McLaren GT | Driven

Two pairs of skis and a thought begins to form. A full-size golf bag and the thought becomes clearer. It evades you awhile, but as they talk on about ground clearance and powertrain refinement, or explain something about ride comfort and more about visibility, it emerges, fully formed and perfectly rendered, and you want to ask this: don't the very best cars manage without explanation? Aren't their purposes so crystal clear they speak for themselves? And if you're resorting to a two-letter soubriquet so route one it makes hoofing the ball from deep inside your own half towards the opposition's box seem like intricate play, is it at all possible the car you're flogging is just a little bit confused?

Never in the decade it's been marketing cars has McLaren Automotive had to explain one so deliberately as it has the new GT. I can't believe anybody looks at an Aston Martin DBS Superleggera and misreads what it's for. Nor a Bentley Continental GT, nor a Ferrari F8 Tributo and not McLaren's own (and superb) 720S.

This thing about a car expressing itself unambiguously is important, because if you hadn't been briefed at length about what the McLaren GT is for, which we were on the media launch (and if you weren't aware of its hilariously literal moniker), I think you would drive the car and be more struck by the strange lethargy as you flick the steering wheel one direction to the other, and its tendency to smear its front tyres across the road surface than drill them into it, than you would the very good ride quality or road noise suppression. And you'd be entirely unimpressed. You'd think McLaren had built the baggiest mid-engined supercar on sale today.

I suppose my issue with the GT is this: without having been spoon-fed the messages beforehand, there's not a chance you'd identify this car as the sportier sort of grand tourer its maker wants it to be. You wouldn't necessarily work that out for yourself. It's a car that needs to be explained. But hey, if that's the most frustrating thing about the McLaren GT perhaps it's no dud after all.

Despite being built around the same basic building blocks as any other modern McLaren - same carbon tub albeit with modifications, same twin-turbo V8 albeit with unique power and torque outputs, same seven-speed dual-clutch transmission albeit with its own shift strategy - it doesn't sit within McLaren's familiar model hierarchy. The company has dabbled with the idea of a grand tourer before (and it'll do far more than dabble with that concept when it sets the extraordinary-looking Speedtail free) but whereas the 570GT was an adapted Sports Series car with a bespoke glass rear hatch and tweaked suspension, this GT was billed as a grand tourer from start to finish. McLaren talks about usability, storage space, refinement, ride comfort, about tyres that were designed as much to reduce road roar as generate bundles of grip, and then about handling response and performance.

The area that lingers beneath the powered rear tailgate is a good size, but awkwardly-shaped. Between it and the front compartment you have 570 litres, which is more than you'll find in the boot of a Porsche Macan. That's tremendously helpful if you've got lots of water to transport, but if you prefer to use boot space for suitcases you'll not have room for a big one. Cooling air is fed between the load space and the engine compartment to stop your things from getting too toasty, while several layers of very clever foam help to isolate the heat of the engine even further. Chocolate will melt at 37 degrees Celsius. Only if it's exceptionally hot outside and the engine is working hard will the compartment exceed that.

The Monocell II monocoque has been modified with a new rear structure and is labelled Monocell II-T. It contributes to a longer overall length than a Sports Series model - by some 15cm - which is where much of the additional storage space comes from. Suspension is not by the interconnected hydraulic system that gives the 720S its poise, but by conventional springs, dampers and anti-roll bars (the 720S system is more about roll control than ride comfort, apparently). Nonetheless, those springs, dampers and anti-roll bars have been configured for ease of use in normal driving and with what McLaren calls Proactive Damping Control, which is like adaptive damping but predictive rather than reactive. McLaren has allowed itself to spend a little additional weight on sound deadening material, as well as that hefty tailgate and the longer overall length. The GT is 35kg heavier than a 570GT, which doesn't seem like much. Nor does 1,530kg, not when the erroneously-named DBS Superleggera wobbles along at around 1,800kg.

The engine is the 4.0-litre rather than the 3.8. The smaller engine in McLaren's two-strong line-up is beginning to feel out of date, lacking the tractability of similar engines from elsewhere. The bigger one is better in that respect, but still massively outdone by the F8 Tributo's stunningly responsive motor. Power here is rated at 630hp and torque at 465lb ft. The GT's cabin looks to me exactly like the cockpit you'll find in McLaren's entry-level cars, with the same sculptural forms on the doors cards and the dashboard and the same purposeful seating position. Only when you look over your shoulder do you realise you're sitting in something different, because you spot the airiness of that big, long compartment.

The seats are firmly-padded rather than plush and chair-like, which might be the thing that undoes this car's grand touring credentials. Because the way it rides, the calm in the cabin at speed, the steering that filters far more noise out than any other McLaren helm, the long-legged all feels very GTish to me. You could do distances in this car, as long as the seats agree with you.

But all of that comes at a cost. In turning up the dial marked 'civility', McLaren has had to turn down the one marked 'fun'. Whatever the GT gains over a more conventional McLaren in terms of long-distance usability, it gives up exactly the same amount when the road gets twisty. The chassis balance is far more nose-led than any other Woking machine, the front end pushing noticeably through medium speed bends, while the steering has far less of the intuitive sense of connection that marks McLarens out from the rest. There's this feeling of mass high up in the car, so when you flick the GT through a couple of sudden direction changes you feel it hauling itself from one lateral loading to the other, struggling against its own inertia in a way no McLaren ever has.

What you're left with is a mid-engined supercar that's strangely uninvolving to punt along a mountain road. Still very fast and competent, but not exciting. The GT is staggeringly fast, in fact, feeling urgent through the mid-range and then explosive across the final 3000rpm, but that lack of response further down the rev range does irritate every time you try to power away from very tight corners.

Perhaps a bigger issue than that is the engine's lack of character. It isn't a memorable or tuneful piece of kit, not like the 12 cylinders you'll find in Aston Martins, Bentleys and Ferraris. And for a grand tourer, that seems to me like a problem. So you see, even when you've taken the time to listen to McLaren's pitch and you've spent a day driving the car, you come away still unsure about what it is you've just sampled. By being a bit more agile than a conventional grand tourer and a bit more refined than a typical supercar - but also far less charismatic than most GTs and much less rewarding than an all-out supercar - the new McLaren carves out an unusual little niche that I'm not convinced ever needed filling.

3994cc, V8, twin-turbo
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 620@7,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 568@5,500-6,500rpm
0-62mph: 3.2 secs
Top speed: 203mph
Weight: 1,530kg
MPG: 23.7
CO2: 270g/km
Price: Β£163,000

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Comments (198) Join the discussion on the forum

  • sidesauce 17 Sep 2019

    In that colour, I must say I quite like that.

  • scottydoesntknow 17 Sep 2019

    Another mid engined turbo V8 carbon tubbed McLaren. zzzzz #notaGT

  • cmoose 17 Sep 2019

    "Woking has voyaged into parts unknown..."

    Eh? More like a voyage courtesy of parts bin all too well known.

    Hard to believe the clumsy, awkward styling of this thing got signed off. What a mess.

    Still, one thing Prosser got right was the engine. McLaren's V8 lump has been dreary and unexciting from day one. Quality of powertrain, not quantity, please. Masses of power doth not alone an exciting sports car engine make. Something McLaren seems hell bent on proving over and over again. We've got the idea, chaps. Not that the market gives a toss, as they sell plenty of 'em.

  • ReaperCushions 17 Sep 2019

    Needs 4 seats (OK 2+2) and more luggage space to really make sense to me. It seems like the worst of all worlds right now.

  • Sandpit Steve 17 Sep 2019

    That looks rather lovely, much more subtle than the rest of the range and the colours suit it well both inside and out. The exterior looks like it was drawn by a man with a pen, rather than a computer and a wind tunnel.

    Would be interested in a group test against rivals from Aston and Bentley, whereas the reviewer compared it more to a 600LT - which is undoubtedly a fantastic car, but a very different beast and definitely not something I’m going to want to use to take the wife for a long weekend in Nice or Monaco.

    One advantage of the way McLaren makes cars, is that they don’t need to sell huge numbers of these for it to still make sense, maybe a thousand or two per year, which is probably achievable for this niche in the market. The stated price seems sensible too, but I’m sure as always there’s plenty of room to tick the options boxes to get a silly price!

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