Well… just look at it. You can say with certainty that no part of the McLaren 720S was designed to be the slightest bit mediocre. It was conceived to inspire the dreams of boys and girls, to fuel the sycophantic gushing of Instagram influencers and to provide nutritious fodder for keyboard warriors in their online games of Top Trumps. These are my musings as I stand on the main straight of Midvaal Raceway in Meyerton, Gauteng, cigarette dangling out of the mouth like an (unsuccessfully) self-styled Hunter S Thompson of automotive scribes.
What a time to be alive: such wares have outgrown the “supercar” descriptor and “hypercar” seems more fitting instead. The 720S falls into the Super Series category of the McLaren hierarchy which, amusingly, could be considered as the middle-tier offering of the marque.
Remember that the famed manufacturer still has its Ultimate Series designation — reserved for cars such as the P1. These limited-number specials are built to shatter brand personal bests and to showcase technologies that will filter down the range in future. Currently in development, the successor to the P1 is codenamed BP23 and will employ a hybrid powertrain.
Only 106 will be built, with an asking price of £1.6-million, or about R26-million at the current exchange rate. But if you missed the boat, settling for the more affordable 720S, from R5.5-million, would offer decent consolation. Especially when you consider that in some tests, it emerged faster than the P1 (!) which cost about £866000 (R14-million) new in 2013. Some of my friends at the South African Guild of Motoring Journalists may describe this as a value proposition.
Braking it in
Nobody wants the misfortune of binning a McLaren. The brake pedal in the 720S needs Herculean force, as I learned while nosing it out the Sandton showroom, wary not to kiss the glass walls of the dealership or collide with other exotica parked precariously close. Carbon ceramic discs (standard equipment here) work optimally with heat in them.
We edged gingerly out of city traffic and towards our destination. The airy cabin of the McLaren affords a chance to take in the world around. Our test unit featured the optional transparent ceiling: cue the Top Gun, jet-fighter parallels.
Inevitably, the 720S garnered its share of enthusiasm from passers-by in peak-hour congestion. Including acclaim from Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) officers, who stopped us not for a lack of licence plates, but for the pursuit of selfie excellence. The looming consequences must have fled the moment our law enforcers saw those dihedral doors swing up — few are immune to the wonder of such a sight.
The men and women in blue are likely to be less lenient should you be nabbed over the threshold of the national limit. Which, of course, is something the 720S can do nearly thrice over. At 120km/h in the middle lane of the N3 freeway, it strained at the leash, twin-turbochargers intoning under even the slightest hint of accelerator pedal depression.
The unbridled environments of a circuit are essential to exploiting its vast depths of performance capabilities. Ferocious acceleration is putting it mildly. After a smidgen of squirminess from the rear as it launches off the line, seeing 100km/h could take as little as 2.9 seconds, according to McLaren.
Our rudimentary telemetry device showed 3.6 seconds, which still felt mighty impressive. Said device was thrown forward into the bowels of the dashboard, thanks to inertia: the 720S decelerates as ferociously as it attains those high velocities. Hit the anchors over 250km/h, see the hydraulic airbrake fill the rearview mirror and brace as your organs jostle. It thrusts towards the horizon in a way that overwhelms the senses. Its push is instantaneous and addictive, the craving for speed can be a pernicious one indeed.
But there is supreme confidence in the knowledge that the 720S was thoroughly engineered to help you tempt fate in relative safety. The technical make-up of the McLaren will kindle an appreciation for fine engineering. Even if, like me, your grasp of the subject extends as far as assembling Lego. It is worth noting that McLaren pioneered the use of carbon fibre in production cars — way before we started seeing the stuff adorning the dashboards of humbler hot hatchbacks. In the 720S, the chassis and passenger cell are constructed from the rigid, lightweight material.
With its most dynamic setting (Track) engaged, it makes mincemeat of a sinuous layout. You have all the ingredients for driving supremacy. Including a quote from the press release, to remind you that any misgivings about its status as an authentic circuit-slayer are probably unfounded. “The chassis software has its basis in advanced mathematic research initiated by McLaren at the University of Cambridge.” This was when I realised that the weakest link in this intoxicating mix of future-forward technologies and advanced materials was the 70kg male at the wheel.
Still, it does not take a degree in physics to see that the 720S is one of the finest technical achievements of its time. How could they possibly improve on such a feat? The BP23 will probably yield a fruitful answer. – Brenwin Naidu