Here's a question: how would you improve on the McLaren 675LT? Beyond there being more of them available at a more attainable price, and perhaps adding a little more emotion to the V8 blare, it's hard to think of much. It really was something spectacular, tactile like the very best sports cars yet also preternaturally capable on track. More even than that it was the model which proved McLaren could do properly fun and entertaining, as involving on the road as it was mind boggling on the spec sheet; for a car that ultimately began as the fast but slightly frustrating MP4-12C, the Longtail was an unforgettable, exhilarating swansong, and arguably as significant for the brand as the P1.
The omens for this 600LT are, therefore, encouraging to say the very least. Not only is there the 675 to benchmark, the base Sports Series has been better received from launch than the original 12Cs were. For McLaren to now drop the ball here would surely register as a disappointment not far off humiliation.
It's worth pointing out, however, that there will be some Longtails that are more, er, 'Longtaily' than others. McLaren highlights six pillars of LTness - their phrase, not ours - that read exactly how you'd like them to: more power, optimised aerodynamics, greater track focus, reduced weight, increased driver engagement and availability that's 'limited to the few'. Before you whinge about that last point, bear in mind that there should be more 600LT Coupes than there were 675s (because the car will be in production for a year, and not limited) and that a Spider is already confirmed. You need to move fast, but cars are still available.
Anyway, Longtailyness. For the full 100kg saving, McLaren requires owners to forego air conditioning and an infotainment system, removing 15kg. Although one owner has already specced their car accordingly, that sounds like total lunacy, yet represents a significant 15 per cent of the weight advantage. In addition, to reach the much vaunted 1,247kg dry weight, the 'Super-Lightweight Carbon Fibre Racing Seats' (aka the buckets from a Senna) must be optioned in to save the final 3.6kg. For five grand. That means that nearly 20 per cent of the weight reduction requires the driver to be hot, bothered and further out of pocket - seems worth pointing out. Still, when the cost of our test car was inflated by well over £50,000 of options (taking it to the best part of a quarter of a million), what's another £5,000 to the total?
Envy-induced journalistic pedantry aside, there's a lot to be encouraged by with the 600LT's standard weight loss. Because it comes from everywhere, implying improvement in every aspect of the car. Forged aluminium suspension components save 10kg which, combined with the 17kg saved in wheels and tyres, should work wonders for the ride and handling. That incredible exhaust sheds 12kg, and the carbon panels trim yet further precious kgs. When the LT transformation has gone as far as to delete the glovebox for an additional kilo, it suggests a thorough and comprehensive overhaul. Or obsession. Both of which sound absolutely fine.
Today there will be no road driving; that must wait for another time, this assessment comprised of 12 laps of the Hungaroring across two stints on the two different tyre options - a Pirelli P Zero, and a Trofeo R. Indeed not just any old Trofeo R (if such a thing exists), but instead a bespoke compound for the LT, one month in development and only settled upon after 50 different versions were tested. That's the sort of attention to detail every enthusiast likes to see.
First off, however, are five familiarisation laps of the track in a 570S Spider. While all in attendance are sent off with explicit instructions not to use the miles to assess the car, it inevitably provides a useful baseline from which to conduct LT comparison. Because, to be frank, the standard Sports Series remains a perfectly good circuit car. Perhaps it's hampered a little by its tyres and intrusive driver aids, but there's no doubt the 570 remains a rapid, direct and involving car on track.
Handily however, for both this story and McLaren's ambition, it takes all of five metres to realise the Longtail is a tangibly more serious prospect. That's often an exaggeration, but not here. Before moving an inch there's the slightly awkward yet vastly more supportive seat, clasping you in places you've not been clasped for a while. There's more noise from the second the V8 is started, more weight to the steering and more vibration coursing through the car.
It seems almost guaranteed that the Sports Series Longtail will be subject to more than its fair share of torturous metaphors over the coming weeks and months, its demeanour, focus and manifest ability rather lending itself to them. Expect lots of '570S turned up to 11!', 'Sports Series on steroids!' and so on as the automotive world collectively attempts to get its head around this car - it really is something pretty special. Perhaps what's most exciting is that this car feels like a wholesale rework of the Sports Series model; the changes probably look piecemeal, a boost here and a tweak there, but the end result is a transformation. It's not simply been a case of cranking the turbos up, lobbing on a set of grippy tyres and standing well back - this is a methodical, thorough, emphatic overhaul of what was already a fantastic car, the result something more capable, thrilling and entertaining than ever before. You can probably see where this is going...
The superlatives don't really seem adequate for the 600LT on the Hungaroring. Of course, any 600hp track-focused sports car on a Grand Prix circuit in the sunshine is probably going to be quite good fun, whoever has made it. What feels different here, as was the way with the 675, is that the 600 feels to be so much more than a one-trick pony.
Be in no doubt, though: if you want a track day car, this thing is absolutely going to deliver. Even on the P Zero (i.e. exactly the same rubber as you'll find on a standard 570S), the Longtail feels a world away from a standard Sports Series. There's a precision and poise you hadn't quite noticed was missing before, a willingness to be turned in late and hard on the brakes, a huge amount more mid corner grip, improved traction, keener steering response and significantly improved stability. It's certainly fast enough to beat a GT3 RS in a straight line, too, which - if you want to get in one now, let's not forget - could cost the best part of £300,000...
More than that it's an immersive and vivid driving experience, like when you first switched a CRT tele for a LCD one. (We're not entirely free from the odd dodgy analogy, either.) You didn't know there was that much wrong before, yet, on experience of this brighter and sharper alternative, there's no way you could go back. Ever. So even when the drive is not a Lando Norris emulation, the additional noise from behind and on gearshifts, the wonderful brake pedal feel (helped by a Senna brake booster) and the greater sense of connection is extremely satisfying.
It should say a lot about the LT's exquisite chassis that it's taken till now to mention the powertrain overhaul. In addition to the 30hp and 15lb ft (achieved through a remap and the reduced back pressure from the new exhaust), the 600 comes with the promise of faster shifts thanks to Ignition Cut developed from the 675LT. Despite its billing as the junior of the range, a 0-124mph time of 8.2 seconds qualifies this car as a very, very serious supercar. It feels that on the track, too, if not massively more potent than a regular model. What's more noticeable is a renewed appetite for revs, the drama of every single gearshift (with the more aggressive modes selected) and the ferocious, wild, unique bark of that flat-plane V8; this is certainly the best sounding McLaren yet, though that still feels like damning the car with faint praise. Certainly cars like the Huracan Performante and AMG GT R, or even the Lotus Exige Cup 430, make more appealing and exciting noises.
Still, with the Trofeos wrapped around those gorgeous forged wheels after lunch, the 600LT could be powered by a fairground generator for all it matters. Such is the car's endless appetite lap after lap that you just want to drive forever, brake pedal not falling away a millimetre and retuned dampers seemingly tolerant of however much kerb you want, be that by accident or intention. If you can keep going, so can the car, the LT imbued with a real motorsport sense of purpose, of indefatigable ability and endless performance.
Furthermore - you're getting the picture now, right? - this McLaren is not some prescriptive, colour-by-numbers circuit experience that's always a concern when additional downforce is mentioned (100kg at 155mph, FYI). It lets you drive how you want to drive; actively encourages it, in fact. So transparent are the dynamics, so neutral is the balance and so communicative are the controls that you can't help but indulge an appetite for trying different things. Ultimately the car will understeer, of course, but the LT is so finely adjustable on brakes and throttle that that trait is largely irrelevant. Indeed, such is the level of additional involvement over a standard car that you're more willing to explore the cornering limits, higher though they are, in a 600LT than a 570S. With recalibrated driving modes to further encourage exploitation of those thresholds, it doesn't take long for the whole experience to feel something like driving nirvana. The Longtail is challenging for all abilities without being overly intimidating, agile yet not unpredictable and properly focused without feeling frenzied. Viceless is a big claim for something with 600hp and the engine behind the driver, yet the LT's approachability and forgiving nature borders on the extraordinary.
So yeah, the 600 Longtail has given a damn good first showing. There's an argument to say it hasn't moved McLaren on as far as the 675LT did, but to expect such a transformation all over again would be as unrealistic as it would be impossible to achieve. Drive a 675LT today and you'll still be blown away, so to criticise an emulation of that in this Sports Series borders on the churlish. There can never be too high a number of exhilarating, absorbing and thrilling track cars available, can there? If the 600LT can combine this addictive track behaviour with a level of road civility and accessibility - and all the signs are that it will - then this newest and most junior member of the illustrious Longtail line looks set to be another triumph.
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. Price as tested £242,050, comprised of Silica White Special Paint for £1,440, By McLaren Designer Interior - Alcantara Design for £2,990, air conditioning (NCO), sat-nav (NCO), Bowers and Wilkins Audio System for £3,530, Super-Lightweight Carbon Fibre Racing Seats for £4,990, Carbon Fibre Interior Upgrade Pack (extended gearshift paddles; steering wheel spokes; switch and IRIS display surrounds) for £5,510, Security Pack (vehicle lift; front and rear parking sensors; rear view camera; car cover) for £3,860, McLaren Track Telemetry with three cameras for £1,320, Carbon Fibre Plenum Cover for £590, MSO Defined Gloss Carbon Fibre Roof and Cantrails for £10,960, Gloss Visual Carbon Fibre Exterior Upgrade Pack 1 (door mirror casings; extended side intakes) for £3,240, Gloss Visual Carbon Fibre Exterior Upgrade 2 (front splitter and endplates; side skirts with aero winglets; rear bumper with diffuser; rear bumper aero fins; rear spoiler) for £5,700, MSO Defined Gloss Carbon Fibre Exterior Upgrade Pack 3 (door inserts; rear deck and service cover) for £8,500, Carbon Fibre Sill Finisher with McLaren Branding for £1,870, Gloss Black Wheel Finish for £1,140 and Azura Blue brake calipers for £910. And breathe)
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