McLaren: the next chapter. New 720S stars at Geneva 2017. Words John Simister. McLaren did its best to keep a lid on the new lodestone of its range, the replacement for the 650S. But the lid started to unscrew a few weeks before Geneva, not least with speculation over the name which, on past form, was likely to denote engine power and be followed by an S. / #McLaren-720S
So, at Geneva, the world welcomed the McLaren 720S, first in the new generation of McLaren’s so-called Super Series. It’s quite a step forward, too: 10kg lighter than the 650S and generating up to 30 per cent more downforce at the rear, despite less drag overall. It has that extra 70bhp from its twin-turbo engine and also gains 66lb ft of torque, making 566lb ft, thanks to a longer stroke which raises capacity to 4.0 litres.
Bucking the trend towards ever-bulkier and less usable supercars, it actually looks smaller, lower, more compact. The dimensions reveal the impression to be an illusion, but it’s the short, no-longer- smirking nose, the low scuttle, the slim pillars and the contrasting roof that do it. Even the rear pillars are slender. It’s been a while since a supercar has been this easy to reverse.
Key to it all is a new, British-made carbonfibre tub known as Monocage II (the P1 used Monocage I, itself a big leap over the tub used in lesser McLarens up to now). It now includes the windscreen surround and the roof, posing a potential problem for the engineering of a future open version – not that McLaren, disingenuously, will admit to one. There are new ‘dihedral’ doors which open upwards, forwards and, by means of rotation along the doors’ longitudinal axis, outwards. You can park a 720S six inches nearer to a wall than you could a 650S, and still get out. Slightly gruesomely, McLaren describes the headlights as an ‘eye socket design’. The eyes, in the form of normal headlight lenses, have been plucked out, with just bars of LEDs remaining ahead of intakes for cooling air. Overall cooling efficiency rises by 15 per cent.
Other developments include new and lighter suspension wishbones and uprights with revised geometry, plus ‘Proactive Chassis Control II’ with an extra 12 sensors. The aim has been to make the ride even more compliant than before, but also to make the 720S’s limits easier to explore on a track. ‘It’s easy to measure the objective things in a chassis,’ says vehicle line director Haydn Baker, ‘but what matters is how a car feels. This is the most genuinely involving supercar. Driving modes are Comfort, Sport and Track: “normal” mode has gone, and there’s a new variable drift control app.’
Chief test driver Chris Goodwin elaborates. ‘We’re generating oodles of grip, but too much of it can be a turn-off. The steering is a little bit more involving, with more natural loading. And that variable drift app is incredibly useful. You can change the traction control if it’s raining.’
The 720S’s arrival comes as McLaren completes its 10,000th car and predicts 4000 sales for the whole of 2017. It promises 15 new models between now and 2022, by which time half of McLaren production will feature a hybrid powertrain. But for all that technology, says product development director Mark Vinnels, ‘We’re not about cars that drive themselves.’ Vital stats? From a standstill to 60mph requires 2.8sec, and the top speed is 212mph.