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First drive review: 2020 McLaren GT tours grandly with a supercar edge

First drive review: 2020 McLaren GT tours grandly with a supercar edge

Sometimes a photo can stir the imagination. If it’s a picture of a car, the setting and subject can transport the viewer to another place and a life beyond their workaday reality.

One particular photo has done that for me for years. It was shot in the early 1960s and features a Porsche 904 parked at an Alpine resort complete with skis mounted on the roof.

Porsche 904

Porsche 904

Driving through the snow to a ski resort in your supercar is a heady mix of the grandest of grand touring and living your best life. The photo may have been staged, but it looks real. If it was, I can only picture that car’s owner as some combination of James Bond, Sterling Archer, and Dos Equis’ “Most Interesting Man in the World.”

The 2020 McLaren GT aims to be the Porsche 904 in that photo. It’s a supercar underneath, complete with the carbon-fiber tub to prove it, but it also has space to keep those skis inside the car. It’s a roomy supercar built for continental touring for you and your endless string of companions.

Living our best lives isn’t really possible during the coronavirus pandemic. However, a drive to a state park on a beautiful fall afternoon in an exotic supercar is pretty damn close, though a Bond-girl companion would help.

The McLaren GT carves out a new space in the British supercar maker’s lineup. It’s not part of the Sports Series, Super Series, or Ultimate Series, though it shares its structure and basic engine components with all of those cars. It stands on its own as the company’s first grand tourer, thus the GT name, but it would be fair to call it a more roadworthy version of the Ultimate Series’ Speedtail.The GT takes advantage of the Speedtail’s aero-inspired extra length to increase cargo space.

2020 McLaren GT

2020 McLaren GT

2020 McLaren GT

2020 McLaren GT

2020 McLaren GT

2020 McLaren GT

The GT uses a version of McLaren’s carbon-fiber tub dubbed the MonoCell II-T. Aluminum body panels cover the tub and contribute to a rather light 3,384-pound curb weight. Mounted behind the driver is a twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 that whines and whirs as it cranks out 612 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque. It’s hooked to a 7-speed dual clutch transmission that funnels the power to the rear wheels.

That’s the stuff of mid-engine supercars. The GT in the GT’s formula comes from the 14.8 cubic feet of cargo space found beneath the rear hatch and above the engine. That teams with 5.3 cubic feet of storage space in the frunk to give this supercar a total of 20.1 cubic feet of cargo room. McLaren says the GT will fit a set of golf clubs, or indeed, two sets of 185-mm skis and their boots, plus additional luggage.

That space isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The rear storage area is very shallow and is made for long, skinny items like skis more than it is for larger, boxy items that would fit in a sedan’s trunk or a crossover’s cargo area. As long as it will fit skis, though, it still fits my Most Interesting Man fantasies.

2020 McLaren GT

2020 McLaren GT

2020 McLaren GT

2020 McLaren GT

2020 McLaren GT

2020 McLaren GT

But I’m not carrying all that stuff. Instead, it’s just me, my cell phone, a cold drink, and 100 miles of mostly open interstate between Chicago and Starved Rock State Park.

I’ve been in McLarens before, but the GT’s cockpit is still a foreign place to me, as it would be for anyone unfamiliar with McLarenese. Without a gearshift, it has buttons on the center console for drive, reverse, and neutral, plus an electronically actuated parking brake. Large aluminum shift paddles encourage me to choose my own gears. 

The dual mode selectors are confounding. The dial on the left of the center console cycles the adjustable dampers through Comfort, Sport, and Track modes, and the dial on the right does the same for the engine and transmission. That seems simple but it isn’t because the car won’t change modes unless the Active button below the dials is hit first. The dials also have inset buttons of their own. An ESC button on the left loosens or shuts off the stability control, while an M button on the right hands over shifting duties to the shift paddles. Why the Active button is needed is beyond me.

I start in the Comfort modes, heading out on city streets that soon lead to freeways. The twin-turbo V-8 delivers its power in an old-fashioned way, with notable turbo lag at low speeds. The engine doesn’t come alive until it surpasses 3,000 rpm, but it has enough low-end grunt to provide decent if sludgy response from stoplights. Once I get out on the freeway, though, and the engine is cooking along at 2,000-3,000 rpm, the turbo lag is minimized and deep stabs of the throttle slingshot the car forward. It’s a wave of power, but without the whitecap crests of cars like the 720S. The revs climb quickly toward the engine’s wild 8,500-rpm redline, and the dual-clutch transmission swaps cogs with smooth, quick precision.

2020 McLaren GT

2020 McLaren GT

2020 McLaren GT

2020 McLaren GT

2020 McLaren GT

2020 McLaren GT

Changing over to the powertrain’s Sport and Track modes bring the sound and fury forward, keeping the gears low, the revs high, and the power as easy to access as a twitch of the right foot. Shift times are also shorter.

McLaren may market the GT as a grand touring car, but its supercar roots are hard to hide as the engine sound comes along for the ride in any mode. The twin-turbo V-8 varies between humming in the background like a jet engine and rising to a ragged, throaty howl. The engine note is an important part of the sports car/supercar experience, but McLaren’s sound isn’t exactly relaxing.

While the spring and damper rates are softer than cars like the 570S and the ride height of 4.3 inches is 0.1 inch higher, the GT still suffers from a stiff ride that crashes over sharp bumps and ruts. Even in Comfort mode, the highway ride provides a lot of feel over pavement seams and expansion joints, some of which can send jolts through the GT’s comfortable but still sport-oriented seats. I try the dampers’ Sport and Track modes, but quickly settle on Comfort as the best choice for everyday driving.

Those seats are part of a reasonably comfortable and well-assembled cabin. This tester has the Luxe package that extends the Porcelain (off-white) leather upholstery from the seats to other interior surfaces, decorates the center console and infotainment screen with piano black trim, adds ambient lighting and bits of chrome trim, and lines the cargo area with a material called SuperFabric that is a woven fabric with integral guard plates to resist scratches and stains.

2020 McLaren GT

2020 McLaren GT

2020 McLaren GT

2020 McLaren GT

2020 McLaren GT

2020 McLaren GT

The interior may be attractive, but the car’s sleek exotic lines and $7,500 McLaren Special Operations Ludus Blue paint draw attention everywhere I go. The color of a clear Caribbean lagoon, the paint pairs perfectly with the Porcelain interior and makes an exotic car even more of a conversation starter.

My goal was to find twisty country roads, but the vast majority of this trip is on freeways. However, the entrance to Starved Rock State Park has what I’m looking for and I finally get to feel the car’s handling. Spoiler: It’s razor sharp. The direct connection between the throwback hydraulic-assist power steering delights with its right-now responses. The 235/30R20 Pirelli P Zero front tires bite into the pavement to cut a precise arc through corners and the 295/30R21 rears follow along willingly despite a body that is 6.5 inches longer than other McLarens.

The GT has a 43/57 front/rear weight balance and can suffer the understeer issues common to mid-engine cars when pushed hard, but it quickly gets back in line by lifting off the throttle. Body lean is barely noticeable, even in the dampers’ Comfort mode, so much so that I see no need for Sport or Track anywhere but on a racetrack.

I stop near a boat landing in the park and at least five people stop to ask about the car, a few noting the beautiful paint. A pair of kindly older ladies ask if groceries will fit. I tell them I don’t know, though I suspect loaded paper bags won’t fit upright.

2020 McLaren GT

2020 McLaren GT

As I head back home I notice more about the GT’s cabin. The car lacks some modern conveniences—like Apple CarPlay or Android Auto compatibility or active safety features—but outward vision is better than in any other McLaren. The view to the front and sides is fantastic, just like other McLarens, and the longer rear window provides a better view straight back. The view over my right shoulder, however, remains blocked.

A mile from home, I stop at the grocery store, mask up, spend $103, and my haul easily fits in the rear hatch area, though the plastic bags don’t provide the challenge posed by paper bags. The bags of food and beverages are no match for skis on a supercar, but they’re a decent stand-in that show the McLaren GT can live up to the promise of its name, though with a supercar edge.

McLaren provided a weekend in the 2020 McLaren GT so the author could pretend he was a big shot.

READ MORE: https://www.motorauthority.com/news/1130198_first-drive-review-2020-mclaren-gt-tours-grandly-with-a-supercar-edge

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