The 2017 Geneva auto show featured an absolute embarrassment of performance hardware. Italian exotics like the Ferrari 812 Superfast keep appetites satiated, the Lamborghini Huracan Performante stirred up some controversy about its Nürburgring lap times, and Aston Martin announced a new performance sub-brand in AMR. But it’s the McLaren 720S which piques our interest most. It’s the vanguard of McLaren’s big Track 22 business plan, which will birth 15 new models by 2022, many of them hybrids.
The 720S is the first model in the brand’s lineup to be an all-new replacement for an existing model (the 650S shared many of its parts with the 12C, including the carbon-fiber tub, and can be considered an aggressive mid-cycle refresh) and McLaren needed to put a very strong foot forward. Super Series product manager Ian Howshall showed us how.
“The 720S is our statement of intent for Track 22. How we show we’ve really been pushing ourselves,” said Howshall.
Visually, the 720S is staggering to behold, its body full of alien mystique as well as beautiful, futuristic lines. The only part that doesn’t quite work visually is the front end, which looks a bit off with the giant, hollow eyelids. Howshall is quick to point out that everything there is functional, from the adaptive headlights to the advanced cooling system that sends air through those ducts to the sides of the cockpit, on to the high-temp radiators and into the airbox in the rear.
The cutouts along the cockpit are a nod to the heritage of the legendary F1 road car, says Howshall, but also allowed the designers to go in a new direction with very slim, exposed A-, B-, and C-pillars. Expect McLarens of the future to go with a similar look, departing from the signature side-scoop on the current suite of supercars.
In the middle of the 720S is an all-new, one-piece carbon-fiber tub called MonoCage II. Of course it’s lighter and stiffer than that of the 650S and 12C, but the integrated roof panel functions as a hinge point for the doors, allowing significantly better ingress and egress. Further, the space-ship-like glass roof tapers elegantly into the rear window, an effect that provides a startlingly clear and dramatic view from the driver’s seat. From behind the steering wheel, it’s obvious McLaren is getting better and better at building interiors that are both driver-focused and appropriately luxurious. Ergonomics, materials, and a visibility are all improved even compared to the generally on-point 570S. McLaren is improving fast with every little step.
Howshall points out that the 720S will be a complete monster to drive, whether on public roads or on the track. A big reason is the new 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8. Though it shares its general architecture with the existing 3.8-liter engine, 41 percent of its parts are new, including the crank, connecting rods, pistons, cylinder heads, port fuel injection system, and dual twin-scroll turbos. The result is 710 hp and 568 lb-ft of torque that can be enjoyed in any environment.
“It’s all about drivability, emissions, and excitement,” explains Howshall. “We used some clever tricks from the 675LT’s software to get things where we wanted them and the new shortened exhaust maximizes the richness and purity of the V-8 sound. It should have the livability of the 570GT and performance near that of a 675LT.”
Interestingly, Howshall says McLaren isn’t thinking too hard about an LT version of the 720S. The model has a five-year life-cycle and engineers are currently working to develop a way to build a Spider version that won’t spoil the coupe’s sensational rear view with a pair of fat buttresses.
Taking the long view, Howshall indicates that McLaren will keep pushing its breathtaking supercars but notes there will soon be hybrids inching their way on the scene. McLaren had previously announced much of the later models to launch in its Track 22 plan will be hybridized but probably not plug-ins, while the successor to the P1 hypercar is almost surely all-electric.
It’ll be fascinating to watch McLaren grow and change as sales, which totaled 3,286 in 2016 largely on the back of the Sport Series lineup, continue to rise. For McLaren, it’s more important to shoot for the stars, not just the stratosphere. That’s what makes the 720S so critical.
“The Super Series is really the core of our DNA,” says Howshall. In just a few months, we’ll know just how good those genes are.