It was bold of McLaren to suffix its actual product name with ‘GT.’ Was the GT set to take the fight to the traditional GT defenders the Bentley Continental GT and the sales-slaying 911?
In a word – no, not really. The McLaren GT is not a traditional GT as it were. It is in fact, quite spot on the McLaren road car recipe sporting a mid-engine twin turbo V8; 2-seat, carbon fibre monocoque and rear wheel drive. It is in McLaren’s words, a GT ‘re-imagined’.
It’s my first experience behind the seat of a McLaren and I’m glad it is this one because I’ve only heard of or read about the ferocity of the 720S for instance and I’d rather opt for something slightly less manic as my baptism into McLaren motoring. At a glance it doesn’t feel as proportionately put together as McLaren’s other cars. The bumper pieces fore and aft are wider and the sweptback profile definitely sports more GT-esque lines. I’d describe it as a more classic interpretation of supercar beauty, eye-catching no doubt but considerably different to what you may have been used from the Woking outfit.
The GT is indeed larger than its siblings all-round and it does offer a higher level of luxury, GT mod cons and of course more space but the space equation comes at something of a sacrifice. The McLaren GT sports a front storage area that will house 150-litres – a small weekend bag and a smaller carry-on perhaps? Then the rear compartment underneath the glazed, electronically-controlled engine cover has 270-litres more. McLaren is quick to point out that this will fit a golf bag, a guitar(?) or a set of skis – what do all these have in common? They’re thin and long and that’s not what I’d be packing on my weekend away. The area itself is awkwardly packaged and traditional baggage proportions don’t work well here, not to mention the difficulty in trying to pack the items in mainly because it’s a stretch from either the front or from the back. First-world problems I guess.
The cabin is McLaren’s take on luxury and clutter-free ergonomics. I like the clean nature of the architecture, the exposed metallic surfaces that contrast with the mix of leather and Alcantara trim. There’s no wood trim. The switchgear is intuitive and simple to operate but there isn’t much in the way of storage space apart from a tiny bin under the armrest and a tiny cubby hole. It feels very much like a supercar in here with less GT-ness than I expected.
That said, the driving position is absolutely perfect, snugly positioned within easy reach of the minimalist switchgear and with fair visibility for the company we’re in. Those dihedral doors are just magic.
Directly behind the two seats lies a V8, 4.0-litre, twin-turbocharged engine that is capable of revving to 8,500rpm. It unleashes 456kW of fury directed to the rear wheels via a 7-speed Seamless Shift transmission. 630Nm of torque is available between 5,500 – 6,500rpm. Juice the throttle from standstill and barring a small breath from the turbos you’ll blast past 100kph in 3,2-seconds, 200kph in 9-seconds and on to a 326kph top end. Speed is despatched in a storm of classic McLaren noise which is exciting, but not as intoxicating as some Italian McLaren competition.
The McLaren GT’s double wishbone suspension has softer spring settings and anti-roll bars for commanding dynamic ability within a more compliant ride. It’s remarkably comfortable even on the bumpy outskirts of Joburg’s northern country roads. The GT has more damping and vibration control measures than other Macs and whilst there are quieter and softer traditional GTs out there, this can quite happily do a long-haul trek without intrusive road noise.
The GT has driver-controlled chassis and powertrain modes to change the characteristics of the car. Depress these to Sport or Track settings and the firm-up yields a highly competent corner slayer. The GT corners absolutely flat without a hint of body roll and that steering wheel is brilliant at communicating every single thing through to the driver. There’s a dexterity to the chassis that breeds confidence to stay close to the edge of the P-Zero’s adhesion. Praise must be heaped on the dynamic traction control system that isn’t the harsh and intrusive power-deadening party pooper that you can experience in other cars.
The driving experience is much more involving and supercar-like than I’d expected. The chassis, steering, engine and transmission work wonderfully to give you blistering supercar pace within a package that can be used daily without the worry of scraping bumpers or painful ride quality.
Owner considerations at this level draw more from the additional choice that is available in South Africa. Daytona SA, the local distributor of McLaren cars has enjoyed a solid proliferation of McLaren owners since they took on the brand but I’d hazard that the group enjoys quite a few owners sampling each brand available in the stable before possibly settling on that car-type that they enjoy.
The modern McLaren isn’t for everyone owing to its very focused nature and product. The way the company engineers its cars is indeed, different to most including things like design, interior appointments et al.
But for those focused on pure performance and agility, the brand is simply superb – the McLaren GT included. But my time with it made me wonder if possible owners would not just opt for something even sharper both literally and figuratively. Don’t get me wrong, this GT is stonkingly fast but its GT-ness might not be on par with owner needs.
The McLaren GT is quite frankly, a highly accomplished supercar with much less of a GT nature than its name might suggest. It’s immensely powerful, eye-wateringly fast and pin-point sharp, in addition to adopting a wider usability than some other Macs in the stable.
But if you were intrigued by the name because you’re looking for a true GT - perhaps consider other options. If you’re hell bent on the brand and really looking for McLaren’s take on a GT, you won’t be left dejected. At all.