Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: July 28, 2020
The GT is McLaren’s take on the grand touring recipe, a mid-engined supercar tailored to tackle long stretches of freeway while continuing to instill an emotional and spiritual drive that is expected from this storied brand known for making some of the most titillating cars in history. Think McLaren F1, SLR McLaren, and the P1. McLaren is no stranger to speed but the GT takes a slightly left-field approach by targeting a new customer base and aiming to be a friendly, usable, and functional daily driver for the elite. Clearly an answer to other successful grand tourers like the Porsche 911 Turbo, Mercedes-AMG S 63, Aston Martin Vantage, and Bentley Continental GT, the newcomer from Woking had better impress in this field of established entrants.
But it’s not McLaren’s first attempt at converting their supercars into usable road-trip devices. They tried their hand a few years back with the 570GT, a slightly softer, quieter, mildly more spacious variant of the 570S with a side-hinged hatch opening that increased trunk access and volume by only a slight margin. It didn’t take off very well with customers. So where is McLaren supposed to draw the line? How much sharpness do you sacrifice without dulling the edge entirely, and will sacrificing too much ruin the point of its grand touring mission? Let’s see if they got it right this time.
By keeping a mid-engined layout with lightweight components, it’s clear that McLaren are keen on injecting equal parts grand touring and supercar handling. Much of what you see in the GT is familiar territory. We’re talking about a carbon-fibre tub and a 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 that produces 610 hp and 465 lb-ft of torque through a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. That drives the rear wheels exclusively, and accompanies an army of tech expected from this Formula 1 brand to keep the GT as grounded and agile as possible. The GT is a featherweight at 1,530 kg, sprinting from 0-100 km/h in 3.2 seconds, faster than a Mercedes-AMG GT R (3.6s), S 63 Coupe (3.5s), Aston Martin Vantage (3.6s), and Bentley Continental GT (3.7s), is tied with a BMW M8 Competition, but is slower than the Porsche 911 Turbo S (2.7s).
The GT is wickedly quick despite using a detuned but reworked variant of the V8 from the 720S with smaller turbochargers. The result is a torque curve that is broader and more usable, and it shows. Whereas other McLarens need a bit of spool to get going, there’s less delay with the GT, less build-up, and a subsequently smoother journey up to its peak 8,200 rpm redline. The flipside is that the top end is not as lairy or as theatrical. With the 720S, you hold on tight as it fiercely launches you forward but with the GT, wide-open-throttle acceleration is less violent, no less comically quick, but gentler and more gradual. This is all relative of course. If you have never experienced launch control in a McLaren, you definitely want to keep a paper bag in close proximity.
Steel brakes are standard and they offer enough stopping power to bring those unholy speeds back into the realm of sanity. Carbon ceramic brakes are optional but I’d stick with the former. They don’t have the same initial bite quality as the 570S which are stiff and are like trying to squeeze the juice out of a stale uncut watermelon. But the GT’s are spongier and easier to modulate at low speeds. That makes it friendlier and more forgiving when creeping around town, and you won’t be arriving at your destination with your right calf muscle larger than the other.
The 570S and 720S gave us some scintillating exhaust notes and while not an emotional rollercoaster like in Ferraris or Lamborghinis, they were still satisfying and always got the job done. The GT keeps that trend going but makes use of softer engine mounts to reduce vibrations, and more insulation around the cabin for a quieter ride. As a result, when you’re not pinning the throttle, the V8 stays docile and quiet, with just enough noise seeping through so you won’t forget you’re sitting in a McLaren, but not enough to warrant complaints from your passenger. That said, there is still a fair deal of road and tire noise, especially when compared to the rivaling Bentleys and AMGs that seem to isolate those noises out completely.
When the road opens up and you do want some auditory joy, hit Track Mode, mash the throttle, and the flat-plane crank V8 will sing with that raw, race-bred roar that sounds like a modern Formula 1 car. It’s more subtle than what Norris is driving, more like an F1 car revving in the house next door, but the noise is fitting for a supercar. Furthermore, if you roll the windows down, you will hear the swooshing of turbulent air crossing your left ear as it enters the fender tunnel and out the rear. It makes for a wonderfully sensual experience.
Having the engine lobbed in the middle doesn’t work great for cabin or trunk space but it does do wonders for making a car’s handling incredibly neutral and balanced. It’s a compromise that shows promise given the fact that McLaren has also kept old-school electro-hydraulic steering in the GT that offers lively front-wheel feedback coursing through the steering wheel and into your fingertips. You won’t find supercars as talkative as McLarens these days but there are drawbacks like the lack of driver assistance features, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, and you know, every feature that you want for a long distance drive. The steering is not as lively or as reactive as a 570S either, mellowed for the sake of driver comfort, but the difference is marginal and I somewhat like its more lax attitude better for leisurely driving. There are still wide open channels of communication and the front wheels will tramline pockmarked roads as you fight to correct it but it’s less of taming a raging bull, and more of keeping a leash on a corgi.
Sadly, McLaren haven’t used the trick hydropneumatic suspension from the 720S but have instead equipped the coil-spring setup from the 570S along with anti-roll bars and adaptive dampers. A missed opportunity to make the GT glide like a fresh razor, but a move to save costs and keep the GT’s price-tag from reaching 720S territory. The resulting ride quality with its staggered 20-inch front tires and 21-inch rears is firm but far from punishing. There’s a supple quality to the way it bounces over bumpy roads, and there’s enough suspension travel to keep occupants somewhat isolated from harsh impacts. Be that as it may, the GT is still a far cry from the way a Continental GT or S 63 AMG hovers over the road and shrugs off pesky potholes. I don’t find the GT to be more comfortable than the 720S either. Bottom line? The GT is very usable for long journeys. Not the best or the ideal choice if comfort is the number one priority, but once the road gets twisty, you will be glad you chose the McLaren with its crispier steering and playful mid-corner antics, the kind only a mid-engined car could deliver. Think Porsche Cayman or Alfa Romeo 4C but supersized with oodles more power.
We were pleasantly surprised by the GT’s frugal fuel consumption. With easy throttle application on city streets and in the most dialed back drive settings, we averaged an impressive 9.3 L/100km - that’s economy car numbers, undoubtedly helped by the GT’s slippery silhouette. Who would have guessed? Gently caressing our V-12 powered Aventador SVJ never took us below the 15 mark. Alas, if you go at a moderate pace, the GT will easily reach 500 kms on a single tank, adding to its road-trip potential and grand touring appeal. For reference, that’s a non-stop stint from Toronto to Montreal.
And there are obvious visual clues that the GT is not as serious of a track weapon as the 720S. Instead of a fancy adaptive spoiler, there’s a fixed one. Nevermind the awkward similarities to the new Chevrolet C8 Corvette, the GT’s shape is a classic supercar wedge but is somewhat anonymous looking from the front with its slim headlights. The bright shade of Kyanos Blue on our test vehicle does elevate its road presence though, and comes off very much like the San Marino Blue and Marina Bay Blue from the BMW palette but richer in colour with more depth to the hue.
Inside follows a similar theme once you get past its signature dihedral doors and hop into the seats that have been raised for easier ingress. Leather replaces suede, glossy black panels replace carbon fibre, and cashmere makes an appearance on the options list. In my eyes, the GT interior strikes a more theatrical and dramatic note than the minimalist cabin of the Porsche 992, but isn’t as grand or as opulent as the Mercedes. Functionality and connectivity remain a strong suit, with electrically-adjustable memory seats, ambient lighting, heated door mirrors, a power-closing tailgate, and even a panoramic glass roof with an electrochromic feature like in the Mercedes SL, that allows it to go from opaque to transparent with the touch of a button. Oh, soft-close doors too. Yes, on a McLaren. Not even our Porsche Taycan Turbo had that.
McLaren’s infotainment unit has been vastly improved and by quite a large margin. While simple to use, prior iterations were laggy and the screen washed out under heavy sunlight. This new unit is much quicker, responding to inputs the moment you press the screen. The menus are streamlined, connectivity is easier, and the screen is brighter. But I’m not sure why McLaren configured the rear view camera display to show up on the driver’s gauges and not the center screen instead. Because like in Audis that suffer from the same issue, when you’re parking, your steering wheel spokes will get in the way of the display view, so you look like an idiot pausing, rotating the wheel to check where you’re going, and re-rotating it back to where you began.
There are clear shortcomings too like the lack of massage or ventilated seats, rear seats for that matter, and front-seat stowage. There really is not much room to put anything save for a small center glove box that is clearly allotted to hold your insurance information and its paraphernalia, a small net on the passenger footwell, along with three cupholders, each different sizes. The one in the center is the largest and will be used the most. The two under the center screen are a bit more restrictive in cup size. There are two narrow slots beside those to fit small items like your phone and wallet, but the GT barely scratches past these bare minimum grand tourer requirements.
Under the power tailgate is a genuinely useful trunk. The space is shallow but long and wide, giving us the ability to stow our fishing rods and camping gear for a quick jaunt up north. Golf clubs will fit too. One thing to note though is that due to the engine placement right underneath, the area can heat up quite a bit, especially in summer weather, so make sure your Tolberone bars go in the front trunk instead, which is deep enough to swallow a few duffle bags. Secondly, there is no physical barrier separating the rear trunk from the front cabin, and while convenient when you left your hand sanitizer in your backpack, last-minute hard braking will send all of your contents straight into the windshield unless they’re latched onto the hooks provided. Best to keep those zippers zipped.
Its ground clearance is impressive and the optional front-axle lift will ensure your pretty (expensive) front lips stay in pristine condition. In typical McLaren fashion, outward visibility is excellent and the driving position is spot-on thanks to the steering wheel that can practically telescope right into your chest. Big exaggeration there but we haven’t tested any other supercar with such an extended range of adjustment in the steering column. It may sound insignificant but it allows taller drivers like myself to recline the seat more and assume a laid-back, comfortable, almost F1-like driving position. It’s an often dismissed but appreciated feature that makes long journeys that much more bearable. The lack of buttons and dials on McLaren’s steering wheel is also a refreshing sight, as other manufacturers have become so accustomed to the rapid proliferation of them for the sake of convenience. But the seats are a weak spot. Stunning in appearance and well bolstered for keeping you in place when pulling Gs, we couldn’t drive for more than an hour without our back beginning to ache, despite numerous attempts at adjusting the lumbar support. Small pillows are highly recommended.
Would McLaren have been better off developing a front-engined coupe dedicated towards grand touring instead? That could have been an avenue worth exploring, but would cost an astronomical sum of money to engineer an entirely new platform and chassis, and just might dilute the ethos behind the brand’s storied history. Despite the badge, the GT is irrefutably a McLaren thoroughbred dressed up in a finely tailored suit ready to hit the ball. Its mid-engined layout means it will forever be compromised in practicality and trunk space, and even though passion and sound decisions never mesh, the GT takes the best of both worlds and manages to find a suitable middle ground by balancing razor sharp steering, handling as neutral as Switzerland, and everyday civility. The added creature comforts go a long way into achieving that goal, warranting a closer look for those seeking a supercar that thins the line between world-class driving dynamics and grand touring qualities, and where comfort isn’t the number one priority. In that light, the GT shines above the rest.
Model: 2020 McLaren GT
Paint Type: Kyanos Blue
Base Price: $250,000
Price as Tested: $300,750
Curb weight (kg): 1,535
Engine: 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8
Horsepower: 610 hp @ 7,500 rpm
Torque: 453 lb-ft @ 5,500 - 6,500 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch transmission
Engine & Drive Configuration: Mid-engine, RWD
Fuel Consumption ( Combined ) L/100km: 11.9
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 9.3 (gentle throttle); 17.1 (aggressive throttle)
Tires: 225/35R20 front, 295/30R21 rear