- Available for £700,000
- 4.0-litre V8 petrol twin-turbo, rear-wheel drive
- 800kg downforce will put you at the front of any trackday
- And you won’t need to trailer it home
- Looks better in reality than in pictures
- Build number uncertainty might make it a bargain of sorts
'The fastest track-focused road hypercar we have ever built' and 'the personification of McLaren's motorsport DNA'. That's what McLaren Automotive said about its new Senna in December 2017 when they revealed it three months prior to the official launch at the 2018 Geneva show.
The third car in McLaren's retrospectively created 'Ultimate Series' (after the 1992 F1 and the 2013 P1), the Senna was built to achieve faster lap times via lightness and aerodynamic efficiency rather than through outright power. Not that the Senna was short of power. Its engine was the 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 M840 motor from the 720S, modified with new intake manifolds, camshafts, high-pressure fuel pumps and exhaust to produce 789hp and 590lb ft, which was 79hp and 22lb ft up on the 720. Unlike the P1, the Senna didn't have a secondary electric motor to fill in those power delivery gaps that testers were told about but which few ordinary mortals were likely to notice at such an exalted level of performance.
Not having the P1's electric gubbins on board naturally meant less weight for the Senna's carbon and aluminium chassis to deal with. With carbon fibre bodywork the Senna tipped the scales at 1,309kg, around 85kg lighter than the P1 and 110kg less than the 720S. That meant a beefy power-to-weight ratio of up to 659hp per tonne. All these numbers could be argued with depending on how you measured the cars – dry, wet with nominal fuel, or wet with a full tank – but as long as you applied the same parameters to all of them the Senna trumped the 720S on both specs and track times. It had less outright power than the P1, but because it was the lightest McLaren since the F1 and it had McLaren's most powerful road-car internal combustion engine ever, it had enough to beat the P1 on the track.
Visually, the 'clipped-on' appearance of the slashed, vented, diffused and Gurney-flapped bodywork along with the active front aero blades in a contrasting colour and the heavily bracketed swan-neck rear wing all sounded a bit like a dog's breakfast, and the Senna could indeed be a bit of a visual shock on first acquaintance - but road testers quickly forgot these minor considerations when they began to experience the level of performance made possible by nearly 800hp and 800kg of downforce at 155mph. For an indication of how crazy that last figure was you only had to look at the 350kg mustered up by the Huracan Performante at a less relaxed 186mph.
The Senna's rear wing seemed an unlikely tool for such a big job. It weighed less than 5kg and was held in place by skimpy brackets inspired by items used on Ayrton Senna's MP5 F1 race car, but it was engineered to handle massive loads. The wing wasn’t the weak link. The tyres were. McLaren had to ease off the wing’s attack angle at speeds above 155mph in order to spare the rubber.
Growing the Senna's weight so dramatically at speed wasn't all down to what you could easily see. Ground effect played a huge part in it too. In Race mode with the ride height dropped by 39mm/30mm front/rear, more than 50 per cent of the available downforce was created by underbody ground suck. On top of that the Senna blended iron body control with reasonable compliance thanks to the magic of McLaren's RaceActive Chassis Control II working on the hydraulic height-adjustable suspension. McLaren claimed the overall result was the most responsive and engaging road-legal car they'd ever built.
Alongside the straight Senna at the 2018 Geneva show was the concept Senna GTR, a slick-shod, track-only car that eventually came into production in 2020. Its powered-up single-cat 814hp engine was bolted to a faster dual-clutch transmission. The Senna's weighty hydraulic suspension was replaced by a more conventional 720 GT3 race car-based arrangement and the aero package was substantially modded to handle as much as 1,000kg of downforce at 155mph. The GTR was said to be McLaren's fastest-ever track vehicle outside of its Formula One cars. 75 cars were to be built at £1.1 million a throw, plus tax. In addition, there were 35 examples of the Senna LM, an orange-painted joint venture between McLaren Special Operations (MSO) and Lanzante Motorsport with the same 814hp output as the GTR but solid (i.e. non-glassed) doors, some titanium panels and OZ centrelock wheels. One of these 35 LMs was written off while ex-F1 driver Adrian Sutil was at the wheel.
There was yet another Senna variant, the US-only 824hp Sabre. Sixteen of those are reputed to have rolled through MSO's doors. The most exclusive Senna of all however was the 833hp GTR LM, a road-legal version of the GTR with a redline lifted to 9,000rpm. Just five of these were made, each with a bespoke paint job harking back to the '95 Le Mans F1 GTRs.
So, how many Sennas in total were hand-built at the McLaren facility in Woking, each of them taking a reputed 300 man-hours? Well, the quoted production run was 500 units. Almost from day one back in 2017 when the asking price was £750,000 McLaren said that all five hundred had been allocated. The final car due to be built was auctioned well ahead of time in December 2017 (nearly a year before any Senna deliveries started) for over £1.9 million, with the proceeds going to the Ayrton Senna Foundation.
What about used prices now? Well, in January 2019 a used Senna from the 120 cars destined for the US sold at Barret-Jackson's Scottsdale auction for $1.45 million, the equivalent now (early 2023) of £1.2 million. In November 2020 a delivery mileage car in Azura Blue popped up on a South African classifieds site for the equivalent of £1.35 million.
Things have changed since then though. On the PH classifieds at the time of writing you could take your pick from nine Sennas for sale in the UK at prices from as little (relatively speaking) as £700,000. That sounds like a lot of money until you take it to somewhere like the Nürburgring and discover just how incredibly accomplished it is. The Porsche GT2 RS is an amazing vehicle with nearly 700hp going through the rear tyres. The Senna has 100hp more, also going through the rear wheels, 200kg-plus less weight to carry and equally effective aero. What we’re saying there is that it’s a beast on the track.
There aren’t enough Sennas out there for us to be able to give you hard and fast info on common ailments with this specific model, but as we go through this guide we’ll throw in a few nuggets culled from our guides on other cars in the McLaren range, focusing in particular on the 720S that is its closest relative. It could be that none of these issues afflict Sennas, but we’re hoping that this additional info will serve a purpose in giving you a feeling for the marque.
SPECIFICATION | MCLAREN SENNA (2018-20)
Engine: 3,994cc V8 32v twin-turbocharged petrol
Transmission: 7-speed twin-clutch auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 789@7,250rpm
Torque (lb ft): 590@5,500-6,700rpm
0-62mph (secs): 2.7
Top speed (mph): 208
Weight (kg): 1,309
MPG (official combined): 22.8
CO2 (g/km): 280
Wheels (in): 8x 19 (f), 10 x 20 (r)
Tyres: 245/35 (f), 315/30 (r)
On sale: 2018-20
Price new: £750,000
Price now: from £700,000
Note for reference: car weight and power data is hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it’s wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.
ENGINE & GEARBOX
Very few if any have ranked the McLaren's 4.0 V8 anywhere near the top of their 'favourite engine sound' lists. There was no actual shortage of noise from the deck-exit inconel-titanium exhaust (three outlets for non-US cars, two for US-spec cars) or from the roof-mounted 'snorkel' air intake and plenum, both of them fashioned from carbon fibre, but the quality of the noise was on the workmanlike side of wonderful.
You couldn't argue with the thrust though. 0-62mph in 2.8sec, 5.1sec for the 0-100mph (the 720S was mad enough at 5.6sec) and a rare single-figure standing quarter time of 9.9 seconds. Seeing those numbers, you might expect raw-edged mechanical mayhem when you first climb into the bucket seats that were actually more like buckets than seats, but the reality was that more than one road tester found the Senna's power delivery less daunting than the 720's, in at least one case because they felt so snugly lashed into the car. Gearshifts were quick and efficient.
A lightweight lithium battery was standard and you got a trickle charger for that too, a very good idea if you weren't using your Senna as a daily tool. The charging port was under the nose-bridge section that popped up when it was pressed.
Assuming it's the same as the 720S, service intervals are every 10,000 miles or 12 months. If you're the sort of millionaire that fancies taking on jobs yourself, you can almost certainly expect the Senna to throw up the same sort of reset codes or warning lights that require a special key, and using non-approved tools could invalidate your warranty. Of course, most will cheerily return their cars to McLaren to be looked after, but for reference (again, using the 720S as a guide) a 20,000-mile service inspection involving the replacement of the engine oil, oil filter, coolant, clutch oil and filter costs £871 (including VAT). Their 40,000-mile service adds a gearbox oil change to that list and costs £1,248 including VAT. A brake fluid change with them is around £120.
Although it only weighed 95g the Senna's Monocage III carbon fibre tub, evolved from the 720S’s Monocage II, was the strongest McLaren road car monocoque ever. No roll cage was needed. Aluminium subframes linked the tub to double-wishbone suspension. The corners of the car were hydraulically linked by the RaceActive Chassis Control II system (upgraded from the 720S’s Proactive Chassis Control II system) to balance dynamic loads, minimising vehicle pitch under heavy braking, reducing squat under full power and generally maximising stability and traction. Variable Drift Control did what it said on the tin.
The Senna had new-gen Brembo carbon ceramic brakes which warmed up a lot quicker than previous setups, allowing the disc/caliper assemblies to be made smaller and therefore (have a guess) lighter. They were immensely powerful and the feel in the footwell was great as long as you liked it firm and weren't scared of putting all your weight into the pedal. Do that and the Senna would come to a belt-stretching halt from 124mph in only 100 metres. The P1 needed 116 metres to stop from the same speed.
Add to that mix McLaren's fastest-ever steering and Pirelli P-Zero Trofeo R tyres on centrelock alloy wheels and the result was massively effective performance on the track. It was six seconds a lap faster than the 720S (and by extension the similarly-performing P1) around Estoril where the human – or in talent terms barely human – version of the Senna took his first F1 win.
According to insiders, the Senna was posting lap times that were less than two seconds slower than McLaren's full-fat slick-tyred GT3 race car, even with the medium-speed understeer that was an inescapable by-product of road tyres on a fast track. On the Senna the 245-section front tyres could seem were quite narrow and 'floaty' if you weren't loading them up either under braking or by cranking up the speeds to something more than medium, bringing more downforce into play. We’re not sure how much weight was over the Senna’s front wheels but it was a skimpy 42 per cent in the 570S. Overall the Senna was a majestic track car that also still managed to be an excellent road car. In the 720S, some owners reported leaks from McLaren's adaptive dampers - and the accumulators for the suspension's hydraulics have been categorised as consumable items by more than a few - but again, we're not sure if that applies to the lighter Senna.
60kg. That was the weight of all the Senna's carbon fibre body panels put together. The doors opened forwards and upwards in the best dihedral fashion, displacing large sections of the glass roof panels in the process. The visible gas struts could be colour matched to the brake calipers if you felt that was something worth doing.
Outside, the double diffuser was made from a single piece of carbon fibre. The 'progressive mesh' around the taillights (84 LEDs in each unit, 60 red and 24 amber for the indicator function) revealed more of the engine bay as you moved towards the centre of the vehicle, a neat visual trick. The front section of the front splitter was detachable so with luck you would only have to replace that part in the event of damage.
Amethyst Black, which is actually purple, is a rather lovely colour for a Senna. It's the same hue that was chosen for the P1 press car. The 720S can squeak and rattle a bit, and the 570S can reportedly suffer some corrosion (evidenced by bubbling under the paint) but expect most examples of Senna to have led a pampered life (although trackday crash damage isn't totally beyond the realms). In the case of the latter, repairs are likely to be tricky as McLaren is famously protective of its paint codes. But, again, not a first world problem that many Senna owners would struggle to overcome.
The mix of thin roof pillars and copious amounts of glass created fine visibility and a sensation of airiness that was unusual for such a sporting vehicle. To make it even airier you could replace the door panels (which were gloss black carbon as standard) with lightweight Gorilla glass sections, an idea inspired by helicopter cockpit design. The full glass door kit came in at under £6k and was a popular option among McLaren buyers generally.
The Senna's double-shell 'Super Lightweight' carbon fibre seats weighed 8kg each. They were upholstered with seven separate pads rather than one heavier continuous padded foam mould. Wider 'Touring' spec seats were available at extra cost. The pads on the normal seats could be finished in either Alcantara or leather, as could the button-free (for ultimate driver feel) steering wheel. The lower tub sills made entry and exit relatively easy: the hardest thing you had to do was get over the high seat bolsters. The space behind the seats was big enough for a pair of crash helmets and race suits.
Information was neatly presented via the Folding Driver Display and the central infotainment screen. You could display FDD info in Full or Slim mode. Full gave you different layouts for Comfort, Sport, or Track/Race modes, whereas Slim rotated the whole screen assembly to present a slimmer, less distracting profile with only crucial speed, rpm and gear information displayed. Angled towards the driver was the floating central 8-inch infotainment screen that gave you all the usual media, HVAC and nav stuff plus the Active Dynamics info. For serious circuit sessions, you could tick the MTT track telemetry box, with a three-camera system delivering visuals – one on the windscreen, one between the driver and passenger, and one in the rear bumper to record your heroic corner exit feats. A 'push to drink' hydration system was available too if you had six grand or so left unspent in your Senna budget.
Climate control was deleted as standard to keep the weight down but you could have it put back in at no extra cost. There was a bespoke £5,500 Bowers & Wilkins audio system which weighed 7.3kg including the seven speakers. The start-stop button was located on a fighter-jet style roof panel along with the switches for the doors and windows and the Race mode engagement button. The gear paddles were in satin-finish carbon. The floor gear selection toggles were attached to the driver's seat and thus moved with it, a race harness-friendly feature described by the designer as being akin to having a gun in a belt holster.
Drivers of lesser cars – i.e. most of us – will be pleased to hear about McLaren's conclusion that the combination of a driver's seat that moved on rails and a foot pedal assembly that didn't move (other than in the usual manner of course) was the best driving position solution from a complexity and weight standpoint, so that's what they put in the Senna. Sorry about that, Ford GT owners. The four-wheel lift function was operated by a discrete stalk below the wiper stalk.
If you're still not sure about whether the Senna lives up to the hype, take a squint at well, basically any review. That should clear up any doubts about the car's extraordinary trackability. If you're not sure about the looks, find a real one. They don't photograph that well, but they eyeball brilliantly.
Some will say that a Radical will deliver the same track thrills for a fraction of the price, but you try cruising something like that down to the Cote d'Azur and then getting out at the end. Depending on your age and physical condition you might well need to spend the first day recuperating. You probably wouldn't in a Senna. Nor would you feel any qualms about taking it to the casino of an evening.
Now we come to the subject of prices. At least some of the value in any high-priced car resides in its exclusivity, either real or perceived. McLaren said that it was building 500 Sennas and that they were all spoken for more or less immediately. Were they, though? No matter how you phrase the question - and by gum we've tried every way we could think of - getting a straight answer on whether all those reported sign-ups were converted into actual purchases or whether all 500 Sennas have actually even been built has proved to be a task too far for the PH computer and our meagre researching talents. Go onto the McLaren website, which is the internet version of a tongue twister, and it looks for all the world like you might still be able to register interest in a Senna. It's hard to be sure and you certainly won't see a price on there so we'll leave you to ponder on that. In the meantime here are some numbers we are fairly sure about.
In 2018 a new Senna was £750k before options. Today (February 2023) you can buy a used one for £700k, so they aren't appreciating at the moment, which is normally something you'd expect a limited-edition hypercar to do. Why might that be? Well, The McLaren Automotive brand has accumulated a large amount of passionate customer support in a very short timeframe, but there have been a few missteps along the way that have caused some reputational damage, such as the hoarding of ECU and paint codes to keep cars within the dealer network, and the allegedly rather heavy-handed treatment of specialists outside it. The Senna’s failure to go up in value could be down, at least in part, to that, or to the suggestion that, despite its obvious specialness, it wasn’t seen as different enough to previous non-Ultimate Series McLarens to justify the enhanced price tag. You can get a 720S for under £140k nowadays, remember.
Whatever the truth may be, if you thought the Senna was cheap at £750k new then you’ll surely think it’s a bargain now at £700k – and given where the hypercar market is slowly heading (i.e. away from combustion engines altogether) who would bet against it rising again in the fullness of time. As ever, it helps that the Senna is, comparatively speaking, very rare - and while we might never know what the actual build number is, it's fair to say that anyone disinterested in the investment potential is buying into a formidable driving experience. It’ll take a long time to get bored with the experience of breezing effortlessly past just about anything else on a trackday, whether it’s at a local circuit, big-boy F1 venue or ‘Ring.
The most affordable Senna on PH classifieds at the time of writing was also, according to the vendor, the only 2020-registered example for sale. It was this £699,000 400-mile car in lovely Victory Grey (which is actually blue) with telemetry, full glass door kit and the B&W sound system. For £995 more you could go all 1970s with this similarly-specced JPS-liveried 2019 car showing 4,000 miles. Most of the other cars on PH were in the £770k-£800k bracket, the exception being this near £1m XP01, described by the vendor as one of five experimental production cars.
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