McLaren GT review: does the new supercar live up to its grand tourer name?
The Week Portfolio puts the British marque’s mid-engined model to the test
The GT name is an evocative one in the motoring world. Utter the two-letter word to a fellow car fanatic and odds are they’ll instantly think of the French Alps, with Matt Monro’s On Days Like These blaring from the stereo - and, of course, a comfortable yet powerful grand tourer at their disposal.
British carmakers are especially good at building grand tourers. Aston Martin is arguably king of the GTs and employs the traditional grand touring formula - a sizeable engine in the front and big boot in the back.
But now McLaren, famed for its powerful mid-engined supercars and track-honed hypercars, wants a piece of the action.
The company unveiled its first foray into the grand touring world, simply dubbed the GT, back in April. The car would form a new grand tourer pillar in the company’s line-up, alongside the Sports, Super and Ultimate Series products.
The newcomer is aimed at drivers looking for a vehicle that feels like a supercar on a twisty stretch of road but can also easily carry two people and their luggage across the Continent at high speed.
To see whether the GT fulfils that brief, The Week Portfolio put the car to the test ahead of its global release later this year.
Naturally, we needed a suitable backdrop in which to put the GT through its paces, so we headed for the South of France, starting in Saint Tropez before working our way up to the glorious mountain roads of Route Napoleon, about 25 miles north west of Cannes.
Before setting off, though, we needed somewhere to put our luggage. After all, a grand tourer would be pretty useless if it couldn’t get two suitcases, or two sets of golf clubs, into the boot.
You’d be lucky to ram all that into McLaren’s other cars, such as the 720S or 600LT, but luggage capacity isn’t an issue in the GT. The car’s taller nose allows for around 150 litres of space at the front, with a further 420 litres behind the cabin.
That’s impressive, given that the Aston Martin DB11’s boot only offers 270 litres of storage.
So it’s more GT than supercar when it comes to luggage space, but what’s it like to drive?
Well, the McLaren GT certainly offers a more relaxing experience behind the wheel than the company’s range of supercars. The 612bhp 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 engine can be traced to the ludicrous 720S, but has been calibrated to deliver a less aggressive throttle response than the firm’s mid-range supercar.
Peak power is also delivered lower down the rev range, but acceleration feels far more linear than McLaren’s other offerings. In fact, it’s precisely how a grand tourer should feel: powerful enough to storm across continents without the driver breaking a sweat.
The brakes are vastly different as well. They’re just as powerful as those in other McLaren models, but drivers have to apply more pressure to the pedal to slow down the car. That means you won’t lurch forward when tapping the brake pedal but will need to keep your wits about you when driving on a narrow mountain pass.
It’s also worth noting that the GT gets the 720S’ complex active suspension system, which is capable of reacting to a bump in the road before you drive over it. The system is so impressive, in fact, that we barely noticed Route Napoleon’s pitted and worn tarmac surface.
For all that, however, the GT is still a McLaren at heart.
Flick the car into dynamic mode - which opens values up in the exhaust to raise the volume of the V8 and makes the gear changes more aggressive - and the GT comes alive on a twisty section of road.
The smooth power delivery meant we were able to sprint from hairpin to hairpin without fearing that our throttle inputs would spin the wheels up and spit us over the cliff’s edge. The wonderful hydraulic steering also provides plenty of feedback in the corners.
It sounds good, too. McLaren’s V8s aren’t the most tuneful engines fitted to a supercar, but the GT’s extra bodywork has allowed the British carmaker to work its magic on the exhaust system to deliver a sound that’s not too obtrusive at lower speeds, but that also gives drivers a satisfying bark when exploring the top end of the rev range.
That said, the motor can be a little boomy at slower speeds, even when the exhaust valves are closed. It’s not too intrusive, but most grand tourers are near silent when cruising.
So is the McLaren GT a true grand tourer?
It’s certainly easier to drive than McLaren’s current line-up and has plenty of space for a Continental getaway. The cabin is also more luxurious than 570S and 720S, though it’s not quite as opulent as the new Bentley Continental GT.
Ultimately, the McLaren GT appears to be somewhat of a halfway house, for better and for worse.
It doesn’t feel like a thoroughbred GT, in the sense that the driving position and sound is more supercar than grand tourer. But the new arrival has a sense of dynamism that simply can’t be found on other cars in the segment.
The GT doesn’t conform to its grand tourer name in the traditional sense, but strikes a superb balance between supercar thrills, comfort and practicality.
And, at £163,000, it’s one of the cheapest cars in the McLaren range. Very tempting.