First Drive: 2016 McLaren 570GT Coupé

First Drive: 2016 McLaren 570GT Coupé
 

14000 kilometres. Three flights. 21 hours in transit. It’s one hell of a trek to get to Tenerife, a small Spanish colony sitting roughly 300 clicks off the coastline of Morocco.

Usually I wouldn’t turn over in bed for such an expedition but this time around things were different — I was promised a drive in an all-new and rather exotic sports car.

So here I stand, a little stiff and weary, in the vast car park of the Ritz-Carlton Abama situated on the island’s western shoulder. Ahead of me, crouching menacingly on the tarmac in a patch of shade, is the machine under discussion: a McLaren 570GT. The latest addition to the Sports Series range (think of this as the firm’s “entry-level” lineup), it joins the 540C and the 570S on which it is based. How does it compare? That two-letter suffix should give you a clue.

McLaren 570GT

Gran Turismo — or GT for short — is a nomenclature that has been royally abused by automotive manufacturers since pretty much the dawn of time. Renault, for instance, has the Mégane GT and, well, it’s anything but. Same goes for the Porsche Carrera GT. In the true sense of the definition, a Grand Turismo should be a well-pedigreed and sporting automobile that manages to blend effortless high-speed performance with maximum cruising comfort. It should ideally have a 2+2 seating arrangement (the +2 refers to those small jump seats you get in the back of something like a Porsche 911) plus enough spare space to carry some designer luggage. So with all of this in mind, the McLaren engineers duly set about making the basic 570 more livable.

Their efforts make themselves known once I have folded myself inelegantly into the heated passenger seat. The Alcantara trim of the standard S model makes way for lots of silky leather — and I mean lots. The dashboard, seats and door cards are all swathed in the stuff. Yep, many a cow was sacrificed to ensure the classy, high-street interior ambience of the 570GT.

Buried beneath all this fine hide is extra sound-deadening material that makes it easier to enjoy the optional, 1280-watt Bowers & Wilkins sound system that’s worth more than my old Toyota MR2 Spyder. So far so nice.

McLaren 570GT

As we barrel on down the coastal highway, a phenomenon that sees every third motorist reach for their cameraphone, I discover that things aren’t all that cosy. Especially when you’re on the wrong side of six foot and cursed by abnormally long legs. No matter how much I play with the electric adjuster switch I can’t find a comfortable position. Recline too far back and the whole chair slides automatically forward, crushing your knees against the dash. So I’m forced to sit more upright than my spine is accustomed to. Let’s just say that it is an awesome relief when, at the obligatory driver change, I can get out, stretch and swap seats with my passenger in crime.

Perched high above the seaside town of Candelaria, this momentary time-out gives me a chance to drink in the car’s exterior. Stylistically subtler than the S, thanks to those body-coloured door inserts, the GT also appears sleeker because of a side-opening rear glass hatch that replaces the slightly gawky flying buttresses of its sister.

The McLaren PR team is excited about this feature because it opens up to reveal what they call the “Touring Deck”. Basically a shallow parcel shelf extending behind the two front seats, it offers up an extra 220 litres of stowage space over the normal car. Reasonably useful, I suppose, but because it necessitates leaning over the rear wheel arches, it’s a bit of an awkward stretch to pack things in and out of in a hurry. And lord help you if you’re five-foot-five or shorter.

McLaren 570GT Touring Deck

Anyway. Enough standing around staring. I buckle in behind the now electronically adjustable steering wheel and make tracks to the Teide Observatory, which, as the name suggests, is located some 2390m above sea-level on Mount Teide, a still-active volcano that would (should it ever go off — and according to the locals) cause a tsunami big enough to wipe out New York. Those of us unlucky enough to be on the island would succumb to smoke and/or molten lava. Fortunately, images of such a macabre death quickly fade as the route unfurls.

Gosh it’s good. Long straights. Sweeping curves. Hairpins that make Monaco look lame. The 14000km haul starts to make sense. The McLaren seems to be in its element, too.

At the press conference earlier, an engineer explained how the GT had been fitted with softer springs (-15% front and -10% rear) as well as a slightly slower steering setup. Be this as is it may, I’m at this moment struggling to feel any real difference between it and the supposedly sportier S model.

McLaren 570GT

Ripping up this winding road network above the clouds (yes, really) the GT feels just as sharp and poised. Wherever you point the nose it goes with a cool and effortless immediacy. Understeer is minimal and grip, despite the presence of comfort-orientated Pirelli tyres, is outstanding. Make no bones about it — this is a surgically precise piece of driving equipment. In fact, to me the only discernable difference is the less boisterous exhaust system. Which just means that you hear more of the not-so-nice-sounding 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8. Still, what it lacks in symphonic allure it makes up for in straight-line punch. Click down a gear or two, step on the throttle and the 570GT literally takes off. Even at this giddy altitude.

After another 30 minutes of unadulterated driving bliss we arrive at what seems to be the top of a world: a robust and rolling summit punctuated by crunchy nuggets of volcanic gravel, fynbos-like shrubs and clumps of yellow flowers that wouldn’t be out of place in Namaqualand. The air is pure and the view crystal. So much so that you can see neighbouring islands out on the horizon line. I’ve got to say that asphalt excursions don’t get better than this. So does the 570GT do it the right kind justice?

McLaren 570GT

Even now I’m in two minds about it. As a sports car, a tool for squeezing the most out of every last kink and curve, it did not at any point leave me wanting to be behind the wheel of anything else. This really is a joyous thing to fling around in anger. But in terms of comfort and livability and gobbling up distance, there are a handful of other cars I’d swap it for in a nanosecond.

Despite the leather and the fancy audio system and all the other expensive trimmings, the new 570GT feels, as a Gran Turismo that is, half-baked. Like the ill-fated Lotus Europa S of the mid-noughties, it still feels too small, too compromised and too cramped to be the true continent-eater McLaren conceived it to be. And when you factor in the radical price premium — roughly R1-million depending on the exchange rate — you’re probably better off living with a regular 570S. You don’t get a Touring Deck but you do get carbon composite brakes as standard and a small ledge between the engine bay and the seats that can, at a push, accommodate a duffel bag or some other soft items.

I think the return route to the hotel might help me change my mind. Maybe some more time behind the wheel will reveal the inner Grand Tourer lurking beneath all that beautifully engineered aluminium and carbon fibre. Alas, it doesn’t. After another hour at the helm, I’m happy when I eventually unfold myself out into the parking area. Suddenly that airliner home seems a bit more inviting.

Fast Facts: McLaren 570GT

Engine: 3799cc V8 twin-turbo

Power: 419kW at 7500rpm

Torque: 600Nm from 5000 to 6500rpm

Transmission: Seven-speed SSG

0-100km/h: 3.4-seconds (claimed)

Top speed: 328km/h (claimed)

Fuel: 10.7l/100km (claimed combined)

CO2: 249g/km

Price: From R4.2-millon (exchange-rate dependent)