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2019 McLaren 600LT Spider review

By Alex Inwood, 25 Feb 2019 Reviews

Drop-top track hooligan is quite possibly the best McLaren road car yet

2019 McLaren 600LT Spider review

WHAT IS IT?

The 600LT Spider is the latest chapter in McLaren’s commitment to reviving a very special name – long tail. It’s a badge that stretches back to the iconic, Le Mans winning McLaren F1 Longtail and it promises one thing: mental performance.

Pitched as a hardcore, track-focused rival to the Ferrari 488 Pista Aperta and Lamborghini Huracan Performante Spider, the 600LT Spider doesn’t only undercut both on price but delivers a level of performance and sense of occasion that earmarks it as McLaren’s definitive modern work.

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WHY ARE WE DRIVING IT?

Wheels deputy editor Andy Enright was deeply impressed when he drove the 600LT Coupe in Europe last year and unlike many of its rivals, the 600LT’s carbon tub constructions means this Spider version should neatly sidestep most of the traditional shortfalls that plague convertible track cars – namely significant gains in weight and significant loses in torsional rigidity.

MAIN RIVALS

Ferrari 488 Pista Aperta, Lamborghini Huracan Performance, Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet

THE WHEELS REVIEW

IT’S THE steering that stays with you most. And the genius lurking on the other side of that small, vertical piece of glass behind your shoulder. Don’t hesitate, just lower it, even if it’s raining. For this tiny little window is the key to transforming the 600LT experience, and a primary reason for buying the Spider over the coupe.

You won’t notice it so much in traffic. Modern McLarens have never sounded soulful and there’s still no beauty or whimsy to the 600LT Spider at low speed, but clock an empty horizon, flatten the throttle, and it takes a nanosecond to realise that this is a ferocious and engaging soundtrack. It begins as a growl, then after a small pause as the turbos spool and the 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 clears its throat, the top-exit exhausts bellow (they’re a metre shorter and 12.6kg lighter than conventional pipes) and the revs lunge towards the redline with a deranged savagery.

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The Spider deploys the same, uprated 441kW/620Nm V8 as the 600LT coupe (in fact, the only mechanical difference between the two is a small damper recalibration to account for the Spider’s additional 48kg, all of which is found in the three-piece roof), and it’s intoxicatingly accelerative. Performance figures are identical to the coupe, catapulting the car from 0-100km/h in 2.9sec. 200km/h arrives two tenths slower than the coupe at 8.4sec, and the top speed is down 4km/h to 324km/h.  

And then there’s the noise itself. There’s plenty of volume, as you’d expect, but it’s the way the note hardens as the revs rise, and the ignition cut cracks and bangs on upshifts (when Sport mode is engaged) that elevate it beyond other McLarens. And because the V8 isn’t quite as manic as the one in the bigger 720S, the 600LT doesn’t rush into its 8200rpm limiter quite as quickly, giving you a modicum more time to savour the experience.    

For the full-noise 600LT experience you can lower the roof in 25 seconds, and this naturally enhances the drama, but if the soundtrack is a central aspect to the Spider’s character, it’s the steering that defines it.

McLaren is one of the few remaining manufacturers to use an old-fashioned hydraulic system and the degree of feedback transmitted through the wheel is a sad reminder in what we’ve lost in the move to EPAS. McLaren has the edge over every rival in this respect. The wheel wriggles and fizzes in your hands, and on a circuit, it delivers a sense of connection that instantly gives the driver an extra degree of confidence.

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The chassis helps here. Turning a ‘regular’ 570S into a 600LT is relatively simple – you just add more of everything. There’s more power and torque (up 22kW/20Nm), more aero (100kg at 155mph), wider tracks, stickier Pirelli Trofeo R tyres, bigger carbon brakes, and suspension components taken from the 720S.

The only thing there’s less of, is weight. While the 600LT is 48kg heftier than the coupe, if you tick the right options and are happy to live without a few creature comforts, its kerb weight of 1404kg is some 100kg lighter than the equivalent 570S Spider.

McLaren reckons that 100kg is equivalent to an additional 44kW, or a five percent improvement in grip, and the way the 600LT bites, turns and goes is transformational. It makes lesser McLarens feel almost gentle by comparison, yet despite the degree of performance on offer there’s a lovely cohesion to the dynamics.

In the bigger 720S, the experience is dominated by the power delivery, but the 600LT feels more of a piece. It verges on Lotus-like in the way it manages to change direction, and where many exceptionally powerful track cars direct your focus on the corner exit, the 600LT’s masterstroke is how many options it gives you on corner entry. Carry the brake deep into the apex and the balance shifts towards the rear before edging into controllable oversteer. The way the 600LT rotates is addictive, and it’s disarmingly easy to back it into sharper turns, the rear sliding slightly as you push past the apex and get on the power. It shouldn’t be this easy to hustle a car with this level of performance.

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The standard issue carbon brakes are a highlight. In typical McLaren fashion, the pedal is overly firm but their effectiveness, and resistance to fade, is impressive. Hit the left pedal hard at 200km/h and you’ll be at a standstill in 121 metres, which is just 5 metres longer than the P1.

Is the 600LT Spider as sharp, or as accurate, as the coupe? Without a direct comparison it’s difficult to say, though if there are any loses in torsional rigidity or ultimate performance, they’re so small that they’re practically negligible.

This isn’t to say the 600LT Spider is foible-free. Redesigning the rear deck to accommodate the folding roof has reduced rear visibility, and because McLaren’s Sports Series forgoes the trick cross-linked suspension of the Super and Ultimate cars for a more traditional set-up, there are moments when the ride can feel decidedly firm. But these are minor quibbles, and the suspension control and quality of the damping is first class.

The 600LT Spider is, quite feasibly, a car you could drive every day, despite its clear track focus. And therein lies its true brilliance. Seemingly uncompromised in delivering intoxicating track-day thrills, it’s also a car with bandwidth, and one possessing a degree of personality and character that has long been missing from modern McLarens.

THE WHEELS VERDICT

This smacks of overegging it, but the 600LT Spider is quite possibly the best road-going McLaren to date. Dramatic to behold and surprisingly approachable to drive for a mid-engined carbon-tubbed track monster, there’s real depth to its dynamic ability. The real genius, however, is found in its greater sense of personality and fun, which are character trains that modern McLaren’s haven’t always had, and ones only enhanced by removing the roof.

PLUS: Sublime steering; searing speed; vastly improved soundtrack; tactile and approachable handling; brake performance and resistance to fade; price advantage compared to rivals
MINUS: Tricky rear ¾ vision; wind noise at freeway cruising speeds; sun glare on central screen with the roof down

 

SPECS

Model: McLaren 600LT Spider
Engine: 3799cc V8 (90), dohc, 32v, twin-turbo
Max power: 441kW @ 7500rpm
Max torque: 620Nm @ 5500-6500rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch
Weight: 1404kg (kerb)
0-100km/h: 2.9sec
Economy: 12.2L/100km
Price: $496,000
On sale: Q3 2019