Series is the core of McLaren’s DNA. It’s where the company started with the clumsily named MP4-12C and quickly learned that building supercars isn’t without its pitfalls – and that buyers in this sector, and the media, are a tough bunch to please. Claiming you’ve built a Ferrari rival is one thing. Proving you have is an altogether tougher task, and one McLaren experienced in public view. It learned, though. Updates came, tweaks were developed, the name was shortened and the 12C went on to blossom before eventually evolving into the 650S – a car that has, or rather had (the last example, a Spider, has been built, registered and added to McLaren’s heritage fleet), the credentials to go nose-to-nose with Ferrari’s rather brilliant 488 GTB.
This is pretty remarkable considering Ferrari will celebrate its 70th anniversary in 2017, modern McLaren Automotive only its seventh. ‘The 720S would be replacing the core of our range,’ says Mark Vinnels, executive director for programme development at McLaren. ‘It would also be our first “second-generation” model; we knew we didn’t want it to be just an evolutionary step. ‘At the beginning we said [to the designers], show us sketches that aren’t comfortable [for us].
We could see there were things that would need to be developed, but at that stage we didn’t have the execution in our minds, such as the new carbonfibre structure.’ The 720S is built around an evolution of the MonoCell used in the first generation of Super Series models, while taking elements from the MonoCage of the Ultimate Series P1 hypercar. The fundamental change for the Super Series is that, where the MonoCell ended below the glasshouse, the carbon structure of the new MonoCage II has been designed to incorporate the roof and a pair of dihedral doors, just as the original MonoCage did on the P1.
‘The MonoCage II took the lessons from P1, and we saw the upper carbon structure was feasible. The challenge was how to manufacture it in enough volume and at a sensible cost. What it brings in terms of visibility is unprecedented,’ says Vinnels. Incorporating the roof into the car’s core structure has allowed chief designer Rob Melville to slim down the windscreen pillars and use glass for the C-pillars. In creating the 720S, Melville and his team have given us a car that is unmistakably McLaren but which also moves the company’s design language on.
Whether it’s gone too far – or not far enough – will be down to your personal taste, but away from the bright lights of a motor show stand or photography studio, the 720S looks just right. It has elements of contention such as the headlights, which sit in what Melville describes as ‘eye sockets’. These are divided into two portions by sequential indicators, with one portion directing air to the radiators behind the front wings and the other housing the LED headlights. For some it looks like an unfinished design element, for others it’s an example of an original design solution answering an engineering dilemma.
It’s a similar story in regard to feeding air to the new 4-litre twin-turbo V8. Previous McLarens had air intakes running along the doors, but the 720S has a sleeker, cleaner profile. Air for its engine runs through the bodywork and above the car’s rear haunches, and cooling has increased by 15 per cent. ‘Given we were going to increase the power, the last thing we wanted to do was increase weight,’ says Vinnels. ‘That’s where the aero came from – how could we make the car more efficient, particularly around the cooling?’
Completing the car’s design is a new integrated rear wing that’s hydraulically operated. It also functions as an air brake and so has three main functions: downforce, DRS and high-speed braking. However, it’s what sits within the illuminated engine bay and the components that hang from the MonoCage that really increase the heart rate. This powerplant may feature eight cylinders in a V-formation and two turbos as per the 650S, but that’s where the similarities end. Forty-one per cent of the parts are new for the M840T.
There’s a new cast-aluminium inlet plenum, lighter pistons, conrods and crankshaft. The twin-scroll turbochargers are new and faster-spooling to further improve throttle response, and the 3994cc motor (up from 3799cc) spins to 8100rpm in the first two gears and 8200rpm in third and above. Peak power increases to 710bhp from 641bhp in the 650S and arrives at 7500rpm; torque grows to 568lb ft, up from 500. The seven-speed double-clutch gearbox has been modified to smooth out the shifts without compromising the crispness of each change.
On top of this, upshifts are up to 45 per cent quicker than those in the 675LT (due to better ignition-cut software) and the speed of the downshifts is said to have improved as a result of the engine’s lower inertia. When the MonoCage, engine and aluminium body come together, the 720S weighs 9kg less than the 650S, tipping the scales at 1419kg with fluids. To achieve this, the electrics are 3kg lighter than before, the standard-fit carbon-ceramic brakes are 2kg lighter and a 1.5kg saving has been found in the airboxes. The suspension weighs a hefty 16kg less than it does on the outgoing car, too.
McLaren’s diet and engine workout result in 508bhp per ton and a 2.9sec 0-62mph time, with 124mph coming up in 7.8sec. The car tops out at 212mph. It’s not only the performance, the further development of the car’s dynamics, the weight saving and the clever exterior design that impress, though. Consider also that not a single experimental prototype was built for the development of the McLaren 720S.
‘One push was to shorten the development time and make it more efficient,’ says Haydn Baker, McLaren’s vehicle line director for Super Series. ‘So we decided to delete the experimental prototype phase, which was a huge challenge. All the proof of content was done on 650S mules, so one with the suspension on, one with the new engine, etcetera, but we didn’t build any cars until less than a year ago. All the work was done using CAE and CFD, and signed off virtually – years ago we would have done a lot more crashing into walls.
Our first cars were built by April 2016: there were 20 of these validation cars, and that was the complete fleet for everything – sign-off, mileage, electronics, drive ability-all built from production tooling.’ A great deal rests on the shoulders of the 720S. McLaren is forecasting production to rise from just over the 3000 units in 2016 to 4500 by the end of 2017. That will require Mike Flewitt, McLaren’s CEO, to continue to build the company’s market reach (you can currently buy a McLaren in 30 markets) while his engineers busy themselves renewing and expanding the current product lineup. That will include a more powerful replacement for the P1 – codename ‘BP23’.
Among the 15 new models scheduled by 2022will not only be Spiderand GT versions of the 720S, but also a more extreme replacement for the 675LT, too. Then we’re into Spider variants of today’s 570 and 540 models, before these too are replaced with significantly updated models that will have been developed with technology introduced on the 720S. Perhaps the biggest challenge for Flewitt and his team is that half of all future McLarens will feature hybrid powertrains.
For this, McLaren will not only need to develop the technology and seamlessly integrate it into its new range of cars, but it will also need its customers to actually want it, too. Which isn’t always a given. Supercar owners want their toys to be noisy and thrilling and, in many cases, anti-social devices. Can hybrid technology deliver all those characteristics?
Right now, though, the focus is on the car you see here. And when you see it in its aluminium-and-carbonfibre glory, you’ll see a much more aggressive McLaren. Parked next to a 720S, a 650S looks devoid of any distinguishing features. Those new headlights may have caused much chatter, but when seen in situ they create a McLaren that makes you stop and take in the details, pick out the lines and the shrink-wrapped philosophy Melville and his team has focused on.
Those sharp creases in the bonnet add an aggression that’s been lacking in the past. The rear, meanwhile, melds the P1 and 675LT’s violence with the sophistication of the 650S. And the instrument cluster – which can fold down from a conventional full digital display to a low-distraction slim strip showing just gear, revs and speed – is simply inspired. More power, more torque and a faster gearbox are the default upgrades for any new supercar.
However, it’s the work that has gone into the chassis that will demonstrate whether McLaren has remembered that while numbers are one thing, it’s how they come together and allow the machine to interact with the driver that can mark a car out as being truly special and give it the potential to be a class winner and an object of true automotive desire. McLaren knows this all too well after the less-than-glowing feedback that found its way to Woking in 2011 regarding the 12C.
The steps it has taken to ensure every model since has answered those original criticisms are proof that it’s a manufacturer willing to listen, respond and deliver. Much of what McLaren has learned with both the P1 and 675LT, undoubtedly two of the very best cars the company has produced in recent times and two of the very best performance cars of all time, has gone into the 720S. Befitting any new supercar worth its place on Instagram, McLaren will build, and has already sold, 400 Launch Edition 720Ss.
For the rest of 2017, it expects to sell a further 800 examples in standard, Luxury and Performance trims. Or, of course, you can order a bespoke MSO version finished to a specification of your choice. Beyond this, 1500 examples will leave the MTC every 12 months, costing at least £208,600 apiece. When we drive a 720S in a month or so, we’ll tell you if you should be transferring your deposit to a Woking-based bank account.