Sharp, Suited and Booted

On the surface, McLaren’s long and lovely new GT – the first car of its kind from the iconic manufacturer – is a departure from the established playbook. But upon closer inspection, perhaps it isn’t. Don’t be expecting a traditional take on the classic GT.

Put aside the ‘Grand Tourer’ hyperbole for a second. Forget about the extended luggage bay or the Speedtail DNA in its design cues.

Here’s the main fact about McLaren’s new GT you need to know – one that effectively underlines the McLaren experience in 2019: the GT will accelerate from zero to 200km/h in 9.0 seconds.

That’s 200km/h. The car’s 0-100km/h time? Don’t know. I didn’t bother trying to find it. The sprint to the ton is now of such little consequence for cars like this that McLaren has gone straight to the next milestone notch on the speedo.

And this super lightweight rocket ship will get there quicker than many cars will make it to a paltry hundred. Great stat, that. The USP here though, is that the GT is a hyper-fast rocket ship… with a boot.

As it says on the tin, this is McLaren’s first toe-dip into the Grand Tourer pool. It sits alongside (not part of) the manufacturer’s existing Sports, Super and Ultimate Series cars.

Does that mean the Woking crowd is leaving the door open for more GT style cars in the future? Possibly. Surely a roofless Spider at some point. But anyway, let’s size this one up.

This is a first for McLaren, but also a first for the genre. A Grand Tourer with its engine amidships? Surely the idea of a classic GT is to possess a needlessly long bonnet out front, housing some massive power unit designed to thrum its way rapidly from Paris to Vienna, or Christchurch to Queenstown even, without breaking sweat.

True to type, the engine sits behind the driver here. That engine is a new 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8, pushing out peak power of 456kW and 630Nm peak torque in a broad, flat curve.

Because cabin and luggage space were the prime motivators here, the engine sits lower. Buttoning up its dress shirt somewhat, the GT features a new exhaust manifold and muffler system, with active valves that open under acceleration, but keep things more civilised at idle or when touring.

While the sound is slightly different and the oily bits are new, the source of all that lightness remains the same: McLaren’s signature Monocell II-T carbon fibre tub and lightweight aluminium body panels. This is the lightest GT available but looking at the badge you probably already guessed that. The power-to-weight ratio of 297kW-per-ton is another of those diverting stats, suggesting this remains a supercar, with the manners and usability of a GT.

Helping keep those breezy jet-set GT manners in check is a new Proactive Damping Control (PDC) suspension system, designed to react to surface changes in milliseconds and up the comfort level overall. To my mind (or backside), it still sits on the ‘performance car’ side of the equation when weighed up against other GTs. It’s firm, but not unpleasantly so.

Speedtail aside, at 4.7m in lengt h, the GT is the longest car McLaren has ever designed. It’s also the tallest, exhibiting extra ground clearance (110mm) in line with what the manufacturer suspects will be more day-to-day urban use. The car’s 13° approach angle is apparently in line with something as utilitarian as a Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

There’s still a ‘nose lifter’ button to raise the front of the car when approaching speed bumps or driveway entrances bearing the scars of fallen valances past, but approaching traffic calming curbage while gliding through tiny French villages on the international media launch drive, I didn’t once have to reach for it. You’re aware of the car’s girth (especially the view in the side mirrors, punctuated as it is by those colossal air vents), but this remains svelte McLaren function-over-form engineering in that regard.

Probably about time I mentioned the boot: this is a GT after all.

It’s not only the twin-turbo V8 sitting behind your shoulders that needs cooling. Because the primary boot space is positioned on top of the engine, the GT’s designers have come up with what they call an ‘air blanket’; cooling ducts that channel air into the luggage space in order to keep your drivers and nine irons suitably chilled.

No, even a forward-thinking manufacturer like McLaren can’t escape the golf bag measuring stick when it comes to boot space; one of those will fit in the rear nicely. But, so will skis and boots, or a variety of luggage. Being mid-engined, there’s a further 150-litres of storage up in front of the firewall too, meaning the McLaren GT offers a total of 570-litres luggage space.

Rather than opt for soft-grain leather or Alcantara in the boot (as is used liberally throughout the cockpit), a heap of research went into fabrics which will stand up better to the rigours of rough hotel concierges and caddies. So-called SuperFabric trim has been deployed in the luggage bay instead; it’s an innovative woven fabric that feels something like the surface of a soccer ball, and which will stand up to nicks and scuffs more robustly.

The cabin is nice and light thanks to that long tailgate featuring glazing all the way up it. Depending on which interior you specify, you can also option in cool electrochromic panorama glass above the driver and passenger seats too, which chops out the UV while letting extra light in. On the whole, the GT feels light and airy inside, as any Grand Tourer should.

The seats definitely err on the side of sporty; they’re comfy, but once you’ve eased up those butterfly doors, you still have a relatively wide sill to slide across in order to sit in them. It’s probably something an owner would eventually develop muscle memory for, although I certainly couldn’t achieve entry or egress with anything approaching elegance.

Once inside, a newly reconfigured infotainment system with a familiar smartphone-like menu structure sits at centre stage up front. The reaction times from the touchscreen have improved markedly over the system in the McLaren 540C I drove last year.

The manufacturer’s nicely analogue switches for power train and chassis settings – which are carried over from Sports and Super Series cars despite the GT body style – are as intuitive to use in order to dial in preferred suspension and acceleration settings as they always have been.

If you’re in a McLaren, ‘Sport’ is where you want to be. But then, with the GT remit in mind, should you?

Well, regardless of the settings, the GT still feels like a supercar. It was rather telling that the moment I felt this thing come truly alive wasn’t on an alpine pass high up in the hills behind Grimaud on the Cote d’Azur. Rather, on the highspeed motorway sprint down to Cannes, the endless acceleration, the glass canopy all around and the absolute settled and compliant ride from the PDC all melded together to make for a true Grand Touring experience.

This is a GT, yes. But it’s primarily a McLaren. It’s about as practical as the storied manufacturer probably wants to get without compromising anything on the performance side of the ledger.

As the maker of some of the world’s fastest cars, McLaren’s entry into the world of the Grand Tourer represents a bit of a balancing act then. This isn’t a traditional GT. But then, McLaren isn’t a traditional supercar manufacturer either. And that makes this thing all the more interesting as a result.

 

Words by Cameron Officer 

Photos by McLaren 

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