The McLaren team may be celebrating 50 years in Formula 1, but its road-car offshoot has a much briefer history. Founded in 2010, McLaren Automotive launched its first vehicle just 12 months later, yet for an enterprise that’s only six years old it boasts an impressive list of achievements.
The British car manufacturer’s debut effort – the sleek MP4-12C coupe, whose nomenclature was the only unwieldy thing about it – instantly established itself as a credible alternative to the Ferrari 458, then widely regarded as the gold standard of supercars. As an opening gambit it was outstanding, but McLaren had also set itself the ambitious target of introducing a new car every year, an objective it has now comfortably exceeded, while as an even more convincing measure of success the company has been profitable since 2013.
The McLaren line-up currently consists of nine models and variants, which are grouped into three tiers of attainability, starting with the Sports Series and ending with the Ultimate Series of hybrid hypercars. While all models share similar fundamentals and architecture – a lightweight carbon fibre-composite monocell chassis, a turbocharged 3.8-litre V8 motor, a mid-engine layout and dihedral “butterfly” doors – they range upwards from the 540C coupe, positioned as a direct competitor to the Porsche 911 Turbo and Audi R8, to the fabulous, limited-edition and already sold out P1, whose US$1.35 million price tag is only marginally lower than that demanded for Maranello’s equally stratospheric LaFerrari.
Introduced earlier this year, McLaren’s new 570GT coupe brings the entry-level Sports Series to three models. As its name suggests, it uses an identical power unit to the 570S coupe, with 562bhp and 600Nm, but the GT has been subtly redesigned, reengineered and otherwise reworked to engender the more luxurious and relaxed demeanour of a genuine grand tourer.
In a nutshell, the new car’s revised rear cabin offers more than 200 litres of luggage space, accessed via a side-hinged glass screen (this is additional to 150 litres of storage at the front). Civility and refinement are enhanced with extra sound insulation, a quieter exhaust system and the use of soft napa leather throughout the interior. And though superior ride comfort is a given with McLarens, the GT’s suspension has been softened by 15 percent at the front and 10 percent at the rear, compared with the S, with high-speed stability heightened through a 2 percent reduction in the steering ratio.
McLaren has shipped a fleet of 570GTs to the Canary Island of Tenerife, a huge volcano off the coast of Morocco that rises to more than 3,700 metres. Here, on a 180km route comprising a busy four-lane motorway, and ribbons of asphalt that wind upwards through clouds and pine forests to a harsh desert moonscape, we’re given free rein with the car said by the company to be its most usable yet.
Although bearing a strong resemblance to the 570S, the GT is prettier thanks to it sweeping coupe roofline and elegant C-pillars that culminate in a pronounced but neat lip spoiler (the latter compensates for the absence buttresses). Flowing and curvaceous, this slippery silhouette ends with some exquisite detailing around the tail, where each LED cluster is wrapped sensuously around an ovaloid air vent. Viewed from above, the car’s glasshouse extends almost seamlessly from the base of the windscreen to the trailing edge of the rear hatch, with a tinted rooftop panel providing natural illumination for the cabin.
Key information, which is prioritised according to driving mode, is shown on the main LCD screen, with an additional portrait format touchscreen at the centre of the fascia controlling aircon, sound system and satnav. As on all McLarens, the small wheel, handsome in leather and carbon fibre, is devoid of switchgear; this, like the thoughtful design of the entire cabin, suits me perfectly.
Hit the starter, located above the two driving-mode buttons (one for drivetrain and the other for chassis), and the V8 barks into activity that, though not especially tuneful, is unlikely to become tiresome during long stints in the car. Yet even without a histrionic soundtrack to announce the fact, it’s immediately evident that, though less hardcore than either the S or the far more costly and track-focused 650, the breadth of the 570GT’s dynamic abilities is extraordinary.
Weighing around 40kg more than the S, the GT is fractionally slower off the line, though its 0-100 time of 3.4 seconds is still phenomenal, as is its 328km/h top speed – and with 90 percent of the engine’s 600Nm available at 3,500rpm, in-gear acceleration is equally dizzying. Yet in cruise mode, which on Tenerife means a lazy 140-150, with the seven-speed slipping intuitively between the ratios and the supple suspension smoothing the bumps, the 570 exhibits a refinement far more akin to a limousine than a low-slung two-seater.
Off the motorway, with the mode selectors switched to Sport and manual shifting engaged, it’s a different story. It’s not a Jekyll and Hyde transformation, for the 570GT is rarely less than perfectly composed and predictable, but notwithstanding the softer spring and slower steering rates it becomes razor sharp, hyper reactive and thrillingly addictive.
Aside from a helicopter, I doubt there’s a quicker way of scaling the 2,500 metres separating sea level from the roof of Tenerife than aboard the GT. There’s more than a hint of turbo lag at the bottom end of the band, but keeping the revs in the mid range ensures explosive response, and with the carbon-fibre paddles summoning gearshifts that are equally instantaneous the car races through the pine trees, catapulting between the hairpins like an uphill luge.
Although shod with specially developed P Zero tyres that deliver less road noise than Pirelli’s more aggressive Corsa rubber, the GT’s grip is astonishing, too. Body control is superb and roll is negligible, while the electromechanical steering is light, precise and haptic. As for the brakes, the optional carbonceramic discs fitted to the test car feel as brutally effective after eight hours of hard driving as they were when I started out.
Of course, with just two seats, an engine in the middle and stowage space that remains limited in spite of the rear “touring deck”, the 570GT isn’t everyone’s idea of a pukka grand tourer. For, like the Bentley Continental, the Maserati GranTurismo and the Aston Martin DB9 (and the incoming DB11), the genuine article has its motor at the front and room for a couple more passengers, doesn’t it?
I thought so too, but also I’m convinced that in spite of its spatial shortcomings, McLaren’s latest contender is genuinely transformational. The company’s most broadly capable offering yet, the 570GT is faster, better handling, more rewarding to drive, lovelier to look at and more comfortable than 99 percent of other cars will ever be – and after spending the best part of a day in it I’d be only too happy to do it again tomorrow. You can call it a grand tourer, an entry-level supercar or whatever the heck you want; I simply call it brilliant.