The Top Gear car review: McLaren 765LT 'Longtail'

By topgear, 30 September 2020

Overview

What is it?

You know the drill. LT is to McLaren what RS is to Porsche. Lighten, sharpen, intensify. It’s a formula McLaren has got down pat now.

There have been two LT models before, the 675LT in 2015 and the 600LT in 2018 and both were utterly tremendous, not only great on track, but arguably just as rewarding on the road.

There’s little variation from the basic template this time round. The 765LT has another 45hp over the 720S it’s based on and is 80kg lighter.

According to most measures, the carbon-tubbed 1,419kg 720S is already the lightest car in its class.

Taking 80kg out of it is not the work of a moment. Rather than bore you with every weight loss detail, here are a couple of highlights.

The 720S has stowage compartments in the upward opening doors. Replacing those would save weight, but it took a few goes to get right so your phone wouldn’t fall out when the doors were raised. End result: elasticated nets that save 800g. One per cent of the total.

Thinner glass for the windscreen accounts for 1.7kg, polycarbonate glass round the back a further 4.3kg. The big ticket items are the seats, wheels, open aluminium mesh on the back deck and titanium exhaust.

You can go lower than 1,339kg by visiting MSO – McLaren Special Operations – who, for a tidy sum, will replace the standard outer door skin and rear bumper with carbon panels, saving 7kg.

Only you will know because the panels are painted. Maybe do that to offset speccing the no-cost air con.

Downforce is increased by 25 per cent over the 720S, although McLaren won’t talk actual numbers because this, unlike the Senna, is not a downforce car. Still, the rear wing now has 50 per cent more surface area and sits 60mm high on the back deck.

Up front the ride height has been dropped 5mm, the track width increased 6mm and all sorts of suspension fiddling and fettling has occurred.

There’s now a helper spring in addition to the main spring, a stiffer torsion bar, a quicker steering rack and new suspension algorithms.

The brake calipers are from the Senna, and if you top up some cash, you can have its big brother’s discs as well.

Those, 60 per cent stronger than conventional carbon ceramics and with four times the thermal conductivity, take seven months to create, including three months baking in an oven at over 1000 centigrade.

The engine is probably the least remarkable thing about the 765LT. The piston and gasket design has been changed and the fuel and oil systems uprated to help deliver a total of 765hp.

The torque peak of 800Nm at 5,500rpm is only up 30Nm. More importantly McLaren claims to have improved the torque response – vital given Ferrari’s ability in that area.

With a power to weight ratio of 564bhp/tonne, plus a shorter final drive ratio to stack the gears more closely, the 765LT is a hell of a sprinter.

On the standard Trofeo R tyres it’ll hit 100km/h in 2.8secs, 200km/h in 7.0secs and do the standing quarter mile in 9.9secs. To 300km/h, its time of 18.0secs puts it 3.4secs ahead of the 720S. Maximum speed is 330km/h.

Overall it’s 57mm longer than the 720S, the lion’s share (48mm) of that at the back. But that’s mainly a symbolic nod.

The letters, not the length, tell the story here. One of attention to detail and claims of maximum driver engagement.

In the flesh it’s a stunning looking thing, low, aggressive and angry, and its markup over the 720 looks reasonable compared to the amount Merc is charging for the forthcoming GT R Black Series – double a standard GT R.

765 are being built between now and early next year, and all of this year’s allocation are already spoken for.

No matter how good it is, the 765LT will not, cannot, have the impact of the original 675LT.

At the time that was the step change for McLaren, the car – over and above the P1 – that really put it on the map for driver enjoyment. If the 765 can live up to that, it’ll have done its job.

McLaren's third LT is its most ferocious yet. Take your brave pills and strap in

Driving 

What is it like on the road?

Intense. Want a one-word summary? That’ll do it. But so was the 675LT. The difference is that the 765LT is more aggressive and demanding. The 675LT fitted itself to you, the 765LT challenges you.

It is fearsomely, intimidatingly fast. The way it fires itself across the second half of the rev range, coloured LEDs lighting up as you home in on a limiter you wish would cut in now to give you some respite from the relentless shove, is deeply affecting.

Keeping your foot hard down is a challenge. There’s nothing superfluous about the noise, no sense of energy going to waste, no real sensation of the engine having to overcome weight, just this direct connection to the back axle as you accelerate, so you feel the forces, the tenseness in the drivetrain and compressed rear suspension, the immediacy of the gearchanges. It’s not a show-off, it’s just bloody implacable.

It feels faster than the Senna (and is faster to 200km/h and barely any slower to the markers below that), mostly because in that car the huge downforce is there as a traction and dynamic support. Here, the ride is wilder. We drove it at Anglesey, where if the track was anything other than bone dry and you were in any gear under fifth, sudden, violent wheelspin was a possibility. Certainly kept you on your toes. But you also had to keep it on the boil as well.

Despite McLaren’s claims to have reduced lag and improved response, the 4.0-litre twin turbo V8 doesn’t have the same low rev response as a Ferrari F8. There’s lag and inertia below 3,500rpm, after which it wakes up very suddenly.

In the dry you had to be circumspect coming out of medium speed corners in third or fourth. Keep the revs high for response, but ease the throttle on gently – easier said than done when the engine wants to hit so hard. The traction control has to work flat out. It manages very well, allowing a few degrees of slip and operating smoothly most of the time.

There’s no doubting the power of the brakes (our car had the Senna’s exotic uprated discs), their astonishing bite or incredible resistance to fade. If you were asking everything of them, they had your back. But go gently with them and the pedal felt inert and more snatchy to use, and even when braking hard the stopping force sometimes felt uneven.

This is a corollary of the suspension rather than the brakes. So stiff is the 765LT if you ramp it all the way up that it chatters and patters on what you thought was a perfectly smooth racetrack. Factor heavy braking into this, loading up the front suspension, and you get kickback and jinking. At Anglesey, it was best to soften the damper settings to try and smooth things out.

Doing that calmed down the steering a little. There’s no doubting the clarity of the signals you get back from the wheels – I can’t think of any other car of this type that has better steering feel and feedback – but rather than writhing gently to let you know what’s going on, sometimes the feedback was hectic.

Go max attack and it could be a physical wrestle. Tight corners were its weakness. It’s not that it understeers too badly, it’s that it doesn’t transfer from braking to accelerating smoothly enough. It was a bit scrappy, you had to bully it into the corner, and then manage it on the way out.

Through medium and fast stuff it was significantly better, more planted and capable, lateral grip never in doubt, a feeling that the tyre, aero and suspension were working toether. It turned in, exhibited vice-like grip and came firing out the other side.

But overall it felt like a car designed for a bigger stage. At Anglesey it tried to tear the track to pieces, but ended up feeling caged and responded by getting snappy. I suspect at a GP circuit it’ll be more together, but even there I’m not sure it’ll have the same beautiful flow that the 675LT had wherever it was driven.

It’s full-on, deeply exciting in its own way, but takes some managing. It’s a car you have to keep on top of, have to be confident with, but it doesn’t make that easy. The lines of communication are clear and short, but the signals coming back are occasionally confused. We kept adjusting settings looking for a sweet spot that was hard to find. The 765LT is not one for the faint-hearted.

On the inside 

Layout, finish and space

Open the door and you can sense weight has been saved. The dash trim looks leaner, there’s barely any padding about the place, the steering wheel is hard in your hands, the seat equally unyielding. Carbon and alcanatara dominate. The standard 720S is hardly plush, but the 765LT definitely hits a more pared back note.

The driving position is superb, the wheel lovely to hold, you’re sat low in the car, and although the fundamental controls and layout are the same, the vibrations and noise in here make it feel every inch the track car.

Aiding this was the cost-optional Clubsport Pro Pack (Senna seats, titanium harness bar and harnesses, three camera telemetry system, upgraded brake discs), plus enough optional carbon to keep McLaren’s new Sheffield facility buzzing for the next few months – this is the first car to have components made there. Not that that’s made them any less costly as an LT branded carbonfibre sill plate will still set you back 5 figures.

Practicality hasn’t suffered amongst all the weightsaving – if you want to use the 765LT for weekends away, it has the same 150-litre nose boot and 210-litre back deck behind the seats as the standard 720S. We haven’t driven it on the road yet, but it should be safe to point out your luggage will probably cope better with the journey than you.

One thing to bear in mind. Our car had a new feature – an optional clear engine cover on the back deck meant to put the engine on display. In reality it’s more of a porthole with little to gasp and point at on the other side. Save the $*** it costs.

Verdict 

Final thoughts and pick of the range

That the 765LT is hugely, shockingly fast and involving will come as no surprise. What might come as more of a surprise is that it mistakes aggression for driver engagement.

This is obviously a fine line to tread, but it’s a line the 675LT, and to a lesser extent the 600LT, trod confidently. Our suspicion is that the 765LT will prove mighty on a fast, open circuit but that’s kind of by the by, because the magical thing about the 675LT is that it was awesome to drive everywhere.

As yet, we haven’t driven the 765LT on road, but on track it didn’t flow as well as we hoped. It’s terrifically fast, looks fantastic, its focus on lightweighting is peerless, it felt connected and fed back information very successfully, but was slightly jagged in its manners, occasionally seemed to be fighting against its driver rather than flattering them.

It’s a harder charger than anything else in its segment, and some may like that, enjoy the challenge of keeping up with it, managing the occasional snatch and grab.

It has to be said that expectations were dizzyingly high for the 765LT, and by most measures it doesn’t fall far short of the standards set not only by previous LTs, but also the fabulous 720S itself. But for us an LT is more than just a track weapon, it needs to have a sense of flow as well as precision.

STORY Ollie Marriage

Related Articles