Dream Sequence: McLaren 720S Spider and McLaren GT Tested Back-to-Back
Sorry, we’re not picking favorites—because when it comes to these cars, there is no need to.
Spoiler alert: There is no winner here. How could we pick a winner? Declaring a superior between the 2020 McLaren 720S Spider and the 2020 McLaren GT is a bit like pitting a triple-shot of espresso against a mug of the richest, frothiest cappuccino, both poured by the winner of a Barista Championship—which, by the way, is a real thing. It's Pappy Van Winkle, poured neat or on the rocks; it's the Rolex Datejust to the Submariner, or the In-N-Out Double-Double, prepared with or without Animal Style. It's preference, and you're going to have a hell of a good time either way when you test drive these two McLarens.
Automobile's staff photographers and I certainly felt like we won something when we spent time with the 2020 McLaren 720S Spider and GT, even before the serious test-driving began. Maybe we had inadvertently clicked on one of those obnoxious "YOU WON!" internet pop-ups, or perhaps the Nigerian prince I've funneled my paycheck to over the years finally wired the funds. Either way, this test—scratch that, let's call it a dream sequence—produced no clear winner. You might as well turn that laurel wreath into a salad.
McLaren 720S Spider: All-Stars Throwback
Rewind to Automobile All-Stars 2018, and you'd find myself and the greater Automobile staff in a very different headspace. That edition of All-Stars saw us slobbering and slack-jawed at the brain-bending, genre-breaking, heart-stopping McLaren 720S, leading McLaren's newest child to a unanimous spot in the All-Stars pantheon. At the time, we reckoned the 720S was already one of the all-time greats, possessing all of the otherworldly performance and outright thrill of supercars and hypercars triple its $300,000 price, while remaining as friendly and approachable as a Porsche Cayman.
It didn't stop there. Between that test and this comparo, we've sampled the 720S in both coupe and crop-top configurations multiple times, with each resulting word jumble reading like a copy-pasted thesaurus entry for the word "fantastic." For me, it took some extended time in the new Ferrari F8 Tributo at the most recent running of All-Stars to match the sublimity of the 720S.
McLaren GT: Teething Problems?
The same cannot be said for the McLaren GT. The then-latest-and-greatest Macca shared track time and All-Stars parking-lot space with the aforementioned Ferrari F8 Tributo, along with other heavy hitters like the Lamborghini Huracan Evo, the new mid-engine Chevrolet Corvette Stringray, Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, and the all-new Porsche 992 Carrera S. In this field of weaponized gasoline and carbon fiber, the GT felt like a misfit. Quick in a straight line, but it was left with crossed feet and a sprained ankle when facing off against the paddock of honed, balanced javelins. For a McLaren, this was very uncharacteristic.
It didn't sit right with me, nor did it with our editor-in-chief Mac Morrison. He previously attended the original launch of the GT, and he believed, as did I, there was something not quite right with the dark red example we flogged at the Streets of Willow Springs and on the winding roads near Lake Elizabeth, California. Chalk it up to exceptionally stiff competition or unseen mechanical gremlins; though it ran strong the whole week, it also exhibited a big vibration through the steering wheel on bumpy roads that threw everyone for a loop. So, we thought the 2020 McLaren GT deserved another chance to showcase its purported grand-touring chops when compared to the ostensibly harsher and more aggressive 2020 McLaren 720S Spider.
For this 720S Spider and GT test drive, we stuck to the GT's home turf—the road. Grand Touring is right there in its name, after all. Fundamentally, the GT should be sublime, considering when you strip away all of its bodywork and trim, you'll find roughly the same bones as you'd find on the 720S and on the smaller, sharp-as-a-tack 570S. Think of the GT to the 720S as the now-discontinued 570GT was to the 570S; softer, roomier, and better suited to a mixed use of riviera cruising and canyon carving than setting lap records. It's the McLaren you'd want to be stuck in traffic with, and you wouldn't be left with jelly legs when the road turns squiggly.
McLaren GT: Not Your Typical GT
Visually, the 2020 McLaren GT is an unapologetically mid-engine car, pulling firepower from a retuned version of the 720S' 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8. A mighty 612 horsepower and 465 lb-ft of torque returns a very supercar-like 3.1-second zero-to-60-mph rush, along with the all-important double-buck-besting vmax of 203 mph. The Graziano-sourced seven-speed dual-clutch transmission from the 720S is retained, reworked for slicker, smoother shifts in fitting with the long-legged attitude, particularly when left in "auto" mode. Even structurally, the GT can't escape its more athletic siblings; the trademark McLaren carbon MonoCell II structure is present in the GT, as are portions of the 720S' incredible suspension and braking system. However, McLaren left on the shelf the ultra-trick hydropneumatics portions of Proactive Chassis Control II, in the name of cutting costs.
Elsewhere, the GT pulls like pizza dough at the edges of the 2020 McLaren 720S Spider to make a weekend in Napa Valley easier. There's a larger 19-gallon fuel tank that returns around 400 miles of range if you keep your leather-soled Italian loafers and/or Louboutins out of the throttle. In addition to a frunk that swallows 5.3-cubic feet of luggage and other junk, the rear hatch lifts to give access to a narrow 14.8-cubic-foot storage compartment. Everything is a smidge softer in the GT over the 2020 McLaren 720S; the steering is a skosh slower, the brake engagement easier, there's additional sound deadening, and with revised suspension, wheels, and facias, and there's an additional 4.3-inches of ground clearance to make worrying over steep driveways and valet lots a thing of the past.
2020 McLaren 720S Spider Test Drive: If a Taser Shock Was a Car
Meanwhile, the Memphis Red 2020 McLaren 720S Spider looks like the way goosebumps feel: It's an insectoid, extraterrestrial design that almost passes for Lycra stretched taut over a latticework of carbon and titanium. Parked next to something mundane like a Honda CR-V, it's a bright smear of frosted metals and metallic paint on the pavement.
As soon as I caught the keys, I couldn't help myself; test-drive seat-time in the 2020 McLaren 720S came first. After a 100-mile stint through California's vascular freeway network, I started to think the 2020 McLaren GT stepped up just to get knocked down again. Even over expansion joints and broken pavement found in downtown Bakersfield, the 2020 McLaren 720S Spider failed to tenderize beyond what you might experience in a 911 Carrera GTS or Mercedes-AMG GT C. Aside from storage space, I wondered, what makes the GT compelling?
Still flying low in the 720S, straight highways morphed into savagely zig-zaggy roads that snake north to Lake Isabella. Quickly, this 2020 McLaren 720S test proved the car deserved every ounce of the effusive media coverage, and then some. Up almost a clean 100 hp and 100 lb-ft compared to the McLaren GT, the 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8's 710 hp and 568 lb-ft feels closer to a billion. This is acceleration on a galactic scale; a full-bore rip down a tight country road warps and blurs your forward vision so violently, I'm surprised it's not operated with some manner of sci-fi hand throttle. On the charge, arguably no supercar gathers speed like a 720S. Exiting corners, it's explosive enough to make a Group B car split its center differential, and so slippery on the straights that a Group C car would probably want to buy it a drink.
As easygoing as the 2020 McLaren 720S Spider is on surface streets, this paint-stripping speed is hardly a laid-back experience. Even if you leave the chassis in the Sport configuration—compared to Comfort or Track—bombing around a semi-undulating country road must be akin to snapping eight vials of smelling salts under your nose. Ultra-quick steering and a stiff chassis setup makes it feel very much like It's all over the place—while staying exactly where you want it to be. With both the scream and tremendous vibration of the V-8 behind your head, tickling your fingers and buzzing your spine, you run the risk of sensory overload as you sear your way through sharp corners and long, gradual sweepers at preternatural pace.
2020 McLaren GT Test Drive: Road Warrior
Not so much in the 2020 McLaren GT. Despite noticeable turbo lag from the same 4.0-liter, acceleration is less stepping-on-the-tiger's-tail than the 720S—and 570S, for that matter—and arrives with noticeably less live-wire noise/vibration/harshness. Don't be fooled for a second, however; closing speeds spin to and beyond the three-digit mark quick enough to trigger palpitations. It's the same story in the corners—it's the driving experience of a 720S, only coated in a light dusting of crushed benzodiazepines. Steering is lighter, suspension is more pliant, the brakes easier to modulate, and the GT is prone to a bit more understeer, but it drives as though it was built for tree-lined California mountain roads.
By design, there's less to worry about. Testing the 2020 McLaren 720S Spider on public roads is almost—almost—too fast to be fun, especially when you don't have regular access to a race circuit. Unless you're an extremely confident (or overconfident) driver and the road is glassy smooth, forget using the Track chassis setting in the 720S Spider; on the same roads, Track mode in the 2020 McLaren GT is a necessity, as the GT's drive modes are ratcheted one-step beneath those of the 720S--what's Sport in the 720S is Track in the GT, and vice versa.
Where the GT flows, the 720S slices. On this road, in this spec, even when pitted against the endlessly brilliant 720S, the GT makes sense. Apologies for the strange and cryptic statement; I had more fun during the test of the 2020 McLaren 720S Spider, but I enjoyed my time more in the 2020 McLaren GT. The 720S had me doing my best impression of Rat Fink in a hot rod, eyes wide with a rictus grin and a howl building in my throat, while the GT found me savoring the drive, and not just the car. In other words, the 720S Spider always has to be the center of attention, and the GT is perfectly complementary to the experience.
2020 McLaren GT: The Long Way Home
Photos taken, and thrills had, I slid into the 2020 McLaren GT for the late-night highway cruise home, allowing the GT time to flex its grand-touring muscles.
Predictably, the memory foam seats are less aggressive than the ones found in the 2020 McLaren 720S Spider, the leather appears to be more supple and extends further throughout the cabin, and there's less carbon-fiber trim to be found. That said, I'm sure McLaren is more than happy to add great swathes of the stuff if you have the inclination and coin. There seems to be more room to move about and relax in the GT—unsurprisingly—and much of that comes down to a redesigned center stack. As the GT mostly takes the interior structure and design from the 570S and bygone 570GT, gone is the 720S' center spine of transmission controls. The new design is instead fitted flush to the flat center-console panel in the GT, leaving an open space for easy access to phones, keys, papers, cigars, and wads of cash.
Elsewhere, when set in the cossetting Comfort mode, the 2020 McLaren GT is about the most comfortable supercar I've driven. Aside from its adaptive suspension soaking up crags, and the relatively low-aggression Pirelli P Zeros shrugging off any tramlining, keeping the active driving mode out of Sport or Track plugs up the exhaust, too. Sure, sure—silence is hardly a virtue when it comes to supercars, but if you're going to walk the walk of a grand tourer, you're sometimes going to have to not talk the talk of a supercar.
Though price is rarely of concern to people who can afford either a 2020 McLaren GT or a 2020 McLaren 720S Spider, the GT will bruise your wallet significantly less, with a base price of $212,500 compared to the 720S Spider's $300,000-plus gut-punch. Like all good supercars worth their crazy doors and piercing exhausts, the options list is long enough to choke an industrial paper shredder. As equipped, this cush and comfortable GT comes in at $254,125, a sticker that includes goodies like the electrochromic sunroof, sports exhaust, and the Luxe package that extends the leather surfaces and adds beautiful metal trim.
2020 McLaren 720S Spider and McLaren GT: Let's Talk Numbers
If you're still after the 2020 720S Spider after this test drive, hold on tight. With options like the aforementioned electrochromic roof, upgraded sound system, exhaust, extended carbon-fiber package, and MSO Black Pack, this 720S Spider didn't stop eating until it hung a $379,960 tag from the carbon-capped mirrors.
Worth the extra $90,000? Yes, probably—as something someone uses to deliver a weekend thrill. There's just no getting around the high-strung, ballistic, F5-tornado blast of the 2020 McLaren 720S Spider, especially since the GT is, by design, a less exhilarating supercar. However, for someone looking to stand out from the waves of Bentleys, 911s, AMG GTs, and BMW 8 Series, the 2020 McLaren GT is a fabulous statement piece and an excellent daily driver and road-trip warrior. Also, consider this: You know, McLarens have proven to respond exceptionally well to aftermarket prodding, and the GT is no different. For well less than $15,000, a respected tuning firm would be more than happy to turn the GT's wick beyond that of even a stock 720S, complete with transmission remapping for durability. Hey, we're not saying that's what you should do, but it's certainly something to consider.
See? Everyone wins here. On the subject of the 2020 McLaren 720S and this test drive, I remain breathless. For those who actually enjoy driving their supercars, you now only have to pick between the 720S and the Ferrari F8 Tributo, and it's going to be a whole lot easier to get your hands on a new McLaren than it is a Ferrari. In the case of the 2020 McLaren GT, this was one of the best redemption arcs I've experienced in quite some time, and the most enigmatic car in McLaren's lineup more than proved its worth. Now, if only we could manage a McLaren Speedtail versus Senna, we'll have all the bases covered.
2020 McLaren 720S Spider and McLaren GT Highlights:
- GT for comfort, 720S Spider for thrills
- GT base price: $212,500
- 720 Spider base price: $315,000
- Both are incredible supercars
- Daily drive the GT
- Track the 720S Spider
- Be prepared to spend a pretty penny
|2020 McLaren GT Specifications|
|PRICE||$212,500/$254,125 (base)/as tested)|
|ENGINE||4.0-L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8/612 hp @ 7,500 rpm, 465 lb-ft @ 5,500-6,500 rpm|
|TRANSMISSION||7-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 2-passenger, mid-engine, RWD coupe|
|EPA MILEAGE||15/22 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||184.4 x 82.5 x 47.8 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.1 sec|
|TOP SPEED||203 mph|