WHAT IS IT?
An open-top supercar with none of the open-top supercar pitfalls. That’s the pitch, anyway, and on paper at least, it seems McLaren has delivered. Sure, the 720S Spider is 49kg heavier than the coupe, but it’s no slower from 0-100km/h, only a tenth tardier to 200km/h and retains the same 324km/h top speed. And all with the additional promise of boosting the coupe’s sense of noise and drama.
WHY ARE WE DRIVING IT?
McLarens have long majored on speed and dynamic precision, yet so far, have struggled to match the emotional pull and sheer desirability of their established Italian rivals. That’s beginning to change. The 720S coupe is one of the most capable and exciting supercars Wheels has driven – is this Spider version the one to finally offer that final degree of personality and fun?
Ferrari 488 Spider; Lamborghini Huracan Spyder; Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet
THE WHEELS REVIEW
WHEN Wheels deputy editor Andy Enright drove the McLaren 720S late last year, at night, in a dusk-till-dawn blast on the deserted Great Ocean Road, he looked like a terrified Casper the Ghost in the resulting WhichCar TV segment.
The harsh glow of the TV crew’s LED lights didn’t help, of course, (without them it was so dark you couldn’t see Andy at all), though Enright freely admits he was shaken by the ferocity of the malignant machine from Woking.
“It’s just … feral” is all he could muster on returning to the office.
Read next: 2018 McLaren 720S review: Car vs Road
And now, some 13,231km away in the cacti-peppered desert of Phoenix, Arizona, I’m beginning to appreciate just how feral, albeit in a slightly different 720S.
This one’s the Spider version, and before you write it off as the softer, flabbier and floppier alternative, remember that the 720S’s carbonfibre tub construction should see it sidestep many of the traditional convertible pitfalls.
It certainly hasn’t diluted its potency in a straight line. In fact, flattening the throttle in any of the first four gears is an experience akin to lighting the afterburners. With the roof down and the drive select modes toggled to Sport (which activates ignition cut for faster shifts from the seven-speed dual-clutch ’box), it can verge on sensory overload as the rear axle bucks and the 305/30R20 P Zeros squirm and grip.
Gear shifts are brutal, both in their speed and decisiveness, and in the noise they produce. Ask for a downshift as you barrel into a bend and the resulting ‘crack’ sounds as though a rock has hit the windscreen. How does it compare to a 488 Spider or Huracan Spyder? Neither can match the 720S for sheer shock and awe.
And as for loses compared to the 720S coupe, the Spider’s 2.9sec 0-100km/h claim and 324km/h top speed (roof up) are identical. Only the 0-200km/h number blows out … by a tenth of a second.
The culprit of this paltry loss is found lurking in the Spider’s roof mechanism. It adds 49kg for a kerb weight of 1468kg and has resulted in the single chassis tweak compared to the coupe – a minor recalibration of the dampers.
There have been extensive changes elsewhere, however. The roof itself is all new and ditches the existing hydraulic system of the 600LT Spider and old 650S Spider for an electric set-up that is both faster and lighter. Airflow over the rear deck is carefully managed via redesigned buttresses that are also clear to assist with rear vision, and the active rear wing and the air-con now have two maps to adjust for the differences in driving with the roof up, or with it down.
What you don’t expect is for the 720S to be such a doddle to drive slowly. Highly strung supercars can feel recalcitrant when performing the mundane duties of everyday driving, yet the 720S Spider offers no such resistance.
The cabin is beautiful, forward and side vision are superb and McLaren has nailed he fundamentals. The seating position is low and offers ample adjustment, the steering wheel is right-sized, sculpted and able to be pulled close to your chest, and the pedals are perfectly positioned for left- or right-foot braking.
It’s quiet inside, too. Roof up, there’s little difference between the coupe and Spider in terms of road and tyre noise. Only an occasional, and tiny, tremor of scuttle shake shows some concessions have been made in the move to open-top motoring, but even over very bumpy roads the stiffness of the chassis is impressive, and noticeably better than a 488 Spider.
Read next: 2019 McLaren 600LT pricing announced
Is it as capable and as exciting as the 720S coupe? If you plan to use your 720S exclusively at a circuit to extract lap times, then no, it isn’t. However the differences are so negligible that if you use the 720S Spider as a very fast road car, the answer is absolutely.
Few cars can destroy a road with such clinical precision or offer such an experience of barely contained aggression. Feral, indeed.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
History shows there’s no surer way of diluting a car’s performance than by lopping away a great section of its roof. That isn’t the case here. The 720S Spider delivers near identical dynamics to that of the coupe, making it easily the most capable car in its class and, thanks to its greater sense of drama and exuberance, arguably the 720S to buy.
PLUS: Savage acceleration; approachable dynamics; boosted sense of theatre; class-leading steering and chassis rigidity
MINUS: There’s plenty of noise but it never sounds amazing; umm…
Model: McLaren 720S Spider
Engine: 3994cc V8 (90), dohc, 32v, twin turbo
Max power: 530kW @ 7500rpm
Max torque: 770Nm @ 5500rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch
Kerb weight: 1468kg
0-100km/h: 2.9sec (claimed) Economy: 12.2L/100km
On sale: Q3 2019