McLaren 720S Spider review: a supercar to rule them all
Blisteringly fast with pioneering suspension this is a car designed to turn heads
McLaren knocked the competition out of the park when its 720S coupe arrived on the scene two years ago.
The car was radically different to its predecessor – the 650S – with an all-new design and more power than ever before. This helped it win Evo magazine’s car of the year shootout in 2017.
Now there’s a Spider version and McLaren is hoping the new car will deliver the same driving experience as the coupe, only this time without a roof.
Designing the car was an incredibly challenging task for its engineers as removing the roof can have a major impact on a vehicle’s handling. The roof is a key structural point and taking it off can cause vehicles to bend – known as chassis flex – when going around corners at high speed.
To avoid this McLaren has developed a new chassis for the Spider designed to help maintain the coupe’s rigidity while keeping excess weight to a minimum. The new carbon fibre chassis, along with the single-piece folding roof, makes the car just 49kg heavier than the hardtop version.
To see whether McLaren has succeeded in transferring the coupe’s magic to the new Spider version, we headed to Arizona, famous for its desert heat, to see how the roofless car performed on public roads.
The plan was to drive the 720S Spider on two routes. The first was a gentle cruise through rural Arizona to see how the supercar functioned as an everyday car, the second was a twisty mountain road that would enable us to assess the car’s handling and agility.
Before we set off McLaren warned us that the local police department would be keeping an eye on us in case we were tempted to speed. Although we had no intention of going beyond the limit, we crept out of the hotel with trepidation.
Our first journey took us to the Rim Golf Club in Payson, an hour and a half from our hotel in Scottsdale.
Two things struck us almost immediately. The first was that the 720S Spider is incredibly easy to drive. This we attributed to the car’s panoramic windscreen and responsive steering.
The second thing that struck us was the sheer amount of power waiting to be unleashed. When the speed limit on the motorway changed from 45mph to 65mph, we dropped the gearbox down to 4th gear and planted a foot on the accelerator.
Needless to say, the car hit 65mph in the blink of an eye.
Unlike the track-focused 600LT Spider, which we reviewed last week, power is delivered to the rear wheels in the 720S Spider in a way that’s a little more intimidating.
The 710bhp developed by the 720S Spider’s 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 engine is dumped onto the rear axle shortly after you press the accelerator pedal. This suggests there’s a small amount of turbo lag where the engine takes a moment to deliver the power.
This is by no means a problem. If anything, it gives the 720S Spider more character. We found ourselves adapting to it easily every time the speed limit increased. Drivers might, however, need time to get used to the engine because it’s quite easy to spin the wheels when accelerating.
We had a few gripes with the sat-nav system on the 600LT Spider, which was outdated compared to its rivals, but that’s no longer the case with the 720S Spider.
The system is by no means perfect but it managed to get us to our destination with no issues. It also correctly warned us ahead of changes in the speed limit – a welcome feature when hundreds of horsepower can be summoned at the press of the accelerator.
After our morning drive, we regrouped and prepared for the next leg of the journey. The plan was to head to a winding canyon road that ended at Bartlett Reservoir in Maricopa Country. The undulating road would show us whether the car’s lack of roof would have an impact on its handling.
This route seemed far more suitable than the morning’s motorway, especially as the howling V8’s soundtrack bounced off the canyon walls and into the cabin.
Our progress was far from smooth, however. Dust and rocks covered the road, slowing us down, but the low-slung supercar nonetheless handled the conditions admirably.
When we finally reached the bottom of the canyon road and found ourselves on the edge of a stunning reservoir we discovered we’d attracted some unwanted attention.
A group of four police officers on motorbikes emerged from a canyon road ahead of us and approached our vehicle.
Wondering whether the roar from the car’s 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 had attracted their attention, we feared that a lonely night in an Arizona jail might be on the cards.
But when one of the officers took off his helmet and said “you know that won’t float, right?”, our fears vanished.
The officers were in the area to see whether one of their new recruits could start his motorbike on a hill. When two more officers arrived, they asked if we could take a picture of them next to our gold 720S Spider [see below].
This level of attention is perhaps unique to McLaren. The carmaker doesn’t have the cachet of rival firms such as Ferrari and Lamborghini so people are curious when they see a McLaren on the road. They often stop to ask questions.
“If you’re looking for a head start, we’ll be here for a good 15 minutes”, the police captain said. Feeling somewhat relieved, we jumped back into the 720S Spider and used this time to put the supercar to the test on the canyon pass leading back towards the hotel.
After a few corners, it was clear the drop-top reacted precisely to our steering inputs, which suggested that losing the roof had no effect on the car’s handling. The 720S Spider is surprisingly nimble and the perfectly weighted steering helps deliver an experience similar to that of a lightweight sports car.
It’s certainly more civilised than the 600LT Spider we drove last week and the cabin tech is a step ahead of its track-focused sibling.
On paper the £237,000 720S Spider is a masterclass in supercar design. It’s incredibly powerful, yet quiet and refined while coursing along the motorway – an uncommon characteristic in a supercar.
We admittedly had more fun in the 600LT Spider, which delivers a more engaging driving experience than its big brother, but the car’s aggressive design and stripped out interior may be a turn-off for some.
Those on the hunt for a luxurious supercar capable of cruising to the French Riviera in the blink of an eye will find it difficult to pick a better car than the 720S Spider.