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What does the supercar of 2017 need? Performance, naturally. Colossal, mind-bending performance of the magnitude that separates it from the merely fast with the appropriate insouciance. That’s a given. I mean, have you seen how fast a hot hatch is these days? Yet that’s just the start. It also needs a blend of track-ready dynamic performance and everyday-use comfort, mixed with a deftness of touch Fred Astaire would have aspired to: Ring-attack war paint smeared on one moment, ambling down to the shops the next. We demand that it looks low, broad and sexy, comfortable in the role of Instagram doyen; an object of desire for adolescents everywhere, but also sophisticated enough for those with the actual means to fund such a purchase; able to make brazen, purposeful exhaust noise yet be surprisingly frugal at cruising pace. Yes, it’s tough being a supercar in 2017. An Audi R8 V10 has all of those qualities. A McLaren 650S had them, too. They’re both good cars – real modern-era supercars – but there’s more, much more, to capturing the supercar zeitgeist of 2017. Some of it is quantifiable, other elements forever tantalisingly hazy in their definition.
Having said all of that, I think I know of a car that can take on that formidable mantle. A car that causes people to chase it on foot through the streets just to keep it in the centre of their camera’s viewfinder. One that’s so fast it rips past the adjective ‘exciting’ and injects ‘fear’ back into the mix of a genre that had developed into something just a little too comfortable, predictable and electronically regulated. A car that breaks new ground, visually and in dynamic terms. A car that – as ludicrous as it sounds – is actually something of a bargain at Rs 2 crore (in the UK, excluding Indian duties and taxes). Like many of you, I suspect, the first time I saw a McLaren 720S, I wasn’t sure. Those official images revealed a car that was ruthlessly high-tech, modern, different. Its form and, in particular, its lack of a recognisable ‘headlight’ weren’t necessarily easy on the eye. It was challenging.
But it’s good to be challenged, in all walks of life. It’s what keeps things interesting. The genius of McLaren’s approach is not to create merely a faster, more capable 650S, but to push itself much further forward, to take the hard road. A 650S ‘evolution’ would have been a great car, and would have easily taken the fight to the Ferrari 488 GTB. A bit more power, a bit less mass, a bit more swoop to the by-then familiar swoopy McLaren styling, and plenty of that 675LT venom brought into the mix, too. Job done, time for a brew down Woking way.
It doesn’t feel as though McLaren did that. Speaking to the designers and engineers earlier in the year, there was much talk of everyone pushing each other, of setting targets and worrying about how they could actually be achieved a bit further down the line. ‘We backed each other to get the job done,’ was one phrase heard. Of course, you can never really be sure if this isn’t all PR-induced nonsense, and the cynic in me filed it away in the ‘we’ll see about that’ category, but they were right, and it was real.
“With nearly 360-degree vision thanks to the innovative see-through C-pillars, it’s easier to place in traffic than a BMW 3-series”
Some car companies spend years trying to establish a visual identity and still find it infuriatingly elusive. But in just six short years McLaren Automotive has gone from the largely anonymous 12C to a portfolio of cars that are clearly ‘McLarens’, and never more so than with the 720S. Spend time with this car and I challenge you not to be captivated by the crisp lines and execution of its panelwork, the extravagance of the details, the weird and wonderful collar of an air channel around the cockpit. You may even grow to love the eye sockets, as I do now.
With nearly 360-degree vision thanks to the innovative see-through C-pillars, it’s easier to place in traffic than a BMW 3-series. It’s such an event to sit in as well: all exotic shapes and carefully selected materials, enveloped by a canopy straight off a fighter plane. Once on the road you may ask yourself how it’s possible that it rides better than quite a few luxury GTs. Some, conversely, may also wonder why it’s a bit quiet, and sounds rather flat. The 720S proposition isn’t about theatricality during the everyday – you’ll need a Lamborghini for that. But get past this and you’ll discover a car that’s everyday-biddable, but also that has another side to it that wants to tear your face off. You expect it to be staggeringly fast, but what really leaves an impression is just how accessible the performance is, and how easy it is to live with. The ride is good, you can see out of it and the driving position is as close to perfect as you’ll get. This is one very special car.
“To truly understand what it’s like having 710bhp in a reasonably light car, you need to turn off all electronic nannying and then accelerate at full force”
To truly understand what it’s like having 710bhp in a reasonably light car, you need to turn off all the elaborate electronic nannying and then accelerate at full force. It’s only then, with the rear Pirellis frantically battling to keep their purchase on the road, the hydraulically assisted steering writhing subtly in your palms, and the motor headbutting the limiter with a ferocity that never wanes, that you fully appreciate the true potency of this car; the kind of potency that equates to 0-160kmph in just over five-and-a-half seconds, and a lap-time second only to a P1 shod with Trofeo Rs. That alone makes it a worthy supercar of the year: factor-in all its other qualities and it’s nothing less than a game-changer.
Engine V8, 3994cc, twin-turbo
Power 710bhp @ 7250rpm
Torque 770Nm @ 5500rpm
Weight (dry) 1283kg (562bhp/ton)
0-100kmph 2.9sec (claimed)
Top speed 341kmph (claimed)
Basic price Rs 2 crore (in the UK, excluding duties and taxes)
evo rating 5/5