Some people still rate the 675LT as the best car McLaren has yet made. So what about the follow up?
By Dan Prosser / Tuesday, September 29, 2020
Even before I've pulled my harness tight, I know the 765LT won't do to me what the 675LT did five years ago. That was the first McLaren Automotive model that whipped me up on a primal level. It was the first that wasn't just stunningly fast and impressively capable, but also so exciting to drive it left me a jabbering wreck as I climbed out.
Being the first Longtail in the series, the 675LT came as a shock. Expectations were kept firmly in check beforehand, but then blown to pieces within a handful of miles. I was left reeling by that car. It proved beyond doubt that the engineers and product planners in that Bond villain lair down in Woking really understood the difference between a supercar that filled all the right cells on a spreadsheet, and one that made your nerve cells feel like they'd been plugged into the mains.
And now, as I guide the lowered, widened prow of the 765LT out of the garage and into the pit lane at Silverstone circuit half a decade later, I'm expecting such spellbinding and exhilarating things of this new machine I can surely only be disappointed. Should it turn out to be one of the most intoxicating and bewitching vehicles I have ever driven, my expectations will merely have been met.
What is it exactly that turns the already brilliant 720S into a 765LT? Weight falls by as much as 80kg – and that from already the lightest car of its type – but only if you choose not to spec the air conditioning and stereo back in, which you can do at no cost. Allow yourself those basic comforts and the saving is more like 60kg. That comes via a titanium exhaust system, more carbon fibre, polycarbonate glazing instead of glass and so on.
To that you add a more aggressive aerodynamic package that not only makes the 765LT look so much tougher than the 720S, but also generates 25 per cent more peak downforce. The front axle sits 5mm closer to the ground and spreads itself more widely across it by 6mm, although the rear end is unchanged. There are stiffer springs and dampers at all four corners and the hydraulic Proactive Chassis Control II system has been tuned to suit.
The 4-litre twin-turbo flat-plane crank V8 is still in place, but now with custom pistons and a tougher triple-layer head gasket to cope with the extra turbo boost pressure. Power is up to 765hp while torque rises by 22lb ft to 590lb ft. McLaren quotes a 0-62mph time of 2.8 seconds and a 205mph top speed, although in neither regard did the 720S ever leave you wanting more. Tick the correct box on the options sheet and you'll get the monstrous brakes from the Senna.
Bespoke Pirelli Trofeo R tyres are tasked with transferring all of those refinements into the road surface. It's as comprehensive an LT makeover as we've seen so far. In fact, McLaren reckons this is the most hardcore LT yet. It even goes to lengths no previous model has so far, such as a shorter final drive to give even punchier acceleration through the gears. Inside the cabin you find racing wingback-style carbon fibre bucket seats and harnesses, plus even more spartan trim.
McLaren has said production will be limited to 765 examples, each one costing from £280,000. It didn't set a limit for 600LT production and, perhaps as a result, saw residual values suffer. Buyers of this new model will be hoping a change of tack in that regard makes all the difference.
I reckon I've driven 25 miles in the McLaren 765LT to date. Or in other words, only enough to give you my first impressions. I've also only tried it on Silverstone's shortened International circuit (effectively half the Grand Prix loop), and reviewing a car on track only – even a car like this one – is like reviewing a play from the lobby of the theatre. So forgive me if I'm not as definitive as you'd like me to be.
This car is only 31kg heavier than the Senna and it's down on power only to the tune of 35hp. It also has nothing like the aerodynamic drag of that car with its wild scoops, wings and vents. That means the 765LT accelerates to high speeds with a ferocity that few supercars ever built can manage. It seems to be from fourth gear onwards that the electronic systems give you everything the highly-strung V8 has to offer. Flick up from third and the car slingshots itself along the following straight as though four rockets have been pressed into its quad exhaust tips and ignited.
That shorter gearing means you pull the right hand paddle for upshifts like a woodpecker going at it on a tree trunk. Forget long gearing with a big, lusty engine that pulls forcefully through them. This is one ratio to the next like bang-bang-bang, busy, relentless and fast. You enter the Hangar Straight in third gear at no great speed. Even so, by the braking point for Stowe you're doing the thick end of 180mph. Very often road cars can feel woefully under-braked on track, but with its Senna anchors the 765LT has the kind of braking performance that you have to build up to. Unless you're used to driving competition cars you'll brake too early and with too little force, at least until you learn otherwise.
The circuit was a little damp for my first session and so less aggressive Pirelli P Zero Corsa tyres were bolted on. But even they generated massive turn-in grip, enough that you can frighten yourself at every quick entry point as you carry more speed into the apex than your brain tells you is reasonable. I tried the full Trofeo R later on and the cornering grip on those is more staggering still, although the car still bleeds into understeer with real transparency on the stickier tyres, meaning you know exactly how hard you can push them. The 765LT is razor sharp, but when you approach its limits you find it has forgiving, fuzzy edges – or, at least, you think it does…
There's such a stable platform when you hurl it into a bend it feels like a racing machine. There's no heart-in-mouth moment as you turn in and wait for the body to lean onto the outer springs – it just rolls fractionally and darts into the bend, neutral, poised and stable. And those familiar McLaren attributes are present and correct.
The steering, for one thing, is accurate and detailed, the rim chattering away in your fingertips. And the car feels light for another, so you don't adjust your driving style to deal with any unnecessary mass or drive around any fundamental shortcomings. Visibility is also supreme, thanks to the low scuttle and big glasshouse, allowing you to position the car exactly where you want it.
The 765LT pulls off that clever trick of being frighteningly quick around a circuit, but also approachable. It isn't so far beyond the capability of a non-professional driver that you're left feeling unworthy of its talents. In fact, you feel confident at its wheel and on top of the car thanks to its stability and agility, its huge braking performance and the sense of connection that comes at you from all corners.
Well, you do for a bit. Then you steel yourself and turn the stability control into its halfway-house Dynamic setting. I did exactly that coming onto the Hangar Straight during my second stint. I don't remember clumsily hoofing the accelerator pedal, but perhaps I did. The rate at which the rear tyres lit up and the back half of the car swung around and the wheel twirled in my hands makes me sweat even now. I was hacking away at the wheel thinking the stability control would jump in any moment now, wall getting bigger, any moment now? And it never did. It may as well have been off altogether.
I was told after the event, and far too late for it to be of any use to me, that in ESC Dynamic the 765LT will do big, smokey drifts. So what on Earth does it take to wake the systems from their slumber? I'm sure with a few more laps you'd grow accustomed to the freedom that stability control settings affords you, and perhaps you'd even start toying with the car's balance. But I've never felt anything snap on me the way the 765LT did that day. By comparison, the similarly powerful and equally track-focused Ferrari 488 Pista is a cuddly teddybear right at the limit of grip. I remember hooning around Anglesey Circuit in McLaren's own P1, thinking it couldn't seem friendlier under a wide open throttle if it blew bubbles out its exhaust pipes. Not even the Senna gave me that kind of fright.
This car definitely has an edge. But just shy of that edge, it has so much speed and capability on a race track that spending three or four times its asking price on a Senna just seems absurd. It left me fizzing and shaking, and not only because of that one incident. I'm afraid I can't tell you the first thing about how it performs on the road. Right now, though, I reckon it's the supercar of choice for people who worry such things have gone soft.
SPECIFICATION | MCLAREN 765LT
Engine 3994cc, V8, twin-turbo
Transmisson Seven-speed dual-clutch
Power 765hp @ 7500rpm
Torque 590lb ft @ 5500rpm
Kerbweight 1229kg dry
0-62mph 2.8 secs
Top speed 205mph
- See the video review of the McLaren 765LT here
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