Thursday 17th October 2019
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First drive: McLaren GT. Image by McLaren.

First drive: McLaren GT
McLaren tries to spin a Grand Tourer off its supercar underpinnings. And it doesn’t quite hit the bullseye…

 



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McLaren GT

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McLaren wants to diversify its product portfolio by no fewer than 18 new models by 2025, in an investment worth £1.2 billion, and - for the first time since it came up with the Sports, Super and Ultimate Series for its products - it is stepping outside that framework with a grand tourer. Which it has called, er... Grand Tourer. But can the McLaren GT really convince as a GT? With a carbon tub, two seats and its engine in the middle? Is this truly a new way of Grand Touring?

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: McLaren GT
Pricing: GT from £163,000, car as tested £196,790
Engine: 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 petrol
Transmission: rear-wheel drive, seven-speed SSG automatic
Body style: two-door GT
CO2 emissions: 270g/km (VED Band Over 255: £2,135 first 12 months, then £465 per annum years two to six of ownership, then £145 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 23.7mpg
Top speed: 203mph
0-62mph: 3.2 seconds
Power: 620hp at 7,500rpm
Torque: 630Nm at 5,500-6,500rpm
Boot space: 570 litres (150 litres front, 420 litres rear)

What's this?

McLaren, trying to do something a bit new. Like all manufacturers, the Woking-based crew has realised it has to diversify into new marketplaces (don't worry, we're not about to mention the words 'McLaren SUV'...) if it is to prosper in the coming five to ten years, and so it cannot just keep making what are pretty blinding super- and hypercars alone. However, rummaging around in its 'Box O' Bits', what it has as the building blocks with which to create a new Grand Tourer, or GT, is the same MonoCell II carbon-fibre chassis, the same sort of swoopy bodywork and the same 4.0-litre, biturbo V8 petrol engine as you'll find in its existing range.

Tweaks to both the chassis and the motor have caused McLaren to christen them MonoCell II-T and the M840TE, claiming that both are new and bespoke-calibrated for the GT, and the marque has also had a go at boosting the interior space. To start with, it's larger outside, as the 4,683mm-long GT is the longest thing the company makes, save for the impending Speedtail, and it has practically Skoda Octavia Estate-rivalling quoted boot space at 570 litres.

But some words of caution here. One, this is split across two boots, one in the front (150 litres) and another in the back (420 litres). Two, while the front boot is excellent for what it is and easily better than anything comparable, the larger rear cargo area is an odd shape, as it is squeezed behind the pair of chairs and straddling the mid-mounted V8. McLaren has recognised that the heat generated by a twin-turbo, 620hp motor and its big exhausts might feasibly cook whatever expensive produce customers might load into the back of the GT, so it has fitted an 'air blanket' arrangement above the engine cover which apparently means that the load bay never exceeds 40 degrees Centigrade, even if you're thrashing the car in very hot weather. Although, as you're no doubt thinking already, 40 deg C is still pretty toasty, so perhaps don't put those finest Swiss chocolates in the back and then, in the height of summer, drive back to Blighty flat knacker, eh?

McLaren does say that skis and golf bags will go in the back, but one assistant was slightly concerned when our driving colleague went to put a rigid-body airline case, no bigger than hand luggage, in the very back of the boot; there was a suspicion it might not allow the electrically operated boot (a cost option) to close. It did, just about, but packing big suitcases for a nice cruise across the Continent is clearly not going to be possible, and as that's probably the reason well-heeled people would choose to drive instead of fly in the first place, it seems like an oversight on Woking's part.

Still, the GT looks good on the outside. Darker colours suit it better, such as the Namaka Blue of our test vehicle, but it's imposing and nicely proportioned no matter what paint finish you go for. Aesthetically, the rear, with its super-slim lights and big twin exhausts poking out, is fabulous; the front, a touch apologetic and 'meh', is less convincing. Inside, there's an updated McLaren Infotainment System II (MIS II) to deal with, which is better than what went before without suddenly becoming a class-leading human-machine interface, and reasonably nice fixtures and fittings (we adore McLaren's machined metal column stalks and its slightly flattened but beautifully proportioned steering wheel with cool-to-the-touch shift paddles) to play with, but ingress/egress through the show-stopping scissor doors and over the MonoCell's side spars is not the most elegant of procedures. Very posh ladies in skirts/dresses might not be thrilled climbing in and out of it, let's put it that way.

Power from the M840TE is pegged at 620hp at a lofty 7,500rpm, while maximum torque of 630Nm arrives at 5,500rpm and stays around until 6,500rpm arrives. That's peaky and more 'supercar' than 'GT' on paper, although McLaren says 95 per cent of it (599Nm) is available from 3,000-7,250rpm. The necessary additional sound-deadening fitted to the GT to make it more of a, er, GT means that, at 1,530kg, it's McLaren's heaviest road car yet; and a good 300kg or so above some of the similarly powered Sports and Super Series models the company makes. Nevertheless, it's also a whopping 800 kilos (which might as well be a small planet, in terms of performance) down on the likes of the massive Bentley Continental GT and a 405hp-per-tonne PWR means the Macca can lay claim to 0-62mph in 3.2 seconds, 0-124mph in nine seconds dead and a top speed 3mph north of the double-ton. In theory, then, it's monster-quick and McLaren is making big noises about its practicality and comfort on other scenarios; can it live up to expectations?

How does it drive?

Ah. Right. Now. Before we begin, let's remember that the pioneering McLaren, which was actually the MP4-12C of 2011 (the F1 of 1992 was really a standalone project of McLaren Cars, where as the modern-day company, McLaren Automotive, started trading in 2010), did not exactly set the critical world afire when it arrived. Phenomenally quick and daily usable, it was nevertheless cited as being a bit too cold and remote in terms of feel and excitement.

And McLaren quickly fixed it, developing later 12C models into more thrilling machines, while it then began the three disparate Series mentioned above and gave us such majestic creations as the 600LT, 720S, Senna and P1, among many more.

So when we say the GT is a rare 'miss' for this company, we accept it is early days and the engineering genii down at Woking will probably soon refine it into something far better. The problem right now, though, is that - to make a clumsy analogy - the GT is trying to be a wolf in sheep's clothing, and this trans-species fancy-dress obfuscation doesn't work. The bones of the GT's supercar underpinnings are all too obvious underneath a thin veneer of GT-ism. And, in trying to soften down its usual offerings into a grand tourer, McLaren has left this car stuck between two stools. It is neither a convincing performance machine, nor an unsurpassable GT.

There's much to like, and we don't doubt McLaren will find plenty of customers who will love this car with every fibre of their being. The steering is McLaren-magnificent, all sharp and feelsome without being overly hyper or aggressive. The SSG seven-speed gearbox is smooth in operation and quick-witted when you need it to be. The ride quality is more than acceptable on a car which has a carbon-fibre chassis and 20-inch front, 21-inch rear wheels, while wind noise is well suppressed too. McLaren always ensures its vehicles have superb all-round visibility and the GT is no exception, because even with its nice, low seating position, the view out over the low bonnet and scuttle is as good as a hatchback's (if not superior), while there are no real blind spots around the car. And when you work the M840TE hard, it is indeed a quick machine that commands a bit of respect.

But maybe not as subjectively quick-feeling as the on-paper numbers suggest. Fully lit, it doesn't quite have the lumbar-punch that the 3.2-second 0-62mph time might suggest, while it can easily get bogged down and feel laggy if you make it labour in a high gear at what are only middling revs. Rivals have more in-gear flexibility than this thing, which makes them more relaxing to drive because you're less busy at the wheel trying to get the pace out of the car. It also doesn't sound very good, even at the upper reaches of the tacho; McLaren's V8s have never won the highest praise for sonics but here, in this application, it can come across as particularly dull at lower revs - rather like a blown four, rather than a force-fed V8 - and there's an oft-heard droning resonance to the exhaust when you're off the throttle at open-roads speeds in a high gear.

Then we must return to the ride and refinement. While the damping is pretty good in and of itself, with a firm-edged gait but impressive control, the suspension is noisy. Thumps and clonks from the rear turrets are amplified by the carbon MonoCell tub, to the degree that the car is just too loud as it deals with craggy road surfaces at town speeds. Tyre roar is also elevated on the move, the sound echoing round the rear boot cavity and into the cabin, while our luggage was audible squeaking and rattling where it sat. Maybe a glass partition between the seats and the boot would work wonders here...

So, what with the booming exhaust, the clunking suspension, the chattering rubber and the fidgeting sounds of stashed baggage, it's not exactly a seminal GT experience in the GT. Furthermore, with a full tank of fuel, the range read-out spent the entire day hovering around 300km (186 miles); a couple of strops saw it drop down to more like 125-150 miles, while a bit of cruising pushed it up towards more like 250 miles. But the reality is that the vast tanks on rivals will allow such machines to do 400 or 500 miles in one hit, any self-respecting GT's very raison d'être, and if you ask posh people whether they'd rather fill up once for £150 or fill up twice for £75 a time, they'll pick the former every day of the week. The Macca's fuel range simply isn't good enough for a Grand Tourer.

The handling, conversely, is pretty sharp, although it's obviously fuzzier around the edges and less keen to turn in than McLaren's existing, sports-biased portfolio. So trying to imagine a 720S driver giving up the keys to their machine on the basis of a GT test drive is kind of hard to do. In summary, then, the McLaren GT is just a bit confused about precisely what sort of vehicle it wants to be. And confused cars are rarely excellent cars.

Verdict

As a first attempt at a GT from a company known for making supercars, and based on those very supercars' underpinnings, this new McLaren is a fair effort. But, on this showing, it doesn't feel up to matching the long-established GT pack leaders in this rarefied high-expense arena, while it doesn't offer the driver engagement of McLaren's own sports cars. Some refining of the package may therefore be needed to put McLaren on the right path for Track25 and to turn the GT into something to be desired, rather than merely quietly admired.

4 4 4 4 4 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

3 3 3 3 3 Passenger Space

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Luggage Space

4 4 4 4 4 Safety

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Comfort

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Driving Dynamics

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 17 Sep 2019









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