McLaren’s 750S Redefines the Supercar Benchmark: Experiencing the First Drive in Portugal

    The Ultimate Supercar: McLaren 750S Takes Performance to New Heights

    I’m going to start, arguably, in the wrong place with this first-drive overview of the new McLaren 750S. That it is a world beater is perhaps unsurprising. That its ferocious performance (peak power of 551kW (or 750PS, hence the nomenclature) and torque of 800Nm; zero to 100km/h in 2.8 seconds and 0-200km/h in just 7.2 seconds) is visceral and analogue and so, so tangible from your fingertips to your backside, is, likewise, not altogether startling.

    This is the 750S after all: the successor to, in this writer’s humble opinion, the best McLaren ever, the 720S. This is, make no mistake, a headline sort of car. And the headlines scream FFFFFWOAR!!! With three exclamation points.

    But here’s the thing most won’t mention about McLaren’s new top-shelf Coupe/Spider: in every respect it is the product of a supremely confident carmaker. Not just in terms of its performance on a twisting mountain road. But in every other respect as well.

    From the way it produces feedback to the driver, to the way the driver is cocooned in the seat, to the layout of controls at the driver’s fingertips, to the sound emanating from behind the driver’s head, to the way it looks whether at standstill or in a blur of speed, this is a masterful car.

    And while it’s the product of a confident company (a company of people who genuinely cherish creating these things), the McLaren 750S also inspires confidence behind the wheel. It roars like a lion but it’s a bit of a pussycat when you want it to be. It’s not a supercar that always feels so taut it might ‘snap’ at any minute and pirouette you into a hedge. It’s compliant, endlessly configurable, and yes: comfortable.

    Technically, this is more evolution than revolution for the Woking firm. Around 30% of 750S components are either new or changed from the 720S. But in terms of usability, the 750S feels like a 100% turnaround.

    Despite the monstrous pedigree and performance of this car, it’s the little things that delight. For example, the button for the vehicle-lift system which raises the nose (and only takes four seconds to do so compared to the 10 seconds it took in a 720S) is now easily accessible on the dashboard rather than a fiddly lever under the steering column.

    Then there’s what McLaren Chief Engineer, Sandy Holford, refers to as the ‘Speedy Kiwi’ button, featuring the iconic racing Kiwi silhouette which graced Bruce McLaren’s race cars in the 1960s. This allows the driver to personalise their 750S driving experience by storing bespoke dynamic preferences – a favoured combination of aero, handling, powertrain, and transmission settings – which can all instantly be recalled with a push of the button.

    In the Spider version, the sliver of rear window behind the occupants’ heads can be lowered independently of the auto-folding roof, so that sonorous twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 sound can be enjoyed without getting sunburnt (although the glass in the folding hard-top is also chromatic and, like magic, can tint at the touch of a button).

    In fact, the 750S Spider was, for me, the real revelation at the new model’s international media launch, which was held around the mountain roads behind the Portuguese seaside town of Cascais and at the Circuito Do Estoril racetrack during November.

    Designed with the same focus on minimising weight as the coupe, the Spider takes the same template and features a bespoke rear upper structure to the monocoque, constructed from carbon fibre. But such is the strength of the carbon fibre monocoque that no additional reinforcement is needed. This ensures the 750S Spider is still impressive on the scales, with its lightest dry weight of 1326kg: just 49kg heavier than the coupé (the 750S is 30kg lighter than the 720S).

    McLaren’s dedication to lightweight engineering is legendary. Examples here? The carbon fibre-shelled racing seats (there are three different seat options available) are a combined 17.5kg lighter than the base seats in a 720S. The new 10-spoke ultra-lightweight forged wheels are the lightest ever fitted as standard on a series-production McLaren and save 13.8kg. The new driver instrument display is lighter by 1.8kg. Even the windscreen glass contributes to weight reduction, providing a 1.6kg saving.

    All this weight saving, yet the 750S feels solid, and suctioned to the road. It has heft in a good way, yet it is also more agile than the car it replaces, with better front-end grip (helped by a 6mm wider front track and new suspension geometry) and McLaren’s electro-hydraulic steering, providing precision and clarity of feedback and now having a faster steering ratio and new power-assistance pump.

    The first question engineer Holford asks me on my return from a drive loop through the hills in the Spider isn’t about speed or cornering ability. He asks me about cobblestones. The McLaren team had deliberately not mentioned that, right when we least expected it around 30km into the drive loop, the centre of a small town would have to be negotiated – an ancient old town with cobbled streets. It says a lot about the 750S’s impressive engineering that its sports-honed suspension and bespoke twin-valve dampers soaked up the surface without any fuss. And I was still in ‘Sport’ mode.

    Similarly, somehow the designers have improved the ramp-over geometry of the new front bumper and splitter so that, while handily fast to deploy, the nose lifter wasn’t needed even when negotiating speed humps at the entrance to a national park on the drive route. All this ‘everyday usability’ from the lowest, meanest, shouty supercar that McLaren manufactures.

    Okay, no one is going to buy a 750S to commute to work in every day. But you genuinely could if you wanted to, and not arrive at your destination in a crumpled, frazzled mess. That in itself says as much about the brilliance of this car as does its on-track agility and mesmerising power.

    Lift the dihedral doors (impressively light to manoeuvre and a great piece of theatre) and inside the 750S, everything is more focused around the driver. McLaren set out to ensure the driver is at the centre of everything in the cabin. And it’s true: when viewed from above the car, the 750S driver very literally sits in the centre of the supercar’s beautiful teardrop shape that tapers to a focal point near the new central-exit exhaust.

    The touchscreen and instrumentation are intuitive to use after a quick demo. Newly updated for the 750S, cynics will even rejoice that Apple CarPlay is now standard. The instrument display is fitted to (and moves with) the steering column, with the top of the binnacle housing the controls to select powertrain and handling modes on either side, like in the Artura. It’s easy to reach the controls without taking your hands off the steering wheel and is ergonomic simplicity at its best. Toggling between Comfort, Sport and Track Active Dynamic settings while keeping focused on the road ahead is easy as a result.

    Again, it’s these advances which impress as much as the refined aero, the increase in downforce through the new extended rear wing, or the fact the engine is visible through a double-glazed panel in the engine cover.

    I’m not going to put my hand up and say I can compare the 750S to absolutely every competitor in this rarified segment. Despite being privileged enough to take the wheel of such special hardware on occasion, there remain reasonable gaps in my knowledge base (especially where certain Italian brands are concerned). However, I will put my hand up and say this is quite simply the best supercar I have ever driven.

    The McLaren 750S combines so many incremental advances – in weight-saving, powertrain performance, aerodynamics, on-road agility, and driver feedback and tactility – that it surpasses everything else. This is a supercar born of supreme confidence in ability on the part of its makers. As a result, it delivers the quintessential supercar experience, but elevated to new heights.

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