LITCHFIELD PARK, Arizona—There’s a moment when, ripping through a high-speed corner and praying to whatever God you hold dear that your McLaren 600LT Spider doesn’t slide off the apex and spin into oblivion, you might forget that there’s nothing above you but sky. The wind, noise, and fury in the open cockpit of this 592-hp missile is anathema to its buttoned-down, track-biased, laser-like focus. Chaos, meet control.
The 600LT Spider is McLaren’s fifth salvo in its lighter/stiffer/meaner iteration of LT cars that traces back to the brand’s O.G. mutant, the F1 GTR Longtail. It seems like a bit of a stretch, modifying a serially produced supercar and hearkening back to the mental monster that was the late, great F1.
But the Woking-based manufacturer was admittedly in experimental mode when the first of the newest Longtails, the 675LT, dropped at the Geneva Motor Show in 2015 with an incrementally stretched rear end and a considerably fiercer persona. With production limited to 500 units, the lighter, ballsier coupe managed to sell out in less than a month, surprising even its manufacturer. Thus it only seemed natural to offer a hopped-up version of the 675 convertible because, well, McLaren is in the business of selling cars. The rest, as they say, was history: The 675LT Spider sold out even more quickly, in just two weeks.
Next came the 600LT coupe, which took the entry-level 570S and angered its intentions with more power and tighter everything. But this time around, nobody was surprised when McLaren spun off this Spider version. The lightweighting is significant compared to a 570S Spider: Mass has been trimmed from no fewer than 17 items, including the deletion of the door pockets and glovebox (saving 2.2 pounds) to racing-style seats that themselves shave some 46 pounds. The net sum of the efforts is up to 220 pounds of fat trimmed if you tick every Slim-Fast box, which includes jettisoning niceties like the air conditioning and infotainment system and paying extra for bits like titanium wheel bolts. This after you’ve already paid roughly $15K more for the Spider than you would a coupe.
Much is also done to focus the car’s dynamics over the 570 version. The aerodynamics are optimized via new pieces that include the side skirts, rear diffuser, fixed wing, and carbon-fiber undertray with integrated brake ducts. These items help deliver a claimed 220 pounds of downforce at 155 mph. The chassis package borrows the controls arms, rear toe links, and suspension upright hardware from the 720S, and better controls roll with stiffer, hollowed-out anti-roll bars. Spring rates are up by 14 percent in the front and 34 percent at the rear; counteracting that stiffness are slightly more relaxed damper settings.
A tune of the 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-8’s ECU yields output totals of 592 horsepower and 457 lb-ft of torque, and twin top-exit exhaust pipes centralize mass and reduce overall weight versus a longer system. A more aggressively programmed seven-speed dual-clutch transmission offers launch control as it does in the 570S, but adds a “burnout” mode, perhaps to emphasize its overt badassery.
The cumulative result of those mods—the weight cutting, the downforce, the grip, the muscle—comes across instantly on the road. There’s a level of stiffness and responsiveness that makes the 600LT feel several rungs above a run-of-the-mill 570S, making the lesser variant feel remarkably mild, like a grand tourer trapped in the body of a sports car. McLaren lists the open-air 600LT’s zero-to-60-mph time at 2.8 seconds, which is identical to that of the coupe despite weighing about 100 pounds more. You won’t see a noticeable discrepancy in acceleration until 124 mph, which arrives in 8.4 seconds, only 0.2 second behind its fixed-roof counterpart. Gripping roads with supersticky Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R rubber, the 600LT Spider feels absolutely unflappable, squirting ahead and shooting its nose into corners with effortless ease.
Folding the two-piece carbon-fiber top takes 15 seconds and can be done at speeds up to 25 mph. The roof accounts for an incremental sacrifice of VMax: 201 mph versus 204 in the coupe. (The Spider can also go a blistering 196 mph with the roof lowered.) There’s quite a bit of sound that enters the cabin during highway driving, ranging from road hum and tire thrum to wind noise from the A-pillars and side mirrors. The aural landscape becomes more intense and arguably more palatable when going al fresco, though, when the whirl of airflow interplays with the V-8’s song just aft of the cabin. Be sure to lower the small, electrically operated rear window/wind deflector to amplify things, too.
There’s a purposeful air about the 600LT, especially when driving through areas like the suburbs of Scottsdale where seemingly every other conveyance, even AMGs and Hellcats, seems pedestrian. Exit town and venture into the cactus-strewn stretches of the Sonoran Desert National Monument, where the horizon is vast and the landscape uncluttered, and the McLaren just wants to run. Speed here becomes a relative thing; whereas triple-digit velocities are incredibly déclassé in the city, it seems absolutely proper to bend time and space in the wilds of Arizona.
But the ultimate attitude adjustment comes at the 16-turn, 2.2-mile Arizona Motorsports Park. The desert track is smaller and more technical than the 14-turn, 2.7-mile long Hungaroring circuit where we first experienced the 600LT coupe, and arguably a more superior showcase of the LT’s range of talents. Not that the nearly 600-hpcoupe wasn’t epic enough at the F1-grade track, it simply seemed diminutive relative to circuit’s expansive straights. Here under the Arizona sky, the convertible’s precision is what comes across loud and clear. Maneuvering through the tight kinks involves a power slide and a throttle lift which triggers a quick chassis rotation and a direction flick, the kind of maneuver you might employ while tossing a shifter kart around a corner. Conversely, it takes a bit of trust in the electronics to slide into higher speed corners and power through the apex. But with both the Handling and Powertrain adjustment dials set to “Track” and stability control set to “Dynamic,” the 600LT Spider becomes a remarkably astute and obedient dance partner, using brake vectoring to aid turn-in and a stupefying amount of structural rigidity delivering predictable transitions.
Unlike some supercars that lay down power through electronic or limited-slip differentials, the LT saves weight with an open differential. When the Trofeo R rubber hits its operating temperature and the person behind the wheel grows familiar enough with the track layout, the result is an emboldening and strong link between driver input and kinetic result. The LT is always positioned exactly where you need it to be—there’s no slack, flex, or squishiness between man and machine. It’s that high level of capability and transparency that sets the LT apart from the 570S. Similarly, the 30-hp bump and upgraded brake booster (which McLaren calls “Senna-inspired”) make the LT far more trackworthy, and putting you entirely in command while slinging from apex to apex.
If you drive home from a track session, you’ll be reminded of the McLaren 600LT Spider’s relentlessness by the rigid seats, the lack of noise insulation, the unforgiving ride. But the 600LT Spider has extra charm derived from the folding roof sections that boost headroom to infinity. The convertible may not be the purist’s choice, with its additional moving parts and incremental weight gain diminishing its argument as the ultimate track weapon, but this McLaren comes highly recommended because of its disciplined approach to broadening its performance envelope. While the die-hards will invariably flock to the fixed-roof version, everyone else will find plenty of high-speed thrills in this unfiltered open-top Spider.
2019 McLaren 600LT Spider Specifications
|ENGINE||3.8L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8; 592 hp @ 7,500 rpm, 457 lb-ft @ 5,500 rpm|
|TRANSMISSION||7-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 2-passenger, mid-engine, RWD convertible|
|EPA MILEAGE||15/22 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||181.3 x 80.5 x 47.1 in|
|0–60 MPH||2.8 sec|
|TOP SPEED||196/201 mph (roof down/up)|