7 Elements of McLaren’s 720S

Since 2011, McLaren’s been landing blows on Ferrari, but its 720S could be the car to deliver the knockout punch

by BEN MILLER pics JOHN WYCHERLEY

THE 720S is about having your cake and pushing it into your happy mouth in one great lump without a shred of remorse. It’s about the co-existence of attributes previously considered mutually exclusive. The car uses a bigger, more powerful engine than the 650S, but it’s also lighter (by 18kg, dropping the lightest dry weight to 1283kg). It requires more cooling than its predecessor, yet moves through the air with twice the efficiency, and generates more downforce as it does so. McLaren personnel claim the car will run long distances on the road with the ease and refinement of a 570GT while also delivering near-675LT levels of track heroism. It’s a supercar you can see out of the back of, an aero-honed aluminium sculpture to rival the P-51 Mustang and, perhaps most intriguingly of all, a McLaren conceived first and foremost to make you smile. Whatever next...

MCLAREN 720S

BODY 2-door, 2-seat coupe DRIVE rear-wheel ENGINE 3994cc V8, DOHC, 32v, twin-turbo POWER 530kW @ 7500rpm TORQUE 770Nm @ 5500rpm WEIGHT 1283kg (dry) POWER/WEIGHT 413kW/tonne TRANSMISSION 7-speed dual-clutch SUSPENSION Double-wishbone, adaptive dampers (f/r) PRICE $489,900 (available Q3)

Bold, original styling 01

BEING reduced to a wide-eyed kid by excess, pomp and wonder is what supercars are all about. Despite its cool, calculated image, McLaren knows this, and the 720S doesn’t hold back on moments of unbridled joy. Approach and you’re struck first by the lack of visible side vents, a prominent feature of mid-engined supercars since forever. Then you reach the impossibly contoured door and realise it’s essentially hollow, with a cavity running through its sinewy aluminium form that speaks of complex airflow management. You then release the dihedral door and watch as it takes much of the roof with it, like Murray’s F1, for easy access.

Despite its myriad complications, the door linkage is simple like a hammer but perfect like a snowdrop.

The cut-outs in the roof, allied with the cut-down sills, drastically reduce the amount of full-body gymnastics required to slide in and out. The door needs 155mm less space to the next parked car to fully open than the 650S, and opens up to an 80-degree angle.

Settle into the seat, take a look over your shoulder and you’ll gasp again at the rear of the cockpit teardrop, which is glazed like the nose of a Heinkel bomber. The sense of light, space and unencumbered visibility is astonishing.

“The glazed rear gives you something unique. It came out of something we wrote down very early on – a glasshouse like nothing before,” explains design director Rob Melville. “We wanted a clean body side, a unique and iconic face for the Super Series and an overall design language of technical sophistication, but one of the very first sketches had this extensive glazing. Originally I drew trellis-style elements here on the C-pillars, either side of the rear teardrop. The team then realised that visibility is a key McLaren attribute and got behind the idea.” It feels very McLaren and yet deeply Honda, like a trick missed on the MkII NSX.

Then, just as you’ve regained your steely mask of studied indifference, you play with the button to the right of the main driver instrument display and watch those instruments silently fold down and away until you’re looking at an ultra-clean, ultranarrow no-nonsense display like an F1 car’s.

“The full display mode gives you everything you’d expect, with slightly reduced functionality in Comfort and slightly increased in Track. But turn the Active Dynamics panel to Track, or press the manual override to the right and you’re into the slim display mode,” continues Melville. “There are fewer distractions, just the same shift lights as our F1 car, rev counter, speed and gears.”

So now, as you run your hands over the new, deliciously tactile aluminium switchgear (in the 650S most buttons were plastic), you realise you’re smitten, and wonder if anyone will mind if you just drive away...

A body sculpted by wind 02

KEEPING COOL

“Downforce is a big deal for us but so is efficiency,” continues Vinnels. “If you take out 20kg of cooling system that’s a big win, and for that reason we’re always on a knife-edge in terms of what we can get away with on the cooling.

“Tyres are also crucial, and I’m proud of the fact that we’re Pirelli’s worst customer. We give them a really hard time, setting challenging parameters that go after everything: texture, feel, sidewall stiffness, reduced weight, reduced rolling resistance… “All those things came together in this tyre – a six per cent increase in mechanical grip while meeting all the other objectives.”

IT’S A DRAG

Wheelarch vents draw high-pressure air from the front wheel wells, reducing drag, while delicious, organic forms wrought in aluminium funnel air into the dramatic door ducts running back to the hightemperature radiators.

“Clean air comes over the shoulder there at the base of the A-pillar, and turbulent air flows from the lower body side. The gill idea came from early vision work aesthetically peeling the car apart layer by layer,” explains designer Rob Melville.

“We drew sections to efficiently separate the clean and turbulent air.”

MIXED REALITY

“We’re using virtual reality (VR) more and more, especially where lots of components come together, such as underneath the rear wing on this car,” Melville says.

“You can make models of complex parts and plug them into the fullsize clay or you can put on the VR headset and see the end result.

“The technology is moving quickly – I used it a couple of times last week to look at future product. Imagine, with a new interior – you can sit in the car and evaluate the interior before you’ve even got the structure signed off.”

SHRINK-WRAPPED

“The design is about clearing certain hard points, such as the high-temp radiators at the rear of the doors, as tightly as possible,” continues Melville.

“Here those radiators are just 15mm under the skin – we actually chop the housing away to get it even closer to the B surface under there, which most people wouldn’t bother to do.

The detailing doesn’t finish at the skin; it goes all the way through.”

SIGNATURE DESIGN

“If you look at the glasshouse graphics and the excellent forward and rearward visibility, they’re pure McLaren – it would have been easy and too literal to use the same graphics on each car we do. You can see the lineage, but 720S stands apart as a Super Series car at the same time,” Mark Vinnels said, executive director of product development.

BIG-WING THEORY

Active rear spoiler is fullwidth and can deploy to its most aggressive, full-airbrake position in less than half a second.

As before it works to optimise balance as loads and forces shift, but now also delivers more downforce.

THE EYES HAVE IT

P1-inspired front diffuser and open headlight ‘eye sockets’ efficiently channel air under and into the car, creating downforce while bending the on-rushing atmosphere to the will of the car’s cooling requirements.

Berserk performance 03

MCLAREN has made no secret of its plans to hybridise its sports cars, as with the P1 and P1 GTR, but this chapter of Super Series will use McLaren’s tried and tested twinturbo V8, now appropriately dubbed M840T. That said, it’s claimed nearly half the components in the 720S engine are new, including bespoke plenum, pistons, crankshaft, cylinder heads, turbos, intercoolers and fuel system with twin injectors. An extra 3.6mm of stroke takes the displacement up to 4.0 litres. Peak power is 530kW and peak torque 770Nm. The 650S summoned 478kW and 678Nm.

More power and less weight make for some scintillating numbers: 2.9sec 0-100km/h, 7.8sec 0-200km/h, a top speed of 341km/h and 10.3sec for the quarter-mile. But bald figures tell nothing like the whole story. “We could have just put more power in it and wheeled it out, but that wouldn’t have been the right thing to do,” explains Super Series line director Haydn Baker.

“Improving the throttle response was a key objective, and via the turbos and the calibration that’s absolutely something we’ve gone after. The turbos are bigger, a different design and from a new supplier, in Japan. We have a twin-scroll design, which helps with response, plus an alloy of titanium and aluminium for the turbine wheels themselves, so there’s reduced inertia compared to the Inconel rotors in the 650S. We also have a very short path from the compressor to the plenum. All of this was around improving low-rpm response, which could have been deemed as a weakness in our cars previously. Plus there’s more performance with the capacity increase and bigger turbos.”

Baker and his team have been busy on the acoustics too, stung by criticism of the 650S’s less than spinetingling cry. “The exhaust is an evolution of the LT’s,” explains Baker. “Our starting point was LT, which has crossover elements to get the required length of runner.

We had the same problem here – getting those lengths into the tight package – so we came up with the solution of casting the runners into the manifold, giving us the required sound.”

04 More ESP flexibility

IMAGINE Ron Dennis, hair grown long and with a year-on-the-beach tan strumming a guitar while a fiery sun drops to the cool ocean horizon… Can’t do it? Fair enough. Less of leap of imagination is picturing a McLaren, even a 500kW-plus McLaren, that lets you confidently mess about with it.

McLaren Variable Drift Control is essentially a digital, swipe version of the AMG GT R’s big yellow dial, and adds many yellow shades of grey between the previously fairly analogue stability control settings of the 650S.

“Before, moving between the ESC levels was a big step,” says Baker. “Now we have this analogue slider. You can have this in Sport or Track modes, and you can store your favourites. It’s another feature to allow people to explore the breadth of the car in more confidence. Now you can build up gently and work your way through.”

Better, more fun handling 05

YOU REMEMBER the FW-14B Williams Grand Prix car of 1992: Adrian Newey-designed, it was as close to perfect as the F1 car is ever likely to get. With active suspension, a semi-automatic gearbox, antilock brakes, traction control and Renault’s mighty 3.5- litre V10 behind the seat, it took the Formula One car into previously unexplored worlds of grip, downforce, lap speed and consistency. Mansell became the first driver to win nine races in a season to claim the title.

The 12C debuted McLaren’s equally complex and potentially game-changing chassis control system to a lukewarm reception. Freed of the compromises inherent in all-mechanical suspension, Proactive Chassis Control promised Ferrari 458 levels of feedback and track ability with the ride comfort of a 7 Series. The reality was neither, and critics came back time and again to adjectives like ‘remote’ and ‘numb’.

“Words like those are daggers to my heart,” says Haydn Baker, visibly wincing. “We had those same conversations internally, believe me. We didn’t have the transparency and feel we wanted. The issue is that people are used to cars feeling and behaving in a certain way. We know this is a huge problem. But I truly believe we’ve solved those issues now, and we’re proud of the breadth of ability we can offer.”

How? The hardware is superior, with 12 more sensors than 650S (now 21 in total) and an accelerometer on each wheel. The software too is Newey-clever.

“The control unit now continually calculates the optimum control theory, building on everything we had previously,” continues Baker. “We’ve got stiffer springs than we had on the 650S, for a sense of engagement, but the ride is actually more compliant, because of the extra fidelity of control the new system brings. In terms of body control and pitch, the control is fantastic. The advantage in lap time is phenomenal; the extra grip from the bespoke new Pirelli tyre and the additional control has given us a super lap time.

“We also have revised suspension geometry at both ends, informed by 675LT and P1. The 720S is closer to 570GT on steering feel – we’ve worked hard on that.

We wanted this breadth of ability; the compliant ride with the feel you need on the track. We need to sell thousands of these cars...”

Despite all the additional hardware, some 16kg has been removed from the Proactive Chassis Control II system, together with further reductions in unsprung mass courtesy of the lighter, smaller and more powerful brakes, designed and developed in-house.

06 Nicer cockpit

UNINTUITIVE and slow like double maths, the IRIS HMI of the 12C and 650S dates those cars heavily when you climb aboard in a 720S. It’s all sharp, fast touch screens, fastscrolling menus and gesture control.

The 720S uses McLaren Driver Interface, or MDI. There’s carouselstyle swipe functionality on the main screen. Three functions can be displayed at once, in your preferred hierarchy, and where before IRIS and the driver’s instruments were independent, on the 720S you can ‘send’ your chosen function to the driver’s instruments – hold down that function (be it radio, telemetry or nav) as you would an iPhone app you’re trying to move or delete, then tap the little ‘export’ symbol when it appears.

New on the options list are Track Telemetry and Track Telemetry with cameras, and they open up a world of nerdy datalogging possibilities.

Keep your cleanest laps for viewing when you’re home alone or keep an eye on your split times as you’re lapping by importing Track Telemetry to the driver’s instruments.

A seriously important car for McLaren 07

THERE is pressure, of course there is. It comes inherent with a period of success. McLaren has momentum to maintain, with sales up 99.3 per cent in 2016 (from 1654 cars in 2015 to 3286). The last 650S has been built. By June, the 720S will be being built at a rate of seven a day (first deliveries are due in Q3 and prices start at $489,900). Will it prove more 12C than P1? We doubt it.

“Towards the end of the sign-off drives, Mike Flewitt drove the car for the first time in about five months – a lifetime towards the end of a project,” Haydn Baker said. “He drove for an hour and half on the road, from Barcelona to the circuit, and when he stepped out he told me, ‘That’s the most beautiful drive I’ve ever had.’

“I told him he now had to drive it on the track. When he came in he told me he had to re-calibrate: all that he thought he knew about gears, entry speeds and grip at that circuit had changed. Lovely to drive on the road, and then a level of performance on track that’s almost intimidating. I was happy with that.” M