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Drivers’ Report Pt. 1: The 2019 McLaren Senna Is Unlike Anything Else on Earth

We drive the hypercar in real life—and it’s everything you ever dreamt it was.

Conner GoldenWriterNelson IresonWriterWilliam WalkerPhotographerRenz DimaandalPhotographerDean SmithPhotographer

As we explained in this feature story, McLaren partnered with Automobile to spec and order one of the 500 examples of the Senna hypercar built by the British automaker. Almost exactly one year after we visited the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking, U.K., and placed our order, the car arrived in the U.S. It's first stop in our care was NCM Motorsports Park in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where our professional race driver, Andy Pilgrim, used it to set the track's outright production-car lap record. It then arrived in Los Angeles, where several Automobile editors each spent a few days with the car to learn what life is like with such a beast in your possession. These are their stories, with more to come later this week in the second installment of this two-part series.

Associate editor Conner Golden:

Without knowing, a brief weekend in our Four Seasons Lexus LS500 drained my luck dry. Yes, any of that mercurial gold-luck liquid still sloshing around the reserve tank was siphoned off by some unseen occurrence—or near occurrence—while puttering around on that vehicular memory-foam mattress. After less than 48 hours, I swapped the leather couch for the saddle-seat on a Tour de France carbon-fiber road bike in the form of our 2019 McLaren Senna—and promptly got a ticket within 10 miles of beginning my first drive.

2019 McLaren Senna: A Bad Start

Some of the more seasoned auto writers will cheerfully tell you they earned the majority of their thick folio of moving violations and vehicular infractions behind the wheel of something rather mundane; think getting busted for 10-over in a loaned Toyota Sienna, while your riotously loud buck-twenty run in the Lamborghini Huracan goes entirely unnoticed by a yawning constabulary.

An amusing contrast for them, but not so much from my side-of-the-road, license-and-registration-please hotseat. Well, in the case of a test drive in the 2019 McLaren Senna, literally a hot seat: The combination of that tight, raw-carbon cabin cocoon with those Gorilla Glass door portholes baked me like a potato as I waited for the final verdict. I'm not going to go into the details of my alleged infraction, but the severity of it was categorically not fitting of the Senna's monstrous capabilities or its $1.1-million price-tag. Really, it was more along the lines of something my mother would commit absentmindedly in her Lexus RX. "I hope you have a better day," the officer said as he handed me a different kind of carbon (copy). Gee, thanks.

You know what? Not only did my day get better, but I rank that afternoon as one of the most mind-scrambling and sensory-adjusting thrill-rides of my career. Initially, I planned on a relatively tepid cruise through the Malibu hills to avoid further future litigation, but the 2019 McLaren Senna was having none of that, nor were my adoring fans—or the Senna's fans, that is. In something as comparably mundane as a McLaren 570S, you're a superstar; expect phone cameras pointed at you, questions asked, and thumbs-up administered wherever you go. Roll around in a 720S, and people start to lean out of cars, while passersby wander over when you park.

2019 McLaren Senna: You're a Rock Star

Take a Senna for a test spin, and you might as well be a second sun. I had three separate incidents of car spotters hopping out of their car in traffic to run up and snap a few shots. Forget people passing by in the Malibu Country Mart parking lot—the Senna exerted visual pull strong enough to coax droves of proprietors and customers alike from the shops. One of the most common refrain I heard from random, seemingly non-car-enthusiast onlookers was how "beautiful" the Automobile Senna is. This surprised me. Purposeful and visually exciting? Absolutely. Beautiful? Uh, no way.

Looking good was not what McLaren designed the Senna to do. Instead of the smartly tailored suit worn by most supercars, our Senna's ridiculous scallops and outrageous wing are Navy SEAL tactical gear designed for absolute aerodynamics. Not one ounce of the tessellated styling is for show; after all, the Wizards of Woking created the Senna for the sole purpose of sublimating any stretch of paved road you point that gaping nose down.

2019 McLaren Senna: A Stupidly Surprising Drive

Admittedly, I went into this test drive very much expecting a quicker and grippier 720S, and nothing beyond that, considering the engine, transmission, and much of the skeleton and chassis are permutations of those found on the 720S. Taken in abstract, these statements border on the absurd; the 720S' capacity for preternatural pace and ferocious grip is measured on a galactic scale.

Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Nothing street legal and with a warranty I have driven thus far—or I suspect I will drive for quite some time, if ever again—comes remotely close to matching the McLaren Senna's vicious capability. Most modern street-legal track-day specials really only work effectively on the racetrack; most of the time, a Porsche GT3 RS' and Dodge Viper ACR's unshakeable poise and steely confidence shatter over uneven pavement, and even the keenest driver couldn't much shake an equal driver behind the wheel of a Mazda Miata when the roads turn tight, jackknife, and narrow.

Not so in the Senna. I doubt anything so capable has ever—ever—been this outright approachable. Most of the time, ripping around in the latest and greatest supercars is either an exercise in frustration or an unwelcome test of your bravery, but this was friendlier at outrageous speeds than most sports cars are at a quarter of the pace. Grip? Like stepping in a puddle of blackstrap molasses with duct-tape soles. Brakes? A universal "PAUSE" button that leads to brain-bruising and eye-mashing. Acceleration? Like running from a drop-kicked killer hornets' nest.

2019 McLaren Senna: What Just Happened?

All the while, you're superglued in an exposed carbon fuselage replete with unmuffled metal surfaces and a distinct lack of insulation. In this environ, reverb from the 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 behind your head zings and shrieks with the acoustics of a train horn.

When I regained enough oxygen to un-scramble my soup-ified brain, my thought process became entirely Socratic. How am I driving this quickly? How is something this fast this controllable? Am I even close to leaning on the aero? How much of a discount can I get on this thing once it officially becomes the retired Senna press-fleet car? Can I find a bank willing to take a 100-year term?

Just as quickly as it started, it was over. Between even getting to Malibu in the first place and promptly returning home, I only had around 40 minutes in the canyons before I ran close to the 150-mile limit McLaren imposed on each of our Senna drivers. This one is for the books; weeks later, my teeth buzz and my hair stands on-end thinking of that drive. My luck tanks might be bone dry at the moment, but after a blast in the Senna, I feel as though it's still spilling over onto the ground.

Executive editor Nelson Ireson:

This is the car that was on the poster on your wall when you were a kid. Even though that poster certainly had a different car on it, this is the car you thought—no, dreamt—that car to be. All of the impossible speeds reached and unlikely feats accomplished in your imagination are real, and this is the car you did them in. Given the legend three-time Formula 1 champion Ayrton Senna built in his all-too-short life, the team he built much of that legend with, and the influence he continues to have on young drivers, I can't imagine a car better suited to bearing his name. Like Senna, the 2019 McLaren Senna is about as close as humans come to perfection at the task of driving.

2019 McLaren Senna: Untouchable Performance

I'll not bore you with some spiel about my unfathomable, incomparable, certainly not confabulatory ability to wheel a car at (just) sub-Senna speeds, but this is the truth: However good a driver you are, professional test-driver or otherwise, the Senna will make you as quick as someone twice as good in just about any other car. It won't make you better at judging an apex, or more precise in your timing, or even keep you from stuffing yourself into a mountainside, but it will do everything you ham-handedly ask of it with such shocking immediacy and sheer pace that you look like you know what you're doing simply because you are moving … so. damned. fast.

2019 McLaren Senna: The Wow Factor

If you do have some idea of what you're doing behind the wheel, the car's fidelity of output for any given input approaches the Platonic form of Newton's third law. It's unreal how well this car does speed, and how easy and approachable it makes getting there—and, once the aero comes into effect, how easy it makes staying in the triple digits.

But the thing the Senna does best, truly better than any car I've ever driven by a factor of 100, is turn heads and draw smiles. In just 150 short miles, even in car-jaded Los Angeles and Long Beach, other drivers followed or slowed down for the Senna at least two dozen times, car occupants often hanging out of windows to get the shot. Even parked, the Senna drew hundreds of eyeballs from pedestrians, ending up all over social media. The Ferrari F8 Spider that had been parked in the exact same spot only a few weeks before? It turned heads, too, but only a few. The Senna stopped delivery drivers, cyclists, pedestrians—nearly everyone who sees this car falls in love immediately.

Maybe they're falling in love with the 2019 McLaren Senna, or maybe just with what it represents—all the possibility it seems to hold within its diminutive dimensions. Their faces light up with it as they edge around the car, squatting for the best angle. Posters, and poster cars, aren't really a thing anymore, as far as I can tell. But they should be.

2019 McLAREN SENNA SPECIFICATIONS
ON SALE Sold out
PRICE $964,966/$1,102,505 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 4.0L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8/789 hp @ 7,250 rpm, 590 lb-ft @ 5,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
LAYOUT 2-door, 2-passenger, mid-engine, RWD coupe
EPA MILEAGE 14/18 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 186.8 x 77.1 x 48.4 in
WHEELBASE 105.0 in
WEIGHT 3,011 lb
0-60 MPH 2.9 sec
TOP SPEED 195 mph