If Ferrari hasn’t been worried by McLaren’s turbocharged model development programme so far, this might be a good time to start. It’s only six years since McLaren Automotive introduced its first car, the MP4-12C. That got a heavy facelift two years later, as well as a less clunky name, becoming the 650S. And now the new 720S is being unveiled at the Geneva motor show, moving the game on even further with a dramatic hike in power, a more advanced carbon structure and what we’re promised will be a step change in performance.
As the name suggests, the McLaren 720S gets a turned-up version of McLaren’s mid-mounted V8 engine, with capacity increased to 4.0-litres and with new turbos, cylinder heads, crankshaft and pistons. McLaren says, with the sort of exactitude we’ve come to expect from the British company, that this new M840T engine features 41 percent new parts when compared to the old one. Output rises to 530kW, accompanied by a peak 770Nm of torque, both channeled to the rear wheels through a seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox with changes sharpened by punchier software.
The other side of the power-to-weight ratio has been tweaked, too. At its heart the 720S uses McLaren’s new Monocage II carbonfibre tub, which now incorporates a carbon windscreen surround and upper structure for the first time, with the A-pillars made from sufficiently high-grade carbon they don’t need internal cladding. The roof spar will include mounting points for new wider-opening doors, with McLaren claiming that the whole structure weighs 18kg less than the same part of the 650S (which had a metal windscreen surround) did. The 720S’s overall weight falls to a claimed 1284kg in the car’s lightest possible configuration.
Performance numbers build on those of the 650S, with the 720S set to be very nearly as quick as the 675LT track special. McLaren says that the new car’s 0-100km/h time has only improved by a tenth– falling to 2.9-seconds – but beyond that, where traction ceases to be an issue, the 720 becomes massively quicker. On McLaren’s numbers its 8.4-second 0-200km/h time is 0.6-seconds inside the 650S, and its 21.4-second 0-300km/h time is a whole 4.0-seconds faster. The official top speed is 340km/h.
According to McLaren insiders almost equally significant performance gains have been made by aerodynamic improvements and the arrival of a far more advanced inertial control system for the dampers and stability control, this using a total of 21 sensors to tune ride and handling in real time. As with the 650S there are hydraulically linked suspension units on both sides of the car, but although spring rates have increased by around 20 percent we’re promised that compliance has actually improved. Oh, and there’s also a drift mode, for less talented owners who want to be make themselves out to be driving gods.
Visually the 720S is very different from the 650S, or indeed any other recent mid-engined supercar. It lacks a side air intake behind the door, with air getting channeled to the engine and rear radiators through a barely visible gap between the body side and rear side glass. Other drag-cheating aero features include door “blades” that shape the flow of air leaving the front diffuser and small “eyeball” intakes built into the front headlights. At the back the full length active wing can deploy as an airbrake in just half a second. McLaren says the 720S has twice the peak downforce of its predecessor, but with less drag and improved cooling efficiency.
There’s also more room in the cabin thanks to thinner sills and the wider opening of the top-hinged doors. Visibility is improved by the narrower carbon A-pillars and the digital instrument pack motors itself away when the car is put into Track mode, leaving just a narrow screen displaying speed, gear and a colour-light tacho.
We’ll have to wait until closer to the 720S’s on-sale date later this year to get word on price. A roadster version will follow in 2019 and an even-higher-performance LT variant is also a racing certainty.
View our full coverage of the Geneva Motor Show 2017.