Mac Spicy [COTY2017] : McLaren 720S Driven [review]

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We enjoy the fiery heat of the spicy McLaren 720S

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Singapore - There are several levels of spiciness: the slow, smouldering sort that takes awhile to hit hard, but lingers long after the initial contact and the other, giggle-inducing quick kick in the gullet, which a mate and I encountered on a night of misplaced bravado at an Indian restaurant in a dodgy part of London.

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“Give us the spiciest of everything please, we’re from Singapore – we’re used to the heat!” After all, how ‘spicy’ could anything be in the UK? Famous last words before an arduous forty-five minutes of intense burn – I’d never felt my tongue go completely numb before, and when feeling finally returned, so did the fire. Even though it takes awhile to push through the pain, the body quickly gets used to the heat from our innocuous-looking phaal, so from eyes streaming tears and gasping for lassi/water/anything to ease the pain, you’re quickly swapping jokes with the waiter between cold water refills and an inexplicable craving for the next mouthful.

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And that’s exactly the sort of experience you’re looking for with a supercar – it’s not enough to be everything to everybody any and every day of the week (although the 720S will do all that and put a smile on your face to boot), but about that epic sense of occasion you feel when you get in and drive.

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The 720S isn’t merely a tuned version of some generic shape tuned to 710bhp (or 720PS, hence the moniker), 341km/h and a 2.9secs 0-100km/h, but is a fully paid-up card-carrying member of the supercar fraternity, which means it has both the ‘go’ and the ‘show’ to wow even the jaded.

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In the rarefied realm of Ferraris, Lambos and Aston Martins, McLaren is a relative newcomer (notwithstanding the seminal F1 supercar from 1992 and the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren from 2003), but you’d be hard-pressed to think this considering how quickly its Super Series cars have evolved since the MP4-12C of 2011 to 2014’s 650S and now the 720S.

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Some detractors though, feel things have escalated “too quickly” at McLaren, especially with what seems to be a monumental onslaught of new models, both limited and regular. After all, the last thing anyone waiting for a current build wants is to feel short-changed by news of faster and even more radical models.

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There’s a lot more visual drama to the 720S compared to the current mid-engined offerings from Ferrari and Lamborghini, namely the 488 and Huracan, or for that matter, its predecessor the 650S, which looked like an awkward fusion between the P1 and MP4-12C – the 720S is very much its own car with a distinct identity from the 540/570 Sports Series models, although what future model(s) it will spawn is another thing altogether, but at the moment, this is a very good thing indeed.

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The 720S’s shape is part organic, part tech and all-sex, so standing or sprinting, it exudes a powerful presence and looks like nothing else on the roads, especially with its sexy, dihedral doors raised in defiance against the supercar establishment as they open from just above the occupants’ heads.

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To achieve its clean lines, the side air intakes are found under the ‘second’ skin of its doors, which appears smooth as silk to outward appearances. The digital LED headlights too, aren’t as awkward as you’d imagine, because there’s a beguiling depth and texture to them in person that transcends the impression of ‘bulging sockets’ that you might get from just looking at photos.

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It’s just as exotic under the skin too, because the 720S features the brand’s rigid and strong carbonfibre tub, the Monocage II, a motorsports-derived highlight that serves as point of focus for the entire car. In the 650S, the Monocell stopped at the glasshouse, but for the 720S, the carbonfibre extends all the way to the roof for added structural rigidity and weight savings – this permits the creation of elegant, ultra-slim roof pillars to complement the gorgeous teardrop ‘canopy’, or ‘fighter cockpit’ as we like to think of it. Think the Monocage II is just a bit of flash? Well, we personally know of two friends who have walked away from bad accidents in a MP4-12C and 650S, and that was only the first iteration of McLaren’s carbonfibre tub...

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Out and about in the 720S, you can feel all eyes on the car, probably because sharing road space with something this otherworldly is so surreal you need to keep watching it in case it fades to black and disappears.

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The 720S is more than capable of disappearing in a jiffy though, and it’ll do it so quickly you could even think it was a figment of your imagination!

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The storming response from the 720S’s ‘M840T’ biturbo 4.0 V8 working together with the 7spd dual-clutch gearbox literally takes your breath away, because you barely have time to gobble down a gulp of air before the turbos spool up and deliver their eye-watering performance.

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At full pelt, the 720S doesn’t make the same melodic music as the 488 (and we can’t imagine why the Sports Exhaust is an optional item and not standard on the 720S), instead it creates a swirling vortex of unadulterated sound that drowns out everything in its wake.

The soundtrack isn’t stupor-inducing, but bristling with belligerence to intimidate and warn those outside, yet rousing enough to inspire the driver in the eye of this perfect storm to constantly challenge the limits of both man and machine.

We certainly found the 720S to be far more open to dynamic advances than its somewhat clinical 650S predecessor, and it proves to be intriguing eye-candy, makes all the right noises and has the performance to back itself up.

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The 720S is as frisky as a young pup out on the trail and keen to engage the driver beyond just a ‘fastest lap-time’ relationship – it’s always up for fun and maintains a constant stream of chatter between road to steering wheel to driver. It’s possible to drive it as precisely or as ‘loosely’ as you like, but then again, we have a penchant for 50 shades of grey instead of boring black-and-white, because slow-in-fast-out isn’t always the most fun way through a corner!

McLaren clearly recognises its owners don’t always want to go fast-faster-fastest – which was how the original MP4-12C was set-up – but possibly pose or hoon around as well. To that end, it has even included an Instagram-worthy Variable Drift Control interface that lets the driver control the car’s angle of slip using an idiot-proof graphical slider, although we should qualify that the system only controls the angle, not the recovery; naturally, more experienced drivers will control the angle of drift with the throttle, but the VDC is a nice novelty touch for those also impressed by things like ‘Drift Mode’ or ‘Smokey Burnout Mode’.

That having said, we’re huge fans of the 675LT, especially around the track, and the 720S gives us that same impression of speed, albeit with the raw, visceral feel of the former tuned down to better suit daily drive sensibilities, which definitely bodes well for a ‘LT’ version of the car.

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Best of all, the driver interface on the 720S is greatly improved over the 650S (and 12C), so it’s possible to change driving modes via the Active Panel that is now easily within reach and on the same axis as the steering wheel, even in the face of the huge gs the new car is capable of pulling.

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At first glance, the car’s Foldable Driver Display party trick straddles that fine line between function and flash, but it’s a Godsend when you’re tackling fast winding roads.

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The upright eight-inch TFT full panel flips silently down to present you with an even less obstructed view of the road ahead, with the slim profile strip displaying only the bare necessities: gear, speed and revs. As you duck and dive the car through its paces and focus on brake, throttle and steer, it’s almost as though it’s just you, the car and the open winding road ahead.

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The 720S is a feisty, fearsome Mc-package that sets a new (high) bar for the brand with its stunning combination of exotic looks, sharply balanced chassis and explosive, heart-stopping performance.

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If you’re one of those who thought piloting a McLaren was a clinical experience or it looked too much like a posh Lotus, you might want to revisit the spicy 720S… we promise you won’t have to contend with a ring of fire.

Photos Zotiq Visuals

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McLaren 720S
Engine 3994cc, V8, biturbo
Power/rpm 710hp/7500rpm
Torque/rpm 770Nm/5500rpm
Transmission 7spd SSG dual-clutch
Top Speed 341km/h
0-100km/h 2.9secs
Fuel consumption 10.7l/100km
CO2 249g/km

David Khoo
Author: David Khoo
David is a big petrolhead who has been dabbling in the car trade since 2001 and currently oversees Top Gear Singapore. His stories often take an eclectic slant from the predictable, and he's able to craft a compelling read that lets you see the cars (often old!) in a new light.