TOWCESTER, England — The perimeter road that winds around the Silverstone race circuit is narrow, mostly smooth, and has a speed limit of 20 mph. As a place to judge a car’s dynamic behavior, official McLaren literature might describe it as “sub-optimal,” and the company would probably note an “inconsistent mu coefficient.” And, of course, it would be correct. Yet by the time I’ve driven from the rather splendid “Wing” pit complex to the circuit’s exit in the new McLaren 675LT, I’m positively beaming and muttering to myself, “They get it. They really do get it.”
Let me explain. The McLaren 650S is a car of extraordinary talents. It is dizzyingly fast, supremely controlled, and covers ground at a rate that would make a Nissan GT-R owner weep into his G meter. In every measurable way it matches or beats its direct competitors. I’ve never really fallen for it, though. That sounds absurd, but somehow the 650S takes its staggering capability set and makes it forgettable. It is fantastic when you’re in the driver’s seat — save a few minor frustrations, certainly — but the moment you push down the dihedral door and walk away the details of the experience seem to vanish. As a result you tend to feel admiration for the 650S rather than affection. You should ache to own a supercar, but this McLaren never triggers a raw emotional connection.
By the time I turn left out of Silverstone and on to one of the gnarliest, most challenging roads you could hope to find, the 675LT (for Longtail), which McLaren will limit to 500 units worldwide, feels like a whole different animal. I want one. That feeling doesn’t fade during the next few hours on roads and racetrack. The LT doesn’t so much up the ante from the 650S as tear down the formula and reinvent it completely with a tighter focus, much improved controls and — hallelujah — a sense of pure, unadulterated fun. The end result is staggeringly capable and joyously entertaining.
There is, of course, even more performance, but that hardly matters. What counts is the vastly improved gearbox that fires home upshifts with a great crack of ignition cut, the superbly detailed steering feel thanks to a faster rack and front suspension that shares much of the P1’s architecture, and a balance that allows the driver to tune and dictate to the LT on their own terms. In fact that’s what really separates the 675LT: It puts the driver right at the heart of the experience rather than considering them the fleshy, error-prone limiting factor. McLaren claims the 675LT is 60 percent all-new, but it’s the change in philosophy executed through those hardware and software upgrades that’s of crucial significance. It feels like McLaren has really found its identity.
Delve into the 675LT’s incredibly detailed evolution from the “base” 650S. “Thorough” doesn’t quite cover it, as you might expect from McLaren and the $349,500 sticker price, up from $265,500. The Longtail tag is perhaps a shade dubious as its inspiration, the F1 GTR Longtail, added a huge 25 inches of bodywork to the Le Mans-winning F1 GTR whereas the 675LT is a rather apologetic 1.3 inches longer than the 650S. However, McLaren says its philosophy of improving the car in every area is one shared with that spectacular ancestor.
Tenuous or not, the resulting headline numbers are impressive. Downforce is improved by 40 percent, weight is cut by a substantial 220 pounds to just 2,712 pounds, and the 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-8 now produces an unholy 666 horsepower at 7,100 rpm and 516 lb-ft from 5,500 to 6,500 rpm. McLaren claims a top speed of 205 mph, 0-60 mph in about 2.8-seconds, 0-100 mph in 5.5-seconds, and a standing quarter-mile of 10.45 seconds at 142 mph. As a little signal of this car’s intent, it comes standard wearing super-aggressive Pirelli P Zero Trofeo tires and carbon-ceramic brakes. So from contact patch to the new 50 percent larger (but lighter, naturally) airbrake, the 675LT is reworked sufficiently to extract more performance.
It would take page after page to cover every single item upgraded or rethought to provide tiny details that add up to such significant victories, but let’s look at the basics. The suspension features 20 mm wider tracks at the front and rear and is 20 mm lower at the front, increasing the car’s rake to aid downforce. Spring rates are up by 27 percent at the front and 63 percent at the rear, and the ProActive damping and roll-control system is retuned. New front uprights and wishbones very similar to those fitted to the P1 save weight and create greater response and control. In combination with a 10 percent quicker steering rack, McLaren says the front axle reacts 15 percent quicker.
The aerodynamic work is similarly extensive, with an 80-percent larger front splitter complete with F1-style end plates, new side skirts that settle turbulent air created by the front wheels, larger side air intakes to feed the intercoolers (tilted outward to enhance efficiency) and, of course, the larger airbrake. In fact, from the B-pillar backward the 675LT shares not a single panel with the 650S, in the name of saving weight and improving aerodynamics.
There’s more. The 1mm thinner windscreen glass saves 6.6 pounds, the plexiglass rear engine cover saves a further 3.7 pounds, titanium wheel bolts shed another 1.7 pound, and a glorious titanium exhaust system saves 11.5 pounds. Then there’s the new machined-from-solid compressor wheel for the turbochargers, which saves 0.1 pounds and increases airflow into the combustion chambers. And new electronic wastegates for improved throttle response, and new camshafts and connecting rods… Well, you get the idea. McLaren honed the 675LT with incredible commitment.
All of this would be for nought if the McLaren 675LT didn’t feel different. But it does. From the moment you fire it up, the engine sounds angrier, the junked sound deadening seems to bring the noise deep into the structure but not so much that it’s overwhelming. The fixed-back carbon-fiber seats (saving 35 pounds combined) tingle and vibrate too, a result of stiffer engine and transmission mounts. Press “Active” on the elegant center console to awaken the two rotary dials above, one adjusting drivetrain settings, the other influencing the chassis. Each has Normal, Sport, and Track settings, which you can mix and match. New for the 675LT is stability control that you can be adjust independent of driving mode, meaning a new Dynamic setting is available in Sport and Track, or you can remove it altogether with a long press of the ESC button. On the road, Sport mode for the suspension feels spot on, and Sport for the drivetrain means you get the new ignition-cut function that cuts the spark during shifts but keeps on fueling. The result is a triumphant “crack” on upshifts and better throttle response. Be brave and go for the Dynamic ESC setting, and the 675LT is primed.
You notice the weightier steering first. It hums and fizzes with feedback, and though the front tires sometimes weave into ruts or follow cambers, the extra physicality is judged beautifully. The LT feels focused with a taste of rawness, but the ride is still pliant enough to cope with all but the worst surfaces. It changes direction so cleanly too, the body control immediately apparent, and the wider front track and faster steering rack create an instantaneous, muscular response that the slightly aloof 650S couldn’t hope to achieve. These are seriously encouraging signs.
As the pace ramps up so too does the sense that the 675LT is keen to match your commitment with astonishing accuracy. The suspension only improves with speed, and the Trofeos seem to hook deep into the surface to find huge levels of grip and traction. However, while there’s composure and control to spare, there’s something more — a balance that doesn’t default into understeer but stays neutral as you lean deeper into the reserves of grip and that prefers a lick of oversteer to a push of understeer. The inherent poise layered on top of the furious power delivery, the wickedly addictive upshifts, and the detailed feel that pours back through steering and seat create a wholly new experience.
On the return loop to Silverstone the 675LT combines intensity, fluidity, and jaw-dropping performance to stunning effect. It’s not perfect and it undoubtedly sacrifices some ride comfort for that added communication and bite, but I’d happily forego some notional “usability” for the added involvement and sense of occasion. And besides, you could happily drive the McLaren 675LT every day just as you can the 650S, though you might need to turn the stereo up a couple clicks louder.
On the track it’s even more impressive. The drivetrain delivers surreal performance and a vast power band when let loose completely, as the chassis retains the neutral-to-oversteery balance while the Dynamic ESC mode tidies up your excesses with polite unobtrusiveness. I’d like slightly more instant braking response, and the engine doesn’t match the new Ferrari 488 GTB’s throttle response, but the LT’s high-speed stability and playfulness share much with the P1. I’m certain McLaren’s hypercar wouldn’t be much quicker around the racetrack.
The 675LT is so much more than a 650S with added power and a lot less weight. Objectively it improves performance, grip, and agility, but it’s the way it feels unshackled, happy to celebrate the irreverence of the supercar breed that makes it a special and significant car for McLaren.
2016 McLaren 675LT Specifications
- On Sale: Now (sold out)
- Price: $353,600
- Engine: 3.8L twin-turbo 32-valve V-8/ 666 hp @ 7,100 rpm, 516 lb-ft @ 5,500-6,500 rpm
- Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
- Layout: 2-door, 2-passenger, mid-engine, RWD coupe
- EPA Mileage: 16/22 mpg (city/hwy)
- Suspension F/R: Double wishbones, coil springs, ProActive Chassis control
- Brakes F/R: Carbon-ceramic vented discs
- Tires F/R: 235/35R-19/305/30R-20 Pirelli P Zero Trofeo
- L x W x H: 179.0 x 75.2 x 46.8 in
- Wheelbase: 105.1 in
- Headroom: 38.4 in
- Legroom: 44.2 in
- Shoulder Room: 53.1 in
- Cargo Room: 5.1 cu ft
- Weight: 2,712 lb
- Weight Dist. F/R: 43/57%
- 2.8 sec (est)
- 1/4-Mile: 10.45 @142 mph
- Top Speed: 205 mph