Design

By Design: 2018 McLaren 720S

This is surely the best-looking shape McLaren has produced so far

The 720S is a beautiful, sleek GT car, possibly the most aerodynamically exciting road car to come from the U.K. since the Jaguar E-type 56 years ago. My main criticism of volume-production McLarens — all of which until now used the same basic 3.8 liter V-8 engines and carbon-fiber monocoques — has been the gaping holes in the body sides required to provide enough cooling for the hot sections within the outer envelope. This new design has a beautifully simplified outer form and a complex internal-airflow management system that permits more power than any modern McLaren has enjoyed up to now. And the company achieved it without blatant air passages seen on the racing-oriented Ford GT or the road version of the Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus SCG003 GT.

Most recent high-performance cars have had some kind of aerodynamic covering over their headlamps. The 720S does outline a large lighting area, so cleverly shaped and integrated into the whole that it convinces you there’s a cover. But it is completely open, its black carbon-fiber internal surfaces sculpted in voluptuous curves to direct airflow.

Rob Melville, McLaren Automotive’s thoughtful and reflective chief designer, was keen to recapture the simplicity that so memorably characterized the first non-racing mid-engine supercar, Lamborghini’s Miura, without copying it. That’s not easy when dealing with three times the horsepower and thus the enormously increased heat load imposed by two turbochargers.

The answer was to increase frontal air-intake area without a gigantic grille by putting the lamps in open scoops and to route most of the cooling air internally, allowing smooth flanks marked with strong character lines and only very small inlets low on the body behind the door to cool the turbochargers’ radiators. Air is ducted through the doors in open-top trenches, which increase in area as they move rearward, so there are four longitudinal skins in the upper part of each door. Those doors, in turn, are hinged to move upward and a bit inward, rather than just pivoting up on a horizontal transverse-hinge axis. This is a brilliant solution seen once before — on the very mundane Toyota Sera, of all things. It works brilliantly here, making cabin access easy and door closing equally facile, neither case existing on the 570 models.

One of the cabin’s greatest attributes is the exceptional all-around visibility, achieved by multiple transparencies: windshield, two lateral and two roof door glasses, the backlight, two rear-quarter windows, and two panes in the C pillar itself. The result is luminous, and you can really see out well in all directions, not common in mid-engine machines.

There are a few styling matters I quarrel with. The three louvers at the end of the roof seem too big, a bit crude and disproportionate to the delicacy of much of the detailing. The exhaust outlets cut into the bumper recall economy cars where the engineers and stylists seem never to have talked to each other. But these are minor quibbles. What impresses me most is the side profile’s purity and elegance. A driver’s head is almost exactly at mid-wheelbase, depending on seat adjustment, of course, but it’s a good place for the inner ear to be to sense the car’s movements.

An important innovation is a two-version instrument panel. In standard mode, the color screen presents a traditional tachometer in which a digital speedometer and the gear indicator are embedded, flanked by readings for the trip odometer, hours since engine start, temperature and fuel gauge, and speed and fuel-consumption figures. But when you’re really going hard, the panel physically pivots to take up less of the view ahead and includes only a racing-style tach and indicators of gear engaged and your speed. This is likely to be widely seen in future vehicles.

The 720S is surely the best-looking shape McLaren has produced so far, and it bodes well for forth-coming top-of-the-range models.

Design Analysis

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1. Relatively modest outlets just inboard of a directional crease in the hood release heat from the front coolers.

2. You can just see the top of a huge inlet duct for the rear radiators set into the doors, allowing the outer skins to be smooth and virtually uninterrupted.

3. Large, pointed headlamp apertures give the front end thrust and definition.

4. As an indication of this design’s precision, elegance, and sensitivity, consider the care with which various curves are made to harmonize in three dimensions, from whatever viewpoint. Outstanding work.

5. The vaguely pentagonal outer scoops presumably provide brake cooling.

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There is something extremely sharklike to the nose profile.

6. The rear fender’s hip line is an elegant curve seemingly drawn in a single, sweeping, human artist’s creative gesture. There is no sense of constrained or contrived digital form generation.

7. The quarter lights behind the doors taper inward in plan view, making the entire upper structure a teardrop shape for minimum drag, like a fighter jet canopy.

8. The entire front end is shaped to give this point prominence without the exaggeration of the ultra-long nose of Jaguar’s E-type.

9. Another example of harmony of line and form. This slight undercut defines a band whose average width is about like that between lamps and wheelhouse.

10. The unassuming and discreet inlet behind the door, barely noticed when standing next to the car, supplies additional cooling air to the turbochargers.

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11. This rib is quite beautiful, but it has an aerodynamic function, too, keeping air from spilling down the side of the body. The black scoop inboard gathers air to shoot out over the windshield, cleaning up turbulence in the wiper slot behind the hood.

12. Plastic or metal, you can’t have a sharp point in a body skin, so this little radius results in a forward-pointing black arrowhead shape.

13. The half-dozen vertically oriented headlamp lenses are themselves individual units in the upper edges of the headlamp opening.

14. The daylight running lamps traverse the same opening but are actually exposed.

15. The outlined area around the headlights and the running-light bar is open to incoming air. You can put your hand in the opening and run it all around the bar.

16. This small outlet improves the graphics of the side profile and provides a flow of directed air down the side of the body.

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Ten slim spokes make the wheel seem almost not present, thus providing visual emphasis to the rim and offering maximum heat transfer from the brakes.

17. Key to the sleek, clean side profile is a sizable tunnel in the doors to carry air from headlamp openings to the rear radiators, obviating a requirement for side scoops as on earlier McLarens and most other mid-engine GTs.

18. This small strut between inner and outer door volumes maintains structural rigidity on the complex door structure.

19. The backlight and transparent panels in the C-pillars offer clear rear vision with the sharp inward plan-view taper of the upper structure.

20. Lateral trenches continue even aft of the radiators, serving as additional heat outlets for the engine compartment.

21. Bodywork below the roof ends with an undulating line on the air brake/wing in both plan and direct rear views, providing maximum visual length to the body ensemble.

22. The color-separation line on the rear is also shaped carefully to look good from any angle, a real sculptural feat.

23. This is a problem area. A panel-break line runs to the wheel opening, but the rising line does not actually meet the flat bank around the upper half of the wheel opening. It’s all a little amorphous and unresolved.

24. The lowest point in the new tub is well forward, making it much easier to swing your feet into the cockpit compared to the earlier cars, which were contortionists’ delights.

25. Notice how carefully the shape of the front-fender air outlet is harmonized with the main body contours. It must have taken hundreds of hours of observation to achieve this.

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Scale of the hexagonal grille pattern seems exactly, perfectly proportioned to the size of the openings and of the car, again a sign of intense attention to visual detail in the 720S design.

26. Yes, this looks like the Formula 1 devices seen even on Japanese sedans these days, but it hides a substantial outlet for wheelhouse air and directs it down the side.

27. The leading edge of the airbrake wing flap completes a fluid three-dimensional curve deriving from the rear grille surround.

28. Side marker lamps are small bits of jewelry, the upper perimeter aligning with the rising panel-break line on the body side.

29. When I see this detail, I always ask whether engineers talk with stylists about where the exhaust goes. These cutouts in the form are as sad as the little cuts in the bottom of economy car bumpers.

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30. This little line of orange stitches is a particularly nice touch, repeated on seats and tunnel.

31. Mirrors are big, well positioned, and effective.

32. Rotated into normal position, the digital instrument panel provides the usual information you might want on the road, along with supplemental instrumentation and a classic tachometer face.

33. The data screen is nicely sized and oriented to the driver.

34. Subtly restrained flashes of color in the cockpit are elegant and welcoming.

35. Note the center of the hub and McLaren badge are not at all the same as the center of the wheel itself, a bit of tromp l’oeil trickery quite common in interior design practice.

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36. The minimalist, maximum-performance setting for the instrument cluster provides information about which gear is engaged, revs, and speed.

37. Front-fender profile is defined by a peak line well outboard of the principal body mass, separated by a wide channel.

38. The roof’s centerline profile is magnificent, capturing the feel of a fighter-plane canopy perfectly.

39. The turbo radiator-inlet efficiency is enhanced by the hard edge above the opening, indenting the body side to provide more frontal area for ram air along the lower body.

40. This painted band is carefully proportioned to keep a sense of lightness around the front end, about the same visual weight as the section sweeping inward below the headlamp aperture …

41. … the inner sweep of which initiates the front-fender profile.

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