Ah. Slight wince. The 570GT looks pretty much like all the other face-bending McLarens – you post yourself low and through those doors like every other version – but when you fire it up, it doesn’t flare to life quite as verbally or excitingly as the rest. A more considered, thoughtful tone. And there’s something just not right about putting that much kit into a car like this – you keep thinking you’ve pushed bags out the other side by accident. And yet. And yet, when you pull out into traffic and encounter one of the UAE’s random selection of surprise speed bumps, the GT stoutly refuses to smash its own face off. You can see out of it – useful when the locals seem inordinately keen on approaching at speed from every conceivable angle, and when you accidentally and unavoidably lob a wheel into a pothole that would violently incapacitate most other cars, the GT thumps and keeps going. It’s soft, and relatively quiet. Several hours on an arrow-straight E65 motorway later, and I’m liking this featheredged vibe. It makes you less tense.
It does not, however, bode well for our first destination: the Empty Quarter. Head south out of Abu Dhabi, down towards Hamim, and you can turn right up towards the oasis town of Liwa. Head south again, and you will encounter the edge of the Empty Quarter and a road that spears off into the dunes towards Tal Mireb, or “Horrifying Hill”. Now, this massive 300-metre high dune on the Moreeb Dune road is where locals do a kind of vertical, sandy drag racing, which looks as dangerous as it sounds. But the road to get there is essentially a dead end that winds serpentine through the kind of desert panorama you see in nature films. Or Star Wars. When there are no events planned, it’s pretty much empty. Cue furious stabbing of buttons and twiddling of dials to get the 570 into Track mode, and the sound of silence being torn apart by a low-flying luggage trolley.
Two things become immediately apparent: one, this is still a McLaren, and even a “detuned” version of that 3.8 is still 562 perfectly shouty horsepower, and two: you really must secure the luggage in the rear hatch before you start to chuck the thing about. Or you’ll be nearly decapitated by a bag full of your own dirty underwear. The feeling that the GT might be a bit too conservative evaporates. Because this is not soothing. Flip the requisite dials to Track, and the GT will still hit 62mph in 3.4secs, 124 in 9.8 and smash 204mph. The standing quarter-mile matches (or beats, depending on who you talk to) that of the F1, at 11.1secs. You don’t get the active rear airbrake from the faster cars, and the GT moves around quite a lot more, but, hell yes, you can still pin your ears back if you need to.
More than that, you’re going at speeds at which your mind can cope. There’s more body roll and more pitching front-to-back than something like a 675LT, and consequently palpably slower cornering speeds, but somehow, there’s a bit more information about where the limits are. And here, the limits are something of a movable feast. The thing with the Moreeb Dune road is that even though the tarmac looks sticky and black in the 43°C heat, the 570 is actually sucking the sand up out of it as it moves across. The margins are gently bitten away by the encroaching dunes, and one over-cut corner or ambitious sandy edge, and you’re looking at dune-bashing in all the wrong contexts. This might be one of the most spectacular loads in the UAE, but it’s actually not the best for driving. Time to move on.