. Owners probably won’t use their $300K supercar every day, but if they so desire, the 720S can play errand-runner better than any of its key rivals.

Driving experience

As impressive as the 720S may be at rest, it won’t make you giggle like a goon until wheels are in motion. Mated to the car’s evolutionary carbon fiber monocoque chassis is a 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 tuned to produce 710 horsepower and 568 pound-feet of torque. Like most of its rivals, the McLaren uses a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission to shuttle power to its rear wheels (only the Huracan Performante features all-wheel drive).

Performance specs are massive. Zero to sixty mph takes just 2.7 seconds and top speed is a staggering 212 mph. The real eye-watering metric, though, is how quickly the 720S gets from naught to 124 mph. In 7.8 seconds, a Chevrolet Cruze is cresting 60 mph while the McLaren 720S is more than doubling its speed. By comparison, the 700-hp 911 GT2 is dead even to 60 mph, the 640-hp Huracan Perfomante takes two additional tenths of a second to hit its mark, and the 647-hp Ford GT is the slowest of the bunch at 3.0 seconds to 60 mph. The way the 720S serves up its power is remarkable, too. Unlike the 650S, which hesitated slightly before smashing you with turbocharged torque, the 720S surges forward with smooth, progressive force. The experience is less rollercoaster, more jetliner.

McLaren’s methods are more traditional, but the effect is similar: confidence-inspiring handling and, yes, uproarious fun.

The gearbox is a marvel, affording downshifts and upshifts as quickly as your fingers can rip back on the paddles. Carbon ceramic brakes scrub speed like crumbs off a plate. The adaptive suspension system – with three distinct damper settings – filters harsh bumps while keeping the chassis planted in corners. All that aerodynamic bodywork isn’t for show, either; the downforce generated by the front splitter and active rear wing feels like you’re driving over a strip of industrial-strength magnets. The sensation calls to mind the Huracan Performante’s innovative ALA system. McLaren’s methods are more traditional, but the effect is similar: confidence-inspiring handling and, yes, uproarious fun.

The 720S story isn’t all about tenacity, though. Driven like a sane person, the car is tractable and refined. Steering is responsive, but not frenetic. In its Comfort drive mode, the McLaren hums along at a decent volume and softens its suspension significantly. A hydraulic front lift system raises the nose to avoid any scraping of the car’s expensive bodywork. Where the Porsche 911 GT2 RS, Ford GT, and Lamborghini Huracan Performante feel out of their element when not on a race track, the McLaren 720S is at home in both realms.

2018 mclaren 720s review back xxl

Warranty

All new McLaren vehicles come with a three-year unlimited mileage warranty. Though supercar maintenance is more frequent and expensive, owners put far fewer miles on their cars than a more traditional vehicle. As such, McLaren’s “unlimited” mileage offer isn’t that wild of a proposition, and in fact matches up with Ferrari and Lamborghini’s new vehicle protection. Owners desiring additional coverage can choose an extended warranty for up to 12 years after purchase (bought in 12- or 24-month increments). Best of all, buyers can add this coverage at any time for a McLaren that’s less than 10 years old and has less than 100K miles on the odometer.

How DT would configure this car

Our perfect McLaren 720S starts with an outlandish paint scheme. We would coat the 720S in McLaren Special Operations’ Mauvine Blue (which is actually more of a royal purple Based on the 720, then opt for the Performance spec, which includes carbon fiber hood intakes, door mirror casings, and rear fender intakes, dark exterior trim, engine bay and interior ambient lighting, Alcantara and Nappa leather interior, and carbon fiber interior trim. From here, add the five twin-spoke lightweight wheels finished in Satin diamond, stainless steel sports exhaust, power adjust heated memory seats, Bowers & Wilkins 12-speaker sound system, and the hydraulic lift system.

So, how much would all this set us back? We don’t actually know. McLaren’s online configurator lets you pick all the options, but to receive pricing details, one must contact a McLaren dealer. Guess those who can afford this car worry little about the final tally.

Our take

Stacked against its key rivals, the $280K Lamborghini Huracan Performante, $294K Porsche 911 GT2 RS, and $478K Ford GT, the McLaren is the second least expensive, most powerful, tied for quickest to 60 mph, and (we’d argue) the most usable on a daily basis.

You and those in the know are keenly aware of what the Brits have accomplished with this supercar — probably because you’re laughing like a lunatic.

Shopping for a supercar is nothing like buying a “normal” vehicle; numbers are just part of the story. Crazy capable as the 911 GT2 RS may be, Porsche 911s are a dime a dozen on public roads and few will distinguish between your 700-hp monster and a base Carrera. The Ford GT certainly looks the part, but you could effectively buy the Lamborghini and McLaren for the same price as a GT loaded with options. Lamborghini’s ultimate Huracan puts up the strongest fight, and deciding between its managed chaos and the 720S’ performance precision will no doubt come down to buyer personality.

Though a McLaren key may not impress the masses like a token from Porsche, Ferrari, or Lamborghini, the 720S is engineered like a secret weapon. You and those in the know are keenly aware of what the Brits have accomplished with this supercar — probably because you’re laughing like a lunatic.

Should you get one?

McLaren has a masterpiece on its hands, and those with the means should get their hands on the 720S — pronto.

Product Review

Bigger battery and folding top add appeal, but BMW’s i8 remains ultra-niche

Want a high-performance vehicle that's more than just a frightening driving experience? Desire the look and feel of a sports car with the road manners of a luxury commuter? The BMW i8 is for you.
Cars

Bentley Bentayga Speed surpasses Lamborghini Urus as world’s fastest SUV

The Bentley Bentayga Speed has wrested the title of world's fastest SUV from its cousin, the Lamborghini Urus. But the Bentley is just 1 mph faster than the Lamborghini. It requires 626 horsepower to achieve that top speed.
Cars

BMW’s X3 M and X4 M pack 503 horsepower in nontraditional form

BMW is starting even further from its heritage with the 2020 X3 M and X4 M performance crossovers. But with up to 503 horsepower available in each vehicle, does that really matter?
Cars

Maserati is prepared to fight for a piece of the electrified supercar segment

The Alfieri concept Maserati shown in 2014 is on track for production. It will offer three drivetrain options, including hybrid and electric variants, and it will take just two seconds to reach 60 mph from a stop in its quickest…
Cars

Audi’s Geneva-bound Q4 E-Tron concept will give us a glimpse of the future

Audi has released a trio of teaser sketches to preview the Q4 E-Tron concept. Scheduled to make its debut at the 2019 Geneva Auto Show, the design study takes the form of an electric SUV with a muscular design and a tech-filled interior.
Cars

Tesla’s Dog Mode lets good Samaritans know that Fido’s A-OK

Tesla's latest over-the-air software update adds two features called Sentry Mode and Dog Mode. Sentry Mode records footage and alerts the owner if someone breaks in, while Dog Mode runs the A/C so owners can safely keep their dogs in their…
Product Review

The 2020 Volvo V60 Cross Country is a do-it-all Swedish army knife

Volvo laced up its smallest station wagon in hiking clothes to create the V60 Cross Country. It's a lifted, all-wheel drive wagon that laughs at icy roads while coddling its occupants. We travel to Sweden to try it out.
Cars

Rock out in the carpool lane with Singing Machine’s Carpool Karaoke microphone

Carpool Karaoke fans can count down the days till summer. That's when Singing Machine's Carpool Karaoke microphone will be available. Connect the Carpool Karaoke Mic to your car radio to make your next road trip a mobile karaoke party.
Emerging Tech

With CabinSense, cars will soon know who’s riding in them and respond accordingly

What if your car could know who's riding in it and customize the entertainment and safety options accordingly? That’s what's promised by the new CabinSense in-car Occupancy Monitoring System.
Outdoors

General Motors cycles into a new market with its first-ever ebikes

When General Motors launched a public campaign last year to name its new ebike brand, many wondered if Bikey McBikeface might win out. But it didn't. Instead, it's called Arīv, and the two bikes are up for pre-order this week.
Cars

The Polestar 2, Sweden’s answer to the Tesla Model 3, begins taking shape

Volvo sister company Polestar has released a teaser image to give us our first look at the 2, its second model. Polestar tells us the 2 will arrive as a four-door fastback with a 400-hp electric powertrain and about 300 miles of range.
Cars

2020 Kia Soul and Soul EV continue to think inside the box

The 2020 Kia Soul is the third generation of Kia's boxy curiosity. The Soul maintains its signature look, but gets tech and powertrain upgrades. The all-electric Soul EV returns as well.
Cars

Psychedelic Volkswagen Microbus from Woodstock returns for an encore

With its trippy paint scheme, the Volkswagen "Light" bus became a symbol of the 1969 Woodstock music festival. VW teamed up with the artist who created this rolling mural to stage a comeback in time for Woodstock's 50th anniversary.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Grow veggies indoors and shower more efficiently

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!