I have no discernable musical talent, I’m financially risk-averse, I’m not much of an actor, so unless I somehow break into the bestseller novel list with something vaguely automotive-themed, I don’t have much hope at achieving one-percent status, unfortunately. Please, put away the Hallmark condolences cards and return those flowers—I’ve come to terms with my status as part of the hoi polloi. Now and then, I do get flashes of the rich-and-famous lifestyle with a short stint in a loaned supercar, but bystander attention is almost exclusively levied at the brightly colored hyper-wedge, and not the bearded twentysomething behind the wheel. I’m merely a talking head for answering questions about pricing and specifications.
Nothing could prepare me for a recent weekend in a McLaren 720S Spider. The amount of attention was beyond anything else I’ve ever experienced, manifesting in countless gasps and exclamations hurled from car windows and stunned pedestrians. I pulled over in in the ultra-affluent hills above Palos Verdes to take photos and nearly caused an honest-to-goodness traffic jam as passersby slowed down, honked, leaned out of their vehicles, or parked nearby to chat about McLaren’s fastest, most powerful convertible ever.
I blame the color. The car was coated in astounding Aztec Gold and contrasted by gorgeous 10-spoke lightweight wheels darkened by the optional Stealth package. Out in the Southern California sun, the 720S positively gleamed, and I’m not sure people would react with the same exuberance if they found an actual hunk of gold sticking out of the ground. Aztec Gold is part of what McLaren calls “Elite” color options, one of four tiers that includes “Special” and “MSO Defined.” Regardless of chosen hue, most carry exceptional names. Aztec Gold shares shelf space with headline-grabbers like Volcano Yellow, Cosmos Black, and Bourbon.
The special paint was just one of many options found on the spec sheet. Among other things, there were Exterior Carbon Fiber packs 1 and 2 (but not 3), a sport exhaust, a gloss-finish carbon-fiber rear deck, a super-trick electrochromatic glass roof panel that changes from clear to opaque at the press of a button, and Bowers & Wilkins audio. Inside, there was enough carbon fiber to choke an autoclave, with the stuff appearing on both “Primary” and “Secondary Interior Components,” including the seat backs, door sills, and shift paddles. What started as a $315,000 car ($327,130, if you include the Luxury spec) transformed into a $411,300 rolling showcase of McLaren’s finest baubles.
Spec’ing a car with almost six figures in mostly aesthetic componentry might feel rather ridiculous—until it isn’t. Last year, I drove home from our 2019 Automobile All Stars supertest in the Ferrari 812 Superfast, which wore a half-million-dollar price tag. That bright yellow hypercoupe managed to swallow $140,000 worth of options without appearing much removed from a garden-variety 812. The car itself sure felt worth half a mil, but aside from some carbon trim on the interior, its optional wheels, and a set of special seats, that extra $140,000 might as well have evaporated.
The Aztec Gold 720S felt every penny of $400,000, especially relative to the $238,000 570S Spider I also recently drove. That baby McLaren remains one of the best supercar buys available, at least for performance. That “entry-level” McLaren pulled down on-ramps and mountain straights with the enthusiasm of something much, much more expensive and powerful, and we suspected it was making more than the advertised output. I’m happy to report the same can be said of the big-brother 720S Spider—even taking into account the spec sheet says the 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 fires out 710 horsepower.
Applying the same math we did to the 570S, the 720S is likely putting out closer to 800 horses at the crank—an entirely believable number. Short of stepping into a Bugatti, Koenigsegg, or an even-higher-tier McLaren, I’m not sure there’s a more violently accelerating supercar in 2019. Full-throttle is genuinely alarming regardless of how acclimated you are to this level of performance; after traction control takes its pound of flesh, the rear wheels hook and the world begins to blur. The sensory experience is compounded with the roof retracted, as the 4.0-liter’s shriek and wind rush into the cabin to pop ears and muss even the most well-cemented hairdo.
Out on the wide, smooth corners of Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road that sluices through the San Gabriel Mountains, the 720S was absolutely explosive. Point-to-point acceleration on the straight sections was like being shot out of the U.S. Navy’s electromagnetic railgun; there are no dead spots to be found under 100 mph, so outright speed is limited only by bravery and your confidence in the massive carbon-ceramic stompers at all four corners. That’s a good thing, considering the ceramics are viciously effective at scrubbing you down from Mach 6, though if I must complain, the pedal feels overly stiff and has a smidge too much travel before you feel the calipers doing their work.
Visually, the 720S Spider looks like someone stretched glossy fabric over a complex latticework of carbon fiber, aluminum, and titanium, giving the car a low-cut and vaguely insectoid profile. It’s far from flimsy, however, as McLaren’s monocoque construction and carbon-fiber Monocage II-S provides structural rigidity that’s neck-and-neck with the 720S coupe. While it doesn’t fit the definition of truly “lightweight” at roughly 3,200 pounds, it’s one of the lightest mid-engined droptops in the segment, undercutting cars like Lamborghini’s Huracán and Ferrari’s 488 Spider.
It certainly feels svelte. Semi-light steering and a wide footprint allows you to dive and rip through corners with little fuss, though the 720S is more than happy to liberate the rear end for lurid slides, providing you’re brave and financially healthy enough to swallow the costs associated with spoiled carbon fiber.
When you’re done shattering the tranquility of whatever wilderness you’re rocketing through, make sure you spend an equal amount of time cruising through some ritzy shopping district with the top down. The 720S Spider is stunningly charismatic, and even without the Aztec Gold, it’s one of the most striking shapes you’ll find anywhere. It’s also deceptively comfortable, thanks in no small part to the clever hydraulic suspension that allows the car to ride better than some workaday midsize sedans. If you have the cash, consider the 720S Spider before you spring for your second beach house. Just make sure the gawping onlookers wagging their cameras capture your good side.
2019 McLaren 720S Spider Specifications
|ENGINE||4.0L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve 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|
|WEIGHT||3250 lb (est)|
|0–60 MPH||2.8 sec|
|TOP SPEED||202/212 mph (top down/up)|