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Driven: The 2021 McLaren 765LT Will Warp Your Perception of Speed

You could call the new, sold-out McLaren 765LT “Senna Jr.”

LOS ANGELES—Quick question for all of the 2021 McLaren 765LT buyers and deposit owners: Why?

What planet were you born on? Did it have an atmosphere of pure nitrous oxide? Was Rat Fink your babysitter? While you lived there, did your daily commute force you to take three back-to-back runs on your home world's equivalent of the Nürburgring? More importantly, even if you maintain a sprawling, terrestrial garage-mahal at The Thermal Club or primo garage space at the Monticello Motor Club, was the eye-crossing, brain-bruising, lunch-losing 720S not enough?

During our test behind the wheel of the mighty 2021 McLaren 720S, each driver—regardless of skill level or prior supercar seat-time—rolled out of the 720S' sculptural cabin with the same watering eyes, jelly legs, and reeling head, a condition affectionately labeled "720 Syndrome." You'd get a more coherent answer asking someone about their views on Descartes immediately following a wisdom-teeth extraction than you would from an Automobile editor exiting the 720S. "Wow," was about all the latter could muster intelligibly.

One of the more salient reactions I've heard was from one of our staff photographers who got the chance to drive the Memphis Red 720S Spider during my 720S versus McLaren GT comparison from earlier this year. After a particularly aggressive stretch of California desert road, he stumbled out of the deep red speed-splinter, fighting back the rapid onset of 720 Syndrome to blurt out, "Can you believe people tune these things?"

Not really, but then again there are a not-insignificant number of Dodge Challenger SRT Demon owners who gleefully push the dyno graph above the 1,500-horsepower mark after their 840-hp dragstrip mogul failed to get their rocks off in stock form. In an arms race, the biggest stick, rock, gun, or missile wins, and crazy as it all is, the goalposts never sit still for very long.

2021 McLaren 765LT Test: Longtail Is No Long Tale

Let me squash my own incredulity. Ignoring the alternate-reality pace of the regular 720S, the 2021 McLaren 765LT was a foregone conclusion from the minute the 500-unit run of the 2015-16 McLaren 675LT sold out mere weeks after the car hit the Geneva auto show floor, followed soon after by a full deposit list for the drop-top Spider variant. The later and very sold-out 600LT and 600LT Spider proved the LT moniker was here to stay, making the 765LT the third "Long Tail" McLaren variant—or fifth, if you include the aforementioned LT Spiders.

Like both prior LTs, the 765LT's ethos is that of bloodlust. Think of the 765LT to the 720S as the Ferrari 488 Pista is to the regular 488, or the Porsche GT3 RS is to the GT3: The overall weight drops, but power, grip, downforce, stiffness, and price all increase. In this regard, McLaren's familiar 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V-8 improves from the 720S' 710 hp and 568 lb-ft to 755 hp and 590 lb-ft through the use of a high-capacity fuel pump, forged aluminum pistons, and a new lightweight and hi-flow titanium-exhaust system whose screams exeunt through a wicked-looking quad-pipe cluster in the center of the rear fascia.

Oh, there's also a triple-layer head gasket yoinked from the McLaren Senna. In fact, there's more than just a little Senna in the 2021 McLaren 765LT's stew; the Senna's chiropractor-friendly brake calipers are copy-pasted to the 765LT, and if you want to transform into Droopy Dog during panic stops, the Senna's carbon ceramic-rotors are available at extra cost, increasing thermal conductivity by a wicked 400 percent compared to the "standard" 765LT's carbon ceramics. The braking performance folds the concrete with a 124-to-0 screech in just short of 360 feet.

2021 McLaren 765LT Test: Weight, What?

With 176 pounds stripped from the S, now down to a relatively featherweight 2,952-pound curb weight if you spec yours in the hardest of hardcore setups. (In other words, delete infotainment and air conditioning to save an extra 25.3 pounds.) Expect the majority of American LT buyers to conveniently leave those removal boxes unticked on their order form.

If you wuss out and keep your music and cold air, there's still plenty of shaved edges. Carbon-fiber seats cut 39.7 pounds—and an extra 26.5 pounds if you spring for buckets pulled from the Senna—while the new wheels drop 48.5 pounds. As there really isn't much to de-content on a 720S, engineers had to go a bit whacko, using lightweight glazing and polycarbonate "glass" on some panels and windows to save 13.2 pounds, and switching to a lightweight battery to save another impressive 13.2 pounds.

The 765LT rides low and lithe on a revised suspension, now incorporating lightweight main springs with secondary "helper" springs that ditch 3.3-pounds from the whole system, and that work in tandem with uprated dampers for a 0.2-inch ride-height reduction and improved handling and stiffness. Hyper-sticky Pirelli Trofeo R semi-slicks are standard, though the 235/35 R-19 front and 305/30 R-20 rear sizing is unchanged compared to the S.

2021 McLaren 765LT Test: Lower, Leaner, Meaner

Most of this is behind-the-scenes work. The most noticeable difference between the 720S and 765LT is the latter's aerodynamic overhaul that stretches from nose to tail, with strong emphasis on the "tail" portion. Aside from a wider, lower front splitter and a bundle of carbon winglets, blades, and channels splattered around the exterior's lower portions, the active rear wing is longer, wider, and raises/lowers with greater speed and a larger aerodynamic profile that either slows or slips airflow, depending on the need.

Even with the addition of all of this air-spoiling tinsel, the 720S' elegantly organic bodylines are retained and even improved from some angles. With the longer, leaner nose and ferociously scalloped bodywork, the 765LT presents itself as though someone fired a paint cannon at some sort of 25th-century robo-pterodactyl. One of the LT-specific changes that is likely to go underappreciated is the subtly revised rear decklid/canopy area, now offering a clearview panel into the tight engine bay on the rear luggage shelf that glows red with the application of the taillights.

The sum of all of these upgrades is an experience on par with accidental skydiving. Even for McLaren's usual under-reporting shenanigans, there's such a discrepancy between the LT's advertised 755 hp and what it really puts out that it would make Porsche blush and stammer. That has to be what it makes at the wheels, and even then, I'm not convinced. Prior dyno testing of the 720S revealed it was putting out just shy of 800 at the crank, and I wouldn't bat an eyelash if we learned the 765LT has close to 850 crank-horsepower on tap.

2021 McLaren 765LT Test: Secret Weapon

Well, probably. The 2021 McLaren 765LT also carries revised gearing that allows for a 15-percent quicker in-gear acceleration, according to McLaren, returning some truly spectacular figures that have the LT sniffing at the tailpipe of big-bro Senna. Zero-to-60 happens in a traction-limited 2.7 seconds, while the bonkers 7.0-second 0-124-mph scramble is 0.2-second shy of both the 789-hp Senna and the 903-hp P1, 0.3 behind the all-wheel drive, 987-hp Bugatti Veyron, and if you abide by Porsche's official figures, the 765LT beats the 918 Spyder w/ Weissach package in the same metric by 0.2. Extend this race to the quarter mile, and the LT beats the Senna, P1, and 488 Pista, and it matches the Veyron Super Sport at 9.9 seconds. Holy moly.

Exploring just a portion of this capability on public roads, empty or otherwise, is like playing "hot potato" with a lit stick of Acme dynamite. Even the wide-open spaces of Angeles Crest Hwy. and its surrounding network of tarmac playgrounds were shrunk-down to scale below the 765LT's galaxy-hopping stride. Under full throttle, I half-expected a vapor cone to form around the LT's nose; under braking, I waited for oxygen masks to drop from the alcantara headliner. Even in a world lousy with quintuple-charged triple-clutch supercars, the 2021 McLaren 765LT goes from "here" to "that corner way, way, way over there" unlike anything I've ever driven, including the Senna. Even after the digital speedo spins past triple digits, the LT continues to gather speed like a laser-pointer beam, constricting your throat and turning your eyes to jelly as the world blurs like a bad Photoshop.

2021 McLaren 765LT Test: Terrific Tires Trigger Terror

Not that I got many chances during this road test to go full-throttle, considering those Trofeo Rs didn't get to baseline temp until I cycled through 30 or-so highway miles, per the handy tire-temp readout on the digital-gauge cluster. Before then, it was difficult to find a gear in which the rears wouldn't break free; my record was eye-widening scuttle somewhere in the middle of fourth gear at a rather naughty indicated speed. The fronts? Oh, those never, ever got to temp, even after 50 miles of hard canyon driving. No matter how much I pushed, the two icy blue spots on the gauge never budged even as the ambient temperatures stuck to the low 70s.

With or without toasty tires, the 765 LT is stupefyingly capable. Sans both an empty grand prix circuit and any back-to-back seat time in a 720S, I'm afraid I cannot expound on the granular dynamic differences between the two, though generally the LT irons out rougher pavement and off-camber corners that would have a 720S driver feeling a bit nervous. Every input, every action in the LT is honed and balanced, particularly the spasm-inducing brakes; without any accordance for the temperature, surface, or speed, the LT stops like Superman himself sits in the frunk and digs his heels into the asphalt.

2021 McLaren 765LT: Drama Queen

If you're more of a peacock than a peregrine falcon, the new McLaren 765LT is also one of the most visually dramatic supercars on the market, and I'm not just talking about that elongated profile. Even during moderate braking, the rear wing/airbrake shoots forward to block out both rearward vision and cause quite a stir in traffic, as evidenced by more than one person speeding alongside me, wildly motioning toward the rear of the LT as though it were on fire. Not that a fire would be entirely unexpected, seeing as that quartet of titanium gun barrels out back do their best impression of an acetylene torch, spouting sustained blue flame on the overrun and during hard acceleration.

McLaren's launch control is still one of the coolest in the biz; hit the throttle with those incredible brakes engaged, and the engine audibly bows up while "BOOST BUILDING" flashes on the driver display. Sidestep the brake and the rear slithers to either side, settling down only when you're well past the 70-mph threshold.

All of this blathering and bloviation can be summed up in one simple analogy: The 2021 McLaren 765LT is a 720S sneezed-on by a Senna, and it's one of the most thrilling and teeth-tingling four-wheeled wonders you can drive with a warranty. For cutting a path through the sharpest of switchbacks, conquering the most technical of tracks, embarrassing Hellcats at the dragstrip, and whipping crowds into a frenzy with fire and visual fury, the LT is unrivaled—but you should pick something else, because McLaren says the 765-unit run for the 2020 and 2021 model years is already sold out. Is it LT or nothing? Stick around for a bit—we're sure there's a 765LT Spider approaching at terminal velocity.

2021 McLaren 765LT Highlights

  • A faster, more aggressive evolution of the McLaren 720S
  • Key word is "faster"
  • Accelerates like few cars can
  • One of the all-time best-driving supercars
  • Already sold out, so wait for the inevitable Spider variant
2021 McLaren 765LT Specifications
ON SALE Now (sold out)
PRICE $358,000/$443,000 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 4.0L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8/755 hp @ 7,500 rpm, 590 lb-ft @ 5,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic
LAYOUT 2-door, 2-passenger, mid-engine, RWD coupe
EPA MILEAGE  N/A
L x W x H 181.1 x 76.0 x 47.0 in
WHEELBASE 105.1 in
WEIGHT 2,952 lb
0-60 MPH  2.7 sec
TOP SPEED 205 mph