A Marathon & a Sprint
How did driving a McLaren ever become such a serene experience, wonders Stephen Corby.
It’s the eternal question: is it possible to have it all, in one perfect package? The answer, of course, is Natalie Portman — beautiful, talented, hugely wealthy and a Harvard graduate. But is there an equivalent in the world of cars? Can one purchase Portman-like perfection, and, if so, for how much?
The answer is, as you would expect, not cheap at $403,500, but for that money you’re getting a fantastic beast possessed of seemingly magical qualities, in the shape of the McLaren GT. It’s a supercar, of course — McLaren doesn’t make anything else — but it is truly unusual in its ability to offer all you could desire in one usable everyday package. The GT stands for Grand Tourer and refers to the fact that, unlike other vehicles in this rarefied air, you can actually drive it for hours at a time, over long distances, without your coccyx being reduced to dust. It is, indeed, actually comfortable, and on these long trips you can even take luggage with you, a hugely unusual offering for a supercar, thanks to both its sizeable frunk and large rear hatch area, which is said to be big enough to swallow skis or even golf clubs. Naturally, there isn’t room for more than one passenger, but then the supercar appellation can never really apply to a machine with more than two seats (except for the original McLaren F1, which had the driver in the middle and one passenger on each side, but it was even more of a unicorn than Natalie Portman).
While the GT is comfortable and practical, it is also head-turningly attractive and has appropriately event-like doors, which swing up and out like butterfly wings. It is also unusual in the fact that it doesn’t instantly turn your hair white or make you cry with its razor-sharp, adrenaline-spiking acceleration. Start up this McLaren in its default mode and it’s easy, almost calm, to drive, with plentiful torque allowing you to cruise at 80km/h in seventh gear, should you want to. It feels quietly potent, of course, but not alarming. Push the “Active” button, however, and you are suddenly presented with exciting choices: three settings for aerodynamics and handling — Comfort, Sport and Track — and the same three for performance. Select the more aggressive of these and you are made instantly aware of just what McLaren’s twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 is capable of, like the ability to smack its way to 100km/h in 3.2 seconds, or all the way to a blurry, scary 200km/h in nine.
Whatever speed you’re doing and however much you fancy yourself as a driver, the GT’s low-slung body, awesome brakes and sharp, sensuous steering make any winding stretch of road a hugely enjoyable and invigorating experience. There are faster supercars and even faster McLarens, but at no stage when you’re driving the GT do you wish it had more pace; it feels like more than enough, exceeding ample — effervescent, even.
The gearbox, operated through lovely, quality-feeling paddles on the steering wheel, is another highlight. The GT’s only failing, if we were to pick at nits, would be that it is loud, but could be more gloriously so. The whistles and whooshes its turbochargers make when spooling up almost make up for its lack of a throaty, booming exhaust note, but not quite.
In terms of its ability to offer just about everything you could require from a sports
car with a sprinkling of superhero magic on top, this McLaren GT is perhaps as close to a having-it-all experience as you’re likely to get on four wheels. Natalie Portman should buy one.
This is an extract from an article that appears in print in our sixth edition, Page 32 of Winning Magazine with the headline: “A Marathon & a Sprint”. Subscribe to Winning Magazine today.