Comparing the new McLaren 675LT and the Ferrari 488 GTB is irresistible, if not entirely fair. Out of sync product cycles mean the LT is either McLaren’s response to the 458 Speciale or a gauntlet thrown for the inevitable hardcore version of its new twin-turbo Berlinetta. The 488’s battle, really, is against the 650S.
But come on. We can’t help ourselves. There’s just 5hp separating them after all. And weight saving and track focus are the key aims but, unlike Challenge Stradales, Scuderias and Speciales, the 675LT aims to deliver the additional poise and focus without resorting to the ‘easy’ option of paring it back to the minimalist basics. In theory the LT should have all the creature comforts and daily usability of the 650S, matched with Speciale slaying track ability and charisma too.
Out of control
At first glance you could mistake the LT for a 650S with a power bump, some new aero and as much as 100kg stripped out of the already impressive kerb weight. You get the impression that was probably McLaren’s intention too. But, inevitably, things spiralled and a third of the LT’s components are new while the engine shares just 50 per cent of its parts with the 650S.
The McLaren team are quick with adjectives like ‘beautiful’ but, while in the eye of the beholder, that’s not the first word that springs to mind. The additional aero brings fussiness and bling to the previously minimal lines, the new back end a mish-mash of vents, diffuser, exhausts and wing. The overall proportions are more cohesive and resolved than the 12C/P1 mash-up of the 650S though.
Whatever your personal take you’d be pressed to call it pretty. But, by ‘eck, it looks mean and much, much more purposeful than the 650S. 20mm less ride height at the front and 20mm more rear track doesn’t sound a great deal but at eye level from the front three-quarter it bristles with the aggression and intent of a P1 in its slammed Race setting. This is a good thing.
Driven by the functional necessities of cooling, downforce and weight saving the ‘open’ back end with its full-width rear wing/airbrake and cool circular tipped titanium ‘crossover’ exhaust system looks ace. The heat radiated after a spirited bit of driving will ensure people keep a respectful distance too, the visible ‘blueing’ of the exhaust one clue of how hot things get under there.
Take care of the grams...
Before we talk driving impressions let's indulge a little geekery. Stripping 100kg out of the 650S – already around 70kg lighter than the 488 GTB – is no mean feat and results in some delightfully nerdy detail. You’ll have to forgo air-con if want that full weight saving – optioning it back in costs kilos (11 to be precise) rather than cash – and indulging in the no-cost Nappa leather over standard Alcantara adds another 3.5kg. Even with this level of relative opulence the starting dry weight of 1,230kg means it’ll still substantially undercut the Speciale’s equivalent 1,290kg and 488’s 1,370kg.
As standard the car gets 1mm thinner windscreen glass worth 3kg, a 3.7kg polycarbonate engine cover saving 1.7kg over the standard glass one and 3kg out of the wiring loom. The wheels are lighter even than those on the P1 and the rear wing/airbrake is twice the size of a 650S’s and contributes to the 40 per cent increase in downforce while weighing less. Even the bolt-in half cage included in the £5,090 Clubsport pack (harnesses and extinguisher also included) is made of titanium and weighs just 4.4kg. Commitment to the lightweight cause!
Will less sound deadening, a more rigidly mounted engine and stiffer spring rates (27 per cent front, 63 per cent rear) harm the consistently impressive on-road refinement of regular 12C and 650S models? While others were on a short local road route finding out we were concentrating on the track driving and will return to this in part two.
P1 for the LT
Biggest influences on the LT’s dynamic behaviour over the 650S would include front suspension based on the ‘concept’ and geometry of the P1, albeit constructed from marginally less fancy materials. With a 13.9:1 rack the steering is faster geared than any other McLaren too, the 650S using 14.6:1 and P1 14.3:1. Forgive us for fixating on steering ratios of late; it’s but one measure of response of course but it does at least offer a sense of the character the engineers are aiming at.
That being ‘pointy’ in the case of the LT. From the first few metres there’s a reassuring weight and response to the 675’s slender, Alcantara trimmed wheel. It’s not light and darty like a Ferrari, just decisive, informative and an immediate clue as to what’s in store as the speeds rise.
Rise they do. Very rapidly. Helmeted up there's less of the Intake Sound Generator’s theatrical soundtrack, relying instead on the instruments and rapidly blurring trackside furniture for sense of speed. Isolated from aural feedback the power delivery feels more linear and less ‘boosty’ than the 650, reflected on the spec sheet by slightly lower revs for peak horsepower and torque. It’s happy revving out but the engine gives its best in the mid- to upper-range and you’ll lean on the torque harder than you would in a Speciale, which instead encourages holding off until you’re using 8,999 of the 9,000 available rpm before shifting up.
Turning both Handling and Powertrain controls to ‘Track’ gets you the fastest available gearchanges via the ‘Inertia Push’ system introduced on the 650S. In this mode upshifts are seamless and pretty much imperceptible beyond the astonishing increase in thrust. If you want a bit of drama ‘Track’ for Handling and ‘Sport’ for Powertrain gives you the Ignition Cut mode for gearshifts, doing what it says on the tin and giving you a little jolt in the back and bang from the exhausts as the unburnt fuel ignites. When even ‘serious’ McLaren folk like chief test driver Chris Goodwin admit this is their preferred setting you understand why most un-Ron like words like ‘fun’ are applied in official descriptions of the car.
Whichever gear you’re in acceleration is relentless and mind-scrambling. Meaning it inevitably feels like your set braking point was many metres back. Whoops. Good job the brakes are suitably epic then, the pedal having superb feel and modulation combined with dependable power. With that ironing board deployed into airbrake mode you can haul it up from huge speed such as into Stowe absolutely dead straight as well, the stability under braking massively confidence inspiring.
As is the turn-in, standard Pirelli P Zero Trofeo tyres a step up from even the Corsas on the 650S in terms of bite. This positive front end is key in convincing you that the 675 is on your side for the corner that follows too, there being just a tad of initial push but so much feel that it can be easily dialled out by trailing the brakes into the turn or – better – left-foot braking to blend the introduction of power through the apex and to the exit.
For all the hooliganism shown in that promo vid the LT encourages a neat and tidy approach, the feedback through the wheel and fixed-back seat sufficient you’d swear you can feel the tread blocks squirming around on the tyres if you’ve been sufficiently committed with entry speed.
In McLaren style traction is controlled not by a mechanical locking diff – electronically controlled or not – but by electronic Brake Steer. You’ll be told this is lighter and actually faster on the track than the Side Slip Control and F1-Trac clutch-based locking diff used by Ferrari but there’s no escaping the fact if you want to play the hooligan you’re better off in a Speciale.
Playing it straight
There’s subtlety and tactility to the way the LT can be adjusted by playing with the weight distribution through both pedals, but if you want to just cut loose and scribe fat black lines everywhere the McLaren can’t quite shake off its bookish, straight-laced image. A new ‘Dynamic’ ESP mode is a welcome addition and the slacker grip on the leash is welcome if you’re confident in playing with the balance. But it’s not idiot proofed and if the LT does start to rotate you need to be quick to catch it. “It is a slightly edgier, more raw and slightly more harsh car – and that’s intended,” says Chris Goodwin. You can apparently defeat the natural traction with a torque boost and go up through the gears at a standstill while destroying what’s left of your Pirellis – ye gads, we were even told it’ll do doughnuts. But for all these attempts at appealing to the showboaters it’s clear the LT’s focus remains on ruthless dissection of sectors, deltas and laptimes.
This it does. But it’s not inert or aloof in any way. This side of the electrically assisted hyper brigade it’s probably the fastest, sharpest, most accomplished and – most of all – fun supercars of the current crop and, hand on heart, the one we’d pick over the 488 based on this first taste. Can you get a sense of this on the road though? That’s almost the bigger challenge. And one we’ll report back on shortly...
SPECIFICATION | MCLAREN 675LT
Engine: 3,799cc V8 twin-turbo
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto (SSG), rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 675@7,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 516@5,500-6,500rpm
Top speed: 205mph
Weight: 1,230kg (dry; 1,328kg DIN without driver)
MPG: 24.2mpg (NEDC combined)
Price: £259,500 (before options, and all 500 are sold sadly!)
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