Born to conquer and devour its rivals, the 720S is an apex predator in the supercar world.
THE 720S HAS MANAGED TO SLAY ANY PRE-CONCEIVED NOTIONS OF WHAT A SUPERCAR SHOULD BE.
GROWING up, my idea of a supercar was a V12-powered Italian machine with curves to die for. It should also be wide and low-slung, and have very small windows.
Naturally, it would also be incredibly difficult to drive, with an impossibly heavy clutch and steering. Even the gearshift lever would require tremendous strength to operate.
In return, the supercar would deliver mind-numbing performance. Skilled drivers would be able to tame the beast and live to tell the tale, while less skilled drivers would quiver in fear, claiming that the car was out to murder them.
For apart from their hairy handling, the supercars of old were also notoriously unreliable. I imagined doors becoming stuck just as the engine caught fire, thereby condemning the car’s occupants to a fiery end.
With those pre-conceived notions in mind, I was sceptical about whether McLaren’s 720S could be defined as a supercar.
After all, within the McLaren lineup, which consists of the Sports Series, Super Series and Ultimate Series, the 720S belongs in the middle category. It is the second most powerful model in the range behind the limited-edition P1.
However, instead of a V12, the 720S “only” has a turbocharged 4-litre V8. And because it is British, I had doubts about its emotionality. Brits are known for having a stiff upper lip and suppressing their emotions, whereas Italians love to talk and gesticulate.
The emotional aspect of a supercar is just as important as its performance, because buying one is a decision that comes from the heart, not the head.
A supercar is an expression of desire, sensuality and speed. It should titillate the senses without holding back. If you don’t want it the moment you lay eyes on it, it’s not the one for you.
Life: Fighter jetlike cockpit features an instrument panel that folds away when the “pilot” selects Track mode.
Right: Useful 150-litre boot lets owners pick up a few groceries without having to swop cars.
My biases, however, evaporated the moment I stood beside a 720S with Memphis Red paintwork. As my eyes traced its lines from head to tail, it became obvious that pictures did not do this car justice. Even describing it as sleek would be an understatement.
McLaren wasn’t kidding when they said that the car’s design was inspired by the great white shark. Stare at its front end and you might be half mesmerised, half intimidated.
Like said predator, there’s nothing superfluous about the aluminium exterior of the 720S. There is no “bling bling” to speak of. Every finely honed curve or component is there to increase downforce and/or help the car slice through the air.
Only when I slowly walked around the car did I notice the neatly integrated aerodynamic elements. The dihedral doors, for instance, are actually made up of two panels that are separated by a duct that channels air into the engine.
Supercars are typically tricky, if not difficult, to get in and out of, so it was surprising to discover that the sills are narrower than expected, while the wide apertures, which extend to the roof, mean you never have to worry about bumping your head.
There’s nothing superfluous about the 720S cockpit either. It’s put together nicely, the driving position is spot on and the materials certainly feel expensive. But it’s still not perfect.
For instance, adjusting the electric seats requires one to grope beneath them to feel the controls, which themselves aren’t intuitive. From the outside, it might seem like the occupants are grimacing as they scratch their nether regions.
I also took issue with the sat-nav’s plain-Jane graphics. Considering that the instrument panel and infotainment displays are sharp and attractive, anything that looks sub-par sticks out like a sore thumb.
What’s really impressive about the interior is how much all-round visibility it gives the driver. Thanks to the generous glass panels and slim pillars, sitting in the 720S really does make you feel like you’re sitting in a fighter jet.
In fact, the overall visibility is even better than in a grand tourer such as the Aston Martin DB11, whose slim windows require its driver to utter a prayer prior to executing a three-point turn. I had no such issue in the 720S when I performed the manoeuvre several times on public roads.
In fact, knowing that I commanded 720 horses with my right foot, I was more worried about the car’s performance than anything else. I reminded myself that if I wasn’t careful, this mean machine might chew me up and spit me out into the Italian scenery – sideways.
The 720S blitzes the century sprint in 2.9 seconds. It’ll go from a standstill to 200km/h in 7.8 seconds. That’s ridiculously quick when you consider that the average hatchback takes roughly 10 seconds to go from rest to 100km/h. With enough room to run, this supercar supposedly tops out at 341km/h.
So what if it “only” has a turbocharged V8?
Well, V12 purists can stick to their guns all they like, but they can’t change the fact that the 720S’ mid-mounted, twin-turbocharged 4-litre V8, codenamed M840T, is a gem of a motor.
Indeed, the M840T’s responsiveness and power delivery are so linear and razor-sharp that I swore it didn’t have a pair of turbochargers bolted to it.
As expected, the 720S feels planted on highways and dispatched winding B-roads with consummate ease. What it doesn’t cope well with are pockmarked surfaces. Even with the suspension set to Comfort, I felt conscious about my body fats jiggling so much.
But on perfectly paved surfaces like the ones on the Vallelunga Circuit, the 720S is simply sublime.
Power aside, the car’s performance is enhanced by its stiff ness and light weight, most of which comes from its new carbon fibre tub. Known as Monocage II, it is the first tub that features a roof section also made from carbon fibre. The car weighs 1283kg dry – about as much as an average compact saloon.
With both the “P” (Power) and “H” (Handling) dials set to “T” (Track) mode, the 720S is at its most devastating.
Past Vallelunga’s Curva Grande, I pinned the throttle to the floor and the car zoomed towards the two 90-degree corners. As the needle on the rev counter snapped to the right, I was carried by the relentless thrust, which was accompanied by a ferocious V8 soundtrack.
The V8’s rumble would rise to a thunderous crescendo as its notes blared through the dual tailpipes. With the optional sports exhaust fitted, the volume increases by 30 percent.
The 720S sheds speed as frantically as it piles it on. With huge carbon-ceramic brake discs (390mm in front and 380mm at the rear) and an airbrake that pops up in half a second, I had no trouble slowing down and carving through those two bends.
What was eye-opening is the car’s unflappability under heavy braking, which adds to the driver’s confidence.
TYPE V8, 32-valves, turbocharged.
BORE X STROKE 93mm x 73.5mm.
COMPRESSION RATIO 8.7:1 MAX POWER 720bhp at 7500rpm.
MAX TORQUE 770Nm at 5500rpm.
POWER TO WEIGHT 561.2bhp per tonne.
GEARBOX 7-speed dual-clutch with manual select.
DRIVEN WHEELS Rear.
0-100KM/H 2.9 seconds.
TOP SPEED 341km/h.
CONSUMPTION 9.3km/L (combined).
CO2 EMISSION 249g/km
FRONT Double wishbones, adaptive dampers
REAR Double wishbones, adaptive dampers
+ STAGGERING PERFORMANCE, SCALPEL-LIKE HANDLING, FANTASTIC BRAKES.
FRONT / REAR Ventilated carbon-ceramic discs.
TYPE Pirelli P Zero.
SIZE 245/35 R19 (front), 305/30 R20 (rear).
TRACTION AIDS ABS, ESC.
KERB WEIGHT 1283kg.
TURNING CIRCLE 12m (estimated).
PRICE EXCL. COE $990,000 (after $30k.
WARRANTY 3 years/unlimited km
- HARD RIDE, UNAPPEALING SAT-NAV GRAPHICS, UNINTUITIVE SEAT CONTROLS.
When awakened, the V8 roars to life with an explosive “bang”.
Apparently, blue flames will shoot out of the exhaust pipes when the engine is revved hard.
THE 4-LITRE V8 IS A GEM OF A MOTOR – ITS RESPONSIVENESS AND POWER DELIVERY ARE SO SHARP AND LINEAR THAT I SWORE IT DIDN’T HAVE A PAIR OF TURBOCHARGERS BOLTED TO IT.
On the long back straight, I opened the throttle again as my eyes darted to the instrument panel. I saw 241km/h before I nailed the brakes. On the same stretch, a racecar driver would probably be doing 270km/h or more.
During my 40 minutes on track, I grew to like the Semaforo, Tornantino and Esse corners. All three are relatively slower and trickier, with Tornantino requiring a very late turn-in.
What really blew my mind, though, was the flexible and forgiving nature of the 720S. Not once did I feel like it would bite off my head and spit out the rest of my body through the dual exhausts.
The electronically controlled suspension, dubbed Proactive Chassis Control II, is responsible for this. Even when I made a mistake and caused the car to fishtail, all I had to do was lift off the accelerator and keep the steering wheel pointed straight ahead – the car took care of the rest.
Speaking of steering, the helm is another delight. Unlike other manufacturers that have jumped on the electric-power-steering bandwagon, McLaren purposely chose an electro-hydraulic setup for the 720S. The steering wheel literally squirms as you go over kerbs and bumps, delivering the feedback enthusiasts crave.
If you’re skilled enough, you can utilise the car’s Variable Drift Control function, which lets you set drift angles. Track-day enthusiasts will probably spring for the optional Track Telemetry app, which lets you review and compare performance data in the car – no laptop required.
At the conclusion of my track session, I removed my helmet and walked into the pit garage to sit down and slow my heart rate. I needed to clear my head.
My adrenalin was flowing because I had just driven a blisteringly quick, precise, responsive and forgiving supercar. At the same time, my rational side was reminding me of its flaws.
Supercars aren’t just about abilities, but emotions as well.
The 720S’ potential to eliminate rivals was never in doubt. But what really struck home was how it managed to slay any pre-conceived notions of what a supercar should be. It is, indeed, built for the kill.