New Car Reviews

First Drive: McLaren’s 720S Spider Lets in the Speed, Sound, and Fury

An all-around stunner, it has the bandwidth to deliver thrills in every situation.

It takes a certain disregard to decapitate a McLaren 720S, an Automobile All-Star and arguably the first sensually styled modern-era McLaren, for the sake of a little extra sunshine. From a purist’s perspective, there better be a damn good reason to lop the top off this relatively uncompromised supercar when there’s so much that can go wrong aesthetically and functionally. Thankfully, the wizards in Woking appear to have carefully thought the whole thing through as they created the new 720S Spider.

Spoiler alert for weight watchers: the droptop does gain a smidge of mass, 108 pounds to be exact. But the four percent gain has been carefully managed for optimal engineering and appearance, resulting in a noticeably smoother transition over its more clinically executed flip-top antecedent, the 650S Spider.

In fact, this new 710-hp convertible undercuts its predecessor by 83 pounds, and with a curb weight of roughly 3,250 pounds, it’s up to 385 pounds wispier than foes like the Ferrari 488 Spider and the Lamborghini Huracán Performante Spyder. The roof deploys in a scant 11 seconds, and at speeds of up to 31 mph. Spec-sheet hawks will note that the zero-to-60-mph run is covered in the identical 2.8 seconds as in the coupe, with the 720S Spider falling behind by only a tenth by the time it reaches 124 mph.

Stylish Speed

As mentioned, the latest Spider’s look is a clean one, with the roof consisting of just one carbon-fiber panel versus the two-panel folding unit of the 650S. There’s also a slick bit of visual trickery involving the folding hardware thanks to new pillarless doors: glazed flying buttresses that blend into the silhouette while adding aerodynamic downforce. Finally, the optional electrochromic roof can block 99.9 percent of UV rays or allow in more daylight at the touch of a button. While the cabin barely offers a flat surface or any sort of handy pocket for your cell phone and the 5.3-cubic-foot frunk doesn’t hold much, at least there’s an additional two square feet of space under the roof tonneau for a soft bag. Every nook and cranny of space counts.

Peanut Butter Make ’Em Jelly Time

Driving the $315,000 McLaren 720S Spider al fresco through Scottsdale’s suburban sprawl is an exquisitely ostentatious way to make those around you seethe with jealousy, especially considering the high density of late-model factory hot rods—the place is a Hellcat, AMG, and BMW M car haven—and interesting vintage cars. Given their vehicular aptitude, everyone is palpably aware you’re rolling in McLaren’s latest, greatest sled when it’s slathered in Aztec Gold, a paint hue so extroverted it manages to recall NASA’s golden age and medieval royalty all at once.

Amidst this spectacular vehicular mashup of midcentury Silver Clouds and postmodern G65s, the Spider stands out like a swoopy alien, a big-eyed sailfish swimming its way not-so-stealthily through giants. Visibility through the sloped windshield, as with virtually all McLarens, is outstanding. Where the revised structure meets those pillarless doors, it connects to a reworked rear structure that incorporates rollover protection. Wind noise is predictably present when the top is retracted, though the steady thrum of the twin-turbo V-8 is relatively unobtrusive at lower rpms unless the rear window is lowered.

Sensations Set to Maximum

About that engine. Hearing the powerplant adds an exclamation point to the Spider’s sensation of speed, which has always been one of the 720S’s most dramatic qualities. Bury the right pedal, and the two-seater surges ahead with seemingly unstoppable force. Regardless of how many times you’ve experienced it, the long, lusty tidal wave of thrust never gets old. The V-8’s 8,500-rpm might comes in large part due to a pair of 160,000-rpm turbochargers, and the engine couples with McLaren’s quick shifting seven-speed dual-clutch transmission to deliver brain-melting bursts of acceleration.

Dial the Powertrain to Sport, and there’s just enough smoothness to make the 720S feel supple and tractable during mid-corner shifts. However, switch it to Track, and McLaren’s so-called “inertia push”—where extra torque is funneled through the driveline to alleviate any power dips during shifts—sends a jolt that seems a tad overly dramatic. Thankfully the hydraulic suspension can be adjusted separately (unlike on, say, the Performante Spyder, which has three settings that each tie together the drivetrain, suspension, and steering, and we love that the 720S’s settings offer clearly delineated personalities from softer and touring-friendly to crisply responsive and wicked.

Much of our time on public roads was a test of our will to keep the car bridled—Arizona is positively brimming with police looking to help their jurisdiction’s bottom line. After all, this McLaren requires a mere 7.9 seconds to reach 124 mph. We suppose, though, that rocketing along at such a velocity would give you a few moments to figure out how best to explain to the nice peace officer that you could have decelerated to a standstill in 4.6 seconds and 387 feet. Slowing down the McLaren with a modicum of smooth modulation is less intuitive than with most of its supercar peers, due to the relatively short pedal travel and sharp initial bite. But acclimate to the action, and the carbon-ceramic stoppers prove nearly as heroic as the burly motor.

Ready To Go Faster

Given the 720S’s sheer ability to go, turn, and stop, managing the animal urge to go extremely fast becomes a constant, nagging challenge. The 720S coupe already breaks speed limits so effortlessly, its convertible counterpart might actually be slightly better at staying out of trouble since the sensory experience is more vivid. Drop the top and lower the rear window, and the visceral speed, sound, fury, and everything else become amplified enough that you almost always feel like you’re doing something naughty. Contrast that to, say, the insulated whoosh of whisking along in a Bentley or a Rolls-Royce coupe, and the McLaren’s transmission of its supralegal capabilities—including the fact that your ribcage is acting as a panini press for your internal organs—at least makes you privy to your lawbreaking ways.

As the sun dips towards Arizona’s mountainous horizon and our time with the 720S Spider comes to a close, we can’t help but ponder the other car we were here to drive: the 600LT Spider. Smaller, lighter, and sharper-edged than the smoothed-out 720S, the LT proves to be the fiercer track tool, the one we’d love to fling around a tight road course in anger. But the larger, more powerful, and considerably pricier 720S is in many ways the more versatile, accommodating car. It’s not just the nicer interior, replete with supple leather surfaces and a larger, 8.0-inch touchscreen. It’s the 720 S’s remarkable bandwidth that sets it apart from its stablemates, not to mention its competitors. This is a sports car that is just as happy parading at city speeds top down as it is hauling across the desert at triple digits with the roof up, putting the outside world in your rearview mirror. It’s a rare sort of automotive duality, and one that certainly justifies the car’s additional weight and complexity.

2019 McLaren 720S Spider Specifications

ON SALE Now
BASE PRICE $315,000 (est)
ENGINE 4.0L DOHC 32-valve twin-turbo V-8/710 hp @ 7,500 rpm, 568 lb-ft @ 5,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
LAYOUT 2-door, 2-passenger, mid-engine, RWD convertible
EPA MILEAGE 19/29 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 179.0 x 76.0 x 47.0 in
WHEELBASE 105.1 in
WEIGHT 3250 lb (est)
0–60 MPH 2.8 sec
TOP SPEED 202/212 mph (top down/up)