How an English proverb shaped the fast-yet-forgiving McLaren 720S

The brand-new 720S is the most important road car McLaren has ever launched. With the 650S, the British company proved it has the muscles and the brains to compete against well-established names like Ferrari and Lamborghini both on and off the track. The new Super Series model needs to cement that reputation by going above and beyond its predecessor in every way.

We chatted with Mark Vinnels, McLaren’s executive director of vehicle development, to get the inside scoop on what went into developing the 720S.

Digital Trends: The 720S is a drastic departure from the outgoing 650S, not merely a face-lift or a major update. What was the most difficult part of the development process?

Mark Vinnels: It was the integration of the aerodynamics. We knew we had a higher output engine, so what we didn’t want to do was increase the size of the cooling circuit – a bigger radiator adds mass, and that’s our enemy.

If you keep adding mass to offset the thermal output of the engine you’re not achieving anything; you’re just chasing a vicious circle. We knew we had to improve the cooling efficiency, which meant putting a big emphasis on aerodynamics in parallel with the styling. I don’t think we could have done it five or six years ago.

Why is that?

Because, we didn’t have the ability to iterate CFD models quite so quickly, or to send information about what’s good and what’s bad back to the design studio as fast. It’s a very interesting process. We have designers, aerodynamicists, and feasibility guys working really closely, iterating through ideas to see if they work from an aerodynamic perspective, to see if they work aesthetically. That process is key to how we’ve been able to design this car.

Why 720 horsepower?

There’s a bit of positioning there in terms of our own models, and where we expect the competition to be. It was pretty clear from the start that we needed to arrive at that number.

mclaren mark vinnels interview news quotes insight 720s studio 2

The important point is that we’re not just chasing power. A lot of the changes that have gone into the engine were made to enhance the driving experience, how it sounds, the way it revs, the way it delivers torque, and the throttle response. It’s not just about brutal force; that’s really important to us. That aspect drives more changes than just the power increase.

When you’re developing a car like the 720S, is it difficult to balance sport and comfort?

We want to give this car a great breadth, so taking it to the next level of performance on the track while also making it comfortable and compliant on the road is a real challenge. It’s not like tuning a race car so that a particular driver can drive it on a particular circuit on a particular day.

The last thing we want from a McLaren is to have it be intimidating.

We have to appeal to a broad range of drivers in all conditions, and give them all an enjoyable experience behind the wheel. Even a completely inexperienced driver will still want to enjoy the car, so we made it easy to drive so that anyone can learn and develop their skills. At the other end of the spectrum, a pro driver can get in the car and not feel held back. It’s due to the way we calibrate the ESP, and the way we manage the brake feel and the throttle response. We spend a lot of time getting it right. Talking to different drivers, reviewing and scoring the car.

The last thing we want from a McLaren is to have it be intimidating. We want the driver to be able to get into the car and feel comfortable, even before the car starts moving. That means studying the positioning of all the controls and improving the visibility – obviously forward but also behind. So many of the cars that you get in are intimidating and difficult to drive. What we’re about is making it as easy and enjoyable to drive as possible.

Other than through carbon fiber, how did you lower weight?

We’ve removed 16 kilos (about 35 pounds) from the suspension just by optimizing the design of the components. It reminds me of an expression we have in England that says, “you manage the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves.” We’re completely obsessive about every gram on every component, so the net result tends to be good.

There are three ways to manage weight: make the car as small as possible, be obsessive about every single component, and push the technology of the materials. Do all of those things consistently and you end up with a very lightweight car. That’s what we’ve done.

How important are tech features to your customers?

They’re important but not in a gimmicky way. What we want to do is enhance the driving experience. The rotating instrument cluster looks cool and it’s fun; it’s what makes you smile when you get in the car. But, when you’re driving on the track or driving at night, or if you just want a completely clear view, it’s great.

Yeah, we’ve got great audio, and drivers want great audio. We’ve got really nice navigation, and the track telemetry tool is cool. It lets you record track runs, including video footage from cameras on all sides of the cars. You can zoom in on a specific part of the track to get more details, too. And, the infotainment system is all-new.

We’re engineering-led and not marketing-led. There are features we want to deliver to customers, and there are some features we want to deliver that customers don’t know they want. They don’t know they want a moving instrument cluster, but when they experience it I think they will really appreciate it.

What about the tech features that users dont normally interact with?

We’re completely obsessive about every gram on every component, so the net result tends to be good.

The new chassis control software is completely ground-breaking. It’s based on optimal control theories, so it’s extremely advanced mathematics. By measuring the force on every wheel relative to the body, we can optimize the way the car performs, partly regarding the contact patch and grip. Nobody else does it. That’s ground-breaking.

Theres been a lot of talk about the hybrid tech trickling down from the P1 to more affordable models. Is that something we can expect from the 720S?

Not yet. A lot of that is due to the package and the commercial proposition. The price of high-performance batteries, and how we could commercially deliver them without the weight penalty.

We could put a hybrid system in the car, it would add 150 kilos (about 330 pounds), and deliver it for a price, but it’s going to destroy the driving experience. However, battery technology is moving all the time, and we are heavily involved in it. So, for the future, bringing the performance without the weight penalty is what we’re aiming at.

Does that mean you need a battery pack with a higher energy density?

Absolutely. That’s interesting as well: we talk about energy density versus power density. The world is largely looking at energy density because electric vehicles need maximum range. We need that, too, but we also need the cell to discharge quickly, which requires power density. That drives you into slightly different battery cell chemistry, which is quite unique for our requirements.

The 650S wasnt on the market for all that long. Why did you decide to have such short model cycles?

I think we’re still the new kid on the block, we’re still learning. People like what we’ve done so far, thankfully, and I think they’ll continue to like it, but we are the development brand and we want to make a certain statement. We want to demonstrate to our customers the capability that we have.

We’re working on nine car programs at the moment, so there’s a lot of stuff going on. Some of them will come out very soon, and some of them are way out. That’s the company we are.


These are the best video games you shouldn't leave 2018 without

Developers showed up with a number of amazing games this year. Each capitalized on something unique but there's always one that outdoes them all. Here are our picks for the best video games of 2018 and game of the year.

Our favorite fitness trackers make it fun to keep moving

Looking for your first fitness tracker, or an upgrade to the one you're already wearing? There are plenty of the wrist-worn gadgets available. Here are our picks for the best fitness trackers available right now.

Want to watch Netflix in bed or browse the web? We have a tablet for everyone

There’s so much choice when shopping for a new tablet that it can be hard to pick the right one. From iPads to Android, these are our picks for the best tablets you can buy right now whatever your budget.

These winter-warrior cars will never leave you out in the cold

Snow can be an absolute pain if your vehicle isn't optimized to handle that sort of terrain. If brutal snowstorms are an annual part of your life, we recommend you pick up one of these winter-ready vehicles.

Bosch’s CES-bound shuttle concept takes us on a trip to a not-too-distant future

Bosch envisions a future in which driverless shuttles occupy their own market segment. The German firm won't build the shuttles, but it wants to provide everything else, ranging from the drive system to the apps used to hail them.
Emerging Tech

A lidar-equipped truck knows exactly how much de-icer to apply on roads

Lidar is best known as the laser-based technology that helps self-driving cars sense their surroundings. But the city of Knoxville has another, more seasonal use for it: De-icing roads.

Driving a prototype 2020 Passat at Volkswagen’s Arizona Proving Ground

Volkswagen’s Arizona Proving Ground is where new cars are tested to the breaking point, including the 2020 Passat midsize sedan. Ride along as the new Passat completes testing ahead of its 2019 launch.
Product Review

Boring takes a back seat as 2019 Corolla Hatchback mixes fun with practicality

We drive the 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback, the latest hatchback to bear the Corolla name. As the best-selling nameplate in automotive history, Toyota has high expectations to meet. This model mostly lives up to the legacy.

Hertz speeds up car rentals with biometric scan technology

Biometric security technology that uses face, fingerprint, and voice recognition is gaining traction, with Hertz emerging as the latest company to incorporate it into its daily operations.
Product Review

Inside Maserati's Levante SUV beats the heart of a Ferrari

Maserati’s luxury SUV gets a shot in the arm by way of Ferrari-derived V8 power, but is it enough to go toe-to-toe with the established players in the high performance sport-utility segment? Let’s find out.

McLaren puts the pedal to the metal in special-edition OnePlus 6T

The OnePlus 6T is yet another flagship killer smartphone, bringing powerful specifications to a much lower price than the competition. Now, OnePlus has teamed up with McLaren for the OnePlus 6T McLaren Edition.

Aston Martin’s 1,000-hp Valkyrie will boast the Mona Lisa of the engine world

Aston Martin has released new details about its F1-inspired Valkyrie hypercar. Co-developed with Red Bull Racing, the Valkyrie will be one of the most aerodynamic production cars ever made.

The redesigned 2020 Passat shows Volkswagen still believes in sedans

The sedan segment in America is shrinking, but Volkswagen still believes in it. The German firm has released a teaser sketch to preview the redesigned 2020 Passat it will introduce during the 2019 Detroit Auto Show.

Infiniti previews its leap into one of the hottest industry segments

Infiniti has released a teaser image to preview a concept it will unveil at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show. The yet-unnamed design study is an electric crossover shaped by Infiniti's newest design language.