Road closed. It rained last night in Palm Springs and there's four feet of mud now covering Box Canyon Road. That road is one of the reasons I'm here, but the man in the pick-up truck can't get through, so I've no chance. I'm looking at it now on Google maps. Damn, it looks so good, but I'm not sure the people at McLaren will be too happy if I try. I'm here to drive the 600LT and off-roading's not in the schedule. That and I'm not sure that when McLaren added a nose lift to it they were imagining 4ft of mudslide.
You probably know about McLaren's LT series by now, Matt's driven it around the Hungaroring, and, urm, enjoyed it. It's like RS is to Porsche: lighter, sharper, more visceral, with a track bent and the specification to allow that. It harks back to the F1 GTR Longtails that were necessary to keep the three-seater icon competitive at Le Mans. All the best cars have some competition story behind them, and the LT's no different.
It is longer than the 570S it's based on too, by 74mm if you're counting, that gain helping with the aero. The 600LT is the first LT based on McLaren's Sports Series line-up, McLaren's previous iterations being the 675LT and its Spider relation. Unlike them it's for the hoi polloi; no limited number series car, everyone can have one, with McLaren building as many as it can sell over the course of a year or so. There'll be a Spider too, so get your order in now, assuming you're one of the masses with £185,000 to hand, or, more likely £220,000-£240,000 if you start ticking option boxes.
You'll need to if you want to achieve the maximum mass reduction. Seats from the Senna? That'll be £10 shy of £5,000 for further 3.6kg over the already 21kg lighter seats. Sitting in them, they're worth every penny, though we'd forgo the free option of A/C and audio delete even if losing them drops 16kg. It's hot in the desert, even after it's rained, and as sensational as the top-exiting exhausts sound, I like some music or the news in the car when the roads are boring.
I resist the temptation to fire on the radio through the Joshua Tree National Park, which is reached via the significantly less exciting highway rather than through the blocked canyon. Joshua Tree is beautiful, the road magnificent, the surface perfect, winding its way through the big country, punctuated by places for tourists to stop, wander, wonder and take pics. The 600LT is the subject of many a snap. There are plenty of Park Rangers about, a smattering of police, and some hugely restrictive speed limits. There's real potential here, if you're happy to pay a speeding fine. I'm not, so I take in the view, and consider the 600LT's low-speed prowess.
Like Matt, I drove it around the Hungaroring, but it's here, on the road that the 600LT really has to work. Like the 675LT, McLaren's pulled a bit of a blinder, the chassis revealing a broad bandwidth of capability. Sure, the springs are stiffer (13 per cent at the front and 34 per cent at the rear over the 570S) while the hollow roll bars stiffness is up 50 per cent at the front and 25 per cent at the rear, but the chassis people have worked some alchemy.
The 600LT's focus could, and perhaps should, be its undoing on the road, but it just isn't. It remains supple, riding with genuine comfort, carrying off the same trick as the 570S, only with a bit more detail. There's a proviso, of course, that being not to mess with the chassis setting and switch it from Normal to Sport, or Track. Do that and it adds frequency to the ride, the shake evident immediately, the damping in Normal taking the edge off - firm, but never unsettling. Yes, it's more taut than the 570S, but that's the point, the benefit being connection and feel, rather than anything you could genuinely describe as a compromise.
Joshua Tree's beauty doesn't satiate the earlier frustration of missing that Canyon road, but there's salvation. Later the 600LT will be pointing its nose up Highway 74, 'The Palms to Pines Highway' climbing out from Palm Springs and into the San Jacinto Mountains. There the desert sand changes to green forest, the road like someone's draped a rollercoaster over the topography. There are favourable cambers, blind crests and drops, immediate direction changes that unsettle, challenge and thrill. It's a road I've driven a few times before, in other cars, with the pain of a $400 fine still fresh in my memory.
Fiscal worries soon vanish as the road climbs away from the golf clubs of the retirement city below, into the forest above. The 600LT is in its element here, the collective changes to the chassis, suspension, brakes and engine adding up to a more engaging, thrilling whole. A 570S would be brilliant up here, no question, but the LT is something else, the Senna booster-equipped 720S brakes utterly resolute, allowing late, heart-stopping braking before entering the bends, the stability when doing so being so reassuring, giving the steering the best opportunity to turn-in with real precision. You need that, without the space of a track, and with the addition of oncoming traffic the 600LT has to be tight and controlled, not least to remain on the right side of the yellow line that you daren't cross in the US.
Even here, the chassis is set to normal, though it's worth shifting the transmission to Track, where you gain the fastest shift, without the pushy inertia shove that signals each upshift with a jolt in the Sport setting. McLaren's people say some people like it. I'm not one of them, particularly if you're grabbing another ratio exiting a corner, where all it does is unsettle the LT's otherwise fine balance.
The road keeps giving, the traffic mercifully light, the relentless urge from the turbocharged 3.8-litre turbocharged V8 backed with a chassis to exploit it. The engine's a screamer, the way it relentlessly chases the last few thousand revs is hugely addictive, with the bark from the exhausts only adding to the hedonistic appeal. The paddles orchestrating it, like everything else about the 600LT are characterised by an immediate, assured response. The car's core appeal is found among such details: a compound of visceral input, control weights and feel, all of which reward, challenge and excite in equal measure.
There's scenery out there, beautiful it is too, but I don't care, the immersive experience of the LT on this road all that matters. It is so good that the temptation to turn around and do it all again is impossible to resist. There's some track time later, but that can wait, I know the LT's good on track, so a turn-out is located and we head back down the hill.
Bigger stops, gravity and gradient ask more on the return journey, but the LT's line is always resolute, its brake pedal assured and the bespoke Trofeo Rs unwavering in their grip. There's a playfulness to the chassis, McLaren's electronics maintaining outright control, but allowing movement, adjustability and slip. That it's so exploitable is crucial - it's difficult to imagine having more fun here in anything else. A GT3 RS would be its most obvious foe, but that's almost too predictable a choice, the LT being different, more considered, and, to some, undoubtedly more appealing because it's from Woking rather than Weissach.
The final destination after all the climbing and descending is Thermal club. Thermal is where people who long stopped counting the zeros on their bank accounts bring their cars, a private track club where the cost of entry is to build a house - or more correctly an indescribably big garage with living space - and fly into the nearby private airfield for a play. It's next-level supercar, hypercar ownership and driving and the price of entry is out of reach for most. Even so, I love that it exists.
Much the same could be said for the LT. On the track, as advertised, it delivers, and in perfect measure. Sensationally quick, utterly predictable and faithful in its response, yet exploitable and entertaining, too, this is a McLaren that brings greatness to the firm's most accessible range, and, is arguably the best car it makes. Among those I include the Senna, though I've yet to try that one on the road. Anyone got a bulldozer, and an airfreight container that'll fit the be-winged flagship to find out? I think I know the perfect road. But it'd be good to be sure.
SPECIFICATION - MCLAREN 600LT
Engine: 3,799cc, twin-turbo V8
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto (SSG), rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 600@7,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 457@5,500-6,500rpm
Top speed: 204mph
Weight: 1,356kg (DIN kerbweight, without driver)
CO2: 276g/km (WLTP)
Price: £185,500 as standard
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