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International First Drive - McLaren Artura

The Artura is McLaren's newest car since the 12C

Lerato Matebese
August 29, 2022
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McLaren Automotive celebrated a decade in SA in 2021 and we here at TopGear SA Magazine are privileged to not only have been able to commemorate this auspicious occasion but also to have been there from the onset to document it. A great deal has happened since then, but the biggest takeaway was that, indeed, McLaren is an ambitious sports car brand. 

While the MP4-12C – later dubbed just 12C – was the seminal car in the new era of McLaren Automotive's product portfolio back in 2011, it was perhaps the P1 Hybrid Hypercar a year later that got the competition to sit up and pay more attention. Here was a lightweight (1,395 kg dry weight) carbon fibre-hewn hypercar with biblical outputs totalling 674 kW and 900 Nm. It was quite the marvel and remains an icon even by today's standards.

Of course, such learnings have influenced the future of the brand's products, which have culminated in the company's newest car since the 12C, the new Artura. Decidedly replacing the Series range of sports cars in the firm's lineup, the Artura is the proverbial step forward and the next chapter in the company's electrified future ambitions. You see, many of the Woking outfit's future models will be spun off the Artura's modular platform, so a lot is riding on this first model out of the starting blocks. As such, we travelled to Mallorca, Spain, to sample the new model ourselves to draw our own conclusions as to whether the company has done enough to push the performance envelope.

But before that let us address the elephant in the room – the all too familiar styling. Many will argue that the overall silhouette and facade of the Artura are akin to the outgoing 570 S with hints of the 720 S up front. Yes, I can definitely see the comparison, but then again, McLaren seems to have found its own design language that threads through its entire product range. Those familiar design elements aside, though, the Artura couldn't be more different from everything that came before it.

For starters, it is the first model to feature a V6 powerplant in the modern McLaren lineup - previously V8 - and also the first series-produced hybrid supercar from the brand. Also, the entire package is in-house developed and produced, including the carbon fibre tub, engine and hybrid system. Of course, adding electric power means an onboard battery pack, which inherently adds more weight to the vehicle.

To try and counter this, McLaren implemented a demanding programme of weight reduction, encompassing every area of the Artura; from the chassis platform (the debut of the new McLaren Carbon Lightweight Architecture [MCLA]) to the uniquely compact HPH powertrain system, to the weight of cabling used in the electrical systems (where a 10% reduction was achieved). As a result, the Artura has a lightest dry weight of 1,395 kg. The total weight of the hybrid components – which include an 88 kg battery pack and a 15.4 kg E-motor – is just 130 kg. This helps deliver a kerb weight of 1,498 kg, which is only 28 kg heavier than the similarly-packaged Ferrari 296 GTB. There are also some clever manufacturing processes used. For instance, the a-pillars, roof, and rear buttresses are a single-mould carbon fibre piece. This not only contributes to a lighter-weight construction, but also eliminates any shut lines that cause more wind noise, ultimately giving the car a significantly cleaner design.

The Artura features a new, 3.0-litre V6 twin-turbo engine (codenamed M630) that, at 160 kg, is 50 kg lighter than the outgoing V8 and is significantly more compact for efficient packaging. It also boasts a wide 120-degree V-angle layout that houses the two turbos, further enhancing packaging. It is an energy-dense engine, delivering 430 kW and 585 Nm and revs up to 8,500 r/min, which is quite impressive, no matter how you slice it. This is augmented by a 7.4 kWh battery pack with 70 kW and 225 Nm, which allows up to 31 km of electric-only propulsion at speeds of up to 130 km/h. It takes 2.5 hours to power the battery up to 80% via an EV cable. In case you were wondering, it isn't calibrated for an EV DC fast-charger, only AC.

The combined power output is 500 kW and 720 Nm, going to the rear wheels via a new 8-speed dual-clutch transmission. There's no reverse gear, so the electric motor doubles as a "reverse gear", while the Artura is also the first modern-day McLaren to feature an eLSD, meaning maximum grip, but also more sideways, drift fun should the mood take you. There are Pirelli P-Zero model-specific tyres fitted to the Artura and feature an embedded sensor that monitors the tyre pressure and actual temperature of the tyre. You're probably thinking, well, that's nothing new now, is it? Well, let me elucidate. You see, current systems are located on the rim and therefore measure the rim's temperature, which is greatly influenced by the heat from the brakes. The Pirelli system solely measures the rubber temperature, giving a more accurate reading.

Speaking of temperature, the Artura's engine bay has been further optimised to dispense with heat, which can reach temperatures of up to 900 degrees Celsius. A chimney-like heat dissipator contraption has been engineered into the rear engine deck. That technical lecture aside, what you want to know is how does the thing drive, and is it worth considering among the current crop of supercars? Sure, we can get into that, but first, let's open the driver's dihedral door and sink into the low-slung cabin.

The layout and architecture is similar to the outgoing models, save for the new instrument binnacle, which now also houses the drive modes and aero via toggle switches on either side. Another update points to the infotainment screen, which is now more angled toward the driver and features Apple CarPlay and physical shortcut buttons for easier navigation.

Firing up the engine via the starter button can be a silent matter, depending on the drive mode. E-mode allows for silent travel without annoying your neighbours with a loud start-up, as you slink onto the road. As mentioned earlier, you can travel in this mode for 31 km at speeds up to 130 km/h and the combustion engine will remain off until you switch driving modes.

The transition can be done on-the-fly and as I came to experience during my drive out of Mallorca towards the Ascari racetrack, there are some glitches in the system that require some ironing-out. My press test car experienced some gearbox electronic gremlins, which required me to stop by the side of the road before a replacement car was swiftly dispatched. From there on, I could experience the Artura with no foibles in sight.

The first thing that grabbed my attention with the combustion engine running as well, is the instant torque aided by the electric motor "torque filling" at the bottom of the rev range where there'd be turbo lag. Mind you, this is still in Comfort mode, which is for everyday driving. Switching things up to Sport, Sport+ or Track truly livens things up and the Artura feels more like the supercar it is. Thoroughly quick. The pace is a testament to the performance numbers; 0-100 km/h in 3.0 seconds (mind you, it's only RWD), 0-200 km/h comes up in 8.3 seconds, 0-300 km/h in 21.5 seconds, and only calls it quits at 330 km/h.

I start threading it through a series of switchbacks on a mountain pass and it delivers on the driver enjoyment front. The view through the windscreen is typically McLaren good, while that hydraulic steering has a tactile, granular feel to it and is as communicative and analogue as they come. Those carbon ceramic brakes require proper warming up to increase their bite, but they never quite came alive with the initial bite not feeling as incisive as I would like, therefore arriving at a corner a little quicker than you intended. While there is no regenerative braking in favour of a natural brake pedal feel, I reckon the brakes need a little bit more calibration to inspire even more confidence.

In-gear acceleration is good; however, I cannot help but feel that the potential of the powerplant has been sand-bagged, perhaps to give the current 720 S some breathing space, including that car's replacement, which will come sometime down the line and brandish a similar engine layout. The Artura's torque delivery is linear for the most part, and so immense that even revving out the engine is more for driver enjoyment than eking out more performance from the engine. Not a bad thing. If there's anything I'd have preferred, it was a much louder exhaust note, as the ones fitted to our press cars just didn't quite hit the right notes, if I'm honest. As a road car, the Artura is very good, and surprisingly comfortable, even with the Clubsport bucket seats with their electrical tilting adjustment.

I finally arrive at my destination – the Ascari resort circuit in Ronda, Malaga. A private racetrack that was recently refurbished with fresh tarmac, is quite a technical track and excellent for exposing a car's dynamic abilities, or lack thereof. Placing the vehicle in Track mode and nosing it onto the track, it's the front-end grip that's pronounced, feeling prodigious right off the bat. Once again, there is so much torque from the drivetrain that third gear is more than sufficient to negotiate slower corners. That lightweight carbon fibre chassis truly shines here and gives the Artura a satisfyingly rigid structure that translates to incredible body control. The shortcomings of the brakes out on the road were less pronounced here, surprisingly.

Having experienced the Artura both on the road and on track, it is a well-rounded package with a technologically-advanced and competent powerplant that we are more than likely to see in future McLaren products. While the product might not feel all that well polished, any early gremlins, according to a McLaren spokesperson, will be ironed out by the time customer vehicles arrive in SA in September. As a series hybrid supercar, the Artura looks poised to catapult the Woking brand into a new era of dawn.

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