by Adam Lynton
Life lived to the outer edges of excess is rarely a bore, seldom relaxing, and hardly ever conducive to good health. But it's the moments where going too far is a serious possibility that can make life worth living, at least to the type of people who aren't satisfied with just enough. And as the members of that clan know, an entry-level McLaren 570S won't put you on the boundaries of indulgence, even if it gets you close. The types who want to get there tend to go for the more fiery options in an automaker's lineup, like the Porsche 911 GT3 RS or the Ferrari 488 Pista, which is why McLaren was forced to join the entry-level track-oriented supercar class by bringing the hallmarks of its most hardcore models, the Longtails, to the Sport Series. We spent time with the McLaren 600LT in Manhattan to check out its road manners and at Laguna Seca in California to see what it can do on the track.
The McLaren 600LT is an all-new model for 2019, expanding the Sports Series range of vehicles with the second Longtail model since the original F1 GTR Longtail. It works on the base of the already stellar 570S, honing the recipe for a more track-focused Sports Series model. It sheds 211 lbs compared to the 570S, gains 30 horsepower, routes the twin tailpipes through the top of the rear deck, and crucially gets some redesigned aerodynamic bodywork that produces 220 lbs of extra downforce and lengthens the silhouette by 2.91 inches to earn the "Longtail" moniker. The gearbox has been worked over to provide shifts that are 25% quicker, too.
For all intents and purposes, the 600LT is to McLaren's Sports Series range what the GT3 RS is to Porsche's 911.
Based on the 570S, McLaren's most compact sports car yet, much of the 600LT's design is familiar, including the McLaren-swoosh LED headlights, dihedral opening doors, and carbon-fiber side air intakes. But those with a keener eye will note the additional carbon fiber - a bespoke front splitter, new side sills with various canards and a '600LT' logo on either side. Staggered fitment ten-spoke alloy wheels - 19 inches up front and 20 inches at the rear - wear Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R rubber and are finished in gloss black. The big changes to the 600LT's design occur at the rear, where the exhaust has been rerouted for twin top-exit exhausts that guide exhaust gases over the fixed carbon-fiber rear wing. A large carbon fiber rear diffuser rounds off the design of McLaren's latest track toy.
The LT suffix stands for 'Longtail', but while the first car to bear the moniker - the McLaren F1 GTR Longtail - added nearly 25 inches to the road car's length, LT is now more of a signal of track-focus than body length. Still, the 600LT has grown in length by 2.9 inches over a regular 570S, measuring 181.3 inches long overall and riding on a 105.1-inch wheelbase. The width remains unaffected at 82.5 inches, but the front track has been made wider by 0.4 inches, and it rides 0.3 inches lower at 46.9 inches in height with 3.6 inches of ground clearance. The Longtail philosophy also entails significant weight savings, and to this end, McLaren engineers have shaved off up to 220 lbs from the 570S, getting the 600LT Coupe down to a curb weight of just 2,994 lbs.
McLaren doesn't build camera-shy cars, but it also isn't shy about equipping its cars in a number of exotic shades. While plain Silver is the only standard color, Special palette colors include Silica White, Luminaire Green, and the particularly tropical Curacao Blue - which looks great paired off against the exposed carbon fiber body bits of the 600LT. Elite colors (a $4,320 option) are just as striking - Sicilian Yellow, Vega Blue, Vermillion Red, or the stealth fighter shade of black, dubbed Cosmos. Our test car for the New York leg of the review was finished in Chicane Effect.
No fewer than four shades of orange can be had, too, McLaren Orange from the Special palette, Myan Orange from the Elite range, or from the MSO Defined range of hues, Papaya Spark and Helios Orange. The MSO range also contains beautiful hues like Paris Blue, Lantana Purple, Fistral Blue, or the rather purple shade of Mauvine Blue. Even the brake calipers can be colored, with six options including McLaren Orange, Azura Blue, and plain Red over and above the standard black. Needless to say, however colorful your personality, the 600LT can be configured to match.
The standard 570S, despite being McLaren's junior sports car, already surpasses expectations - accelerating as quickly as cars that cost twice as much, handling with finesse and agility, and communicating deftly with the pilot. The 600LT takes that recipe, adds two teaspoons or cement, and hardens it for track use. Power is dialed up by 30 hp and torque by 13 lb-ft courtesy of calibration changes to the 3.8-liter twin-turbo V8, which now boasts stiffer engine mounts. The suspension has been stiffened by 13% and 34%, front and rear, the ride height lowered by 0.3 inches, the front track has been made 0.4 inches wider, and the steering has been made 4% quicker. Engineers worked on improving brake feel and response with a new brake booster, too, while the high-performance brakes now rest within the confines of lightweight alloy wheels wearing super-sticky Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R summer rubber. 0-60 mph takes 2.8 seconds, 0-124 takes 8.2 seconds, the quarter-mile is accomplished in 10.4 seconds and flat out, 204 mph is on the cards. But the focus here isn't for road-use, the 600LT is an all-out track tool that has cast aside creature comforts for the benefit of performance, and it has the 911 GT3 RS in its sights.
Born of older architecture, the 600LT makes use of McLaren's original 3.8-liter twin-turbo V8 engine, albeit with a few revisions to the mid-mounted powerplant. While the most noticeable of the changes will be the exhaust rerouted through the carbon fiber decklid in pornographic fashion, other changes are less identifiable - that's because they aren't hardware-based so much as they are calibration changes made by folks behind computer screens. The result is power and torque outputs of 592 hp and 457 lb-ft of twist, sent to the rear wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission dubbed the Seamless Shift Gearbox (SSG). The transmission has had some work done for the 600LT, too, with gear shifts quickened by 25 percent and lessons learned from the Senna employed to improve downshifts when approaching fast corners on the track.
As with most supercars, the source of the 600LT's character is its drivetrain. The raw numbers it churns out are impressive but it's the flexibility and usability baked into the system that makes the powertrain all the more impressive. With the drivetrain set to normal, the 600LT avoids making its driver look like a novice by delivering small amounts of power smoothly without jittering. This was much appreciated on busy New York streets and helped to get us better acquainted with the car on the track.
Click the drive mode selector over into one of its two more aggressive settings, as we did at Laguna Seca, and the McLaren raises physical and aural hell. More perceptive drivers will notice a smidgen of turbo lag when huge sums of power are summoned, but once that's over the 600LT raises its voice, which sounds like the rasp of a dozen hornet's nests kicked over by Bruce Lee being dampened by the hiss of a pissed-off dragon. The power comes on smoothly even when at full tilt as if a tap has been turned on rather than as if a switch has been flicked, allowing for easy throttle modulation in the corners but pushing the 600LT ahead as if it's caught a wave traveling at supersonic speeds on the straights.
Flooring it from a standstill will send the 600LT to 62 mph in 2.9 seconds and onto a top speed of 204 mph provided a long enough track. But within the knots of Laguna Seca's corners and stark elevation changes, both the engine and gearbox comply with all inputs as urgently as a driver demands. Gearshifts are aways lightning quick, but the engine is so easy to control precisely with the throttle that it makes getting in the 600LT's groove a toddle. As a result, the 600LT comes off as a track car that's been scientifically tailored to work with the bandwidth speed of the human senses. But the 600LT's robotic compliance, its ability to truly become an extension of the human body, makes it so that any discharge of character is merely a reflection of the driver rather than the car.
When McLaren restarted its mission to stray from the race track and put more cars on public roads, it debuted the MP4-12C and quickly made a name for itself. That's because the 12C, as it came to be known, became as famous for its Rolls-Royce ride quality as it did for its wicked looks and corner-carving performance. That magical suspension system is a characteristic the 720S preserves, but not one that the track-oriented Longtail family is known for. The 600LT is far from harsh, but as a battleship in the war against slow lap times, it's a beast that's much more honest about the quality of the road it's on or the effect the G-force is having on the carbon fiber chassis.
Thanks to the rigidity of the MonoCell II carbon fiber chassis, the 600LT relays much of that G-force to the taut yet lightweight suspension components, which in turn transmit the force to the Pirelli P-Zero Trofeo R tires. This tightly regulated system makes it so the 600LT feels like it's a roller coaster bolted straight onto a set of rails, with the steering wheel having the ability to contort the metal and change the coaster's path. Armed with a steering rack that's 4% faster than the 570S', improved front end aerodynamics, and a wider front track, the 600LT darts into corners quickly, predictably, and confidently in a way that encourages a driver to experiment with corner entry speeds that would cause catastrophic understeer in lowlier machines. All there's left to do is to hold the course, aiming for the apex, and prepare to get on the gas. The beauty in the 600LT is that its accessibility allows drivers of all skill levels to get a taste of the heat and gain experience. Once a driver learns the track and the correct path on which to enter each corner, the corner exit is all that's left to master. Luckily the variable traction control system makes it so that track novices can let the computers intervene if they come down too hard on the throttle, while experienced racers can dial in as much power as their intuitive traction control system thinks is appropriate.
In typical McLaren fashion, the 600LT is easy to drive on the road. It's just not particularly pleasant. In and around town, every pothole and road imperfection judders the cockpit and the racing seats can't be described as comfortable. The loud drone of the top-exit exhaust pipes is ever-present, the Trofeo R tires did not like the rain at all to the point that we were advised to pull over and stop should the heavens open. Alas, that's exactly what happened on the morning we planned to drive back to Manhattan from upstate New York. Instead of taking the fun scenic route, we were forced to keep things steady on the highway. Given how much fun we've had in previous McLaren road cars, from the 12C to the 720S, there is doubtless a ton of fun to be had in the 600LT. It has a playful nature and masses of performance potential, just be prepared to walk away from a spirited drive a little sore and somewhat deaf.
Fuel economy figures are hardly the reason to buy a track tool like the 600LT; when 592 horses run rampant down the back straight of Laguna Seca, gas mileage figures plummet. Still, should you be dedicated enough to drive the 600LT from home to the local track, McLaren claims it'll achieve estimates of 15/23/18 mpg city/highway/combined. With a 19-gallon gas tank and feeding on premium gasoline, you could, in theory, travel 342 miles in mixed conditions. We managed to cover around 250 miles on a tank driving mainly on the highway, so expect to take frequent trips to the gas station.
McLaren's carbon-fiber MonoCell II has many benefits - lightness, stiffness, and the ability to make a convertible as rigid as a coupe - but unfortunately, it doesn't help ingress and egress much, with wide doors sills making access a chore. Once the mission is accomplished, you're sat in fairly spartan accommodation. Part of the 600LT's diet plan meant cutting out the air conditioning, floor mats, and the glovebox. However, our tester thankfully had the air con included as part of a no-cost option.
The windscreen is made of thinner glass, much of the sound deadening has been removed, and even the wiring harness is lighter, but it means the 600LT becomes a barren echo chamber clad in carbon fiber and Alcantara. A seven-inch touchscreen monitor dominates the center of the dash, but unless you ask for it, there's no navigation and no audio system. For the record, the $4,290 Bowers & Wilkins 12-speaker sound system is well worth the investment for when the dominant exhaust note overwhelms.
McLaren knows that weight savings are everything, so carbon-fiber racing seats pinched from the Senna, with a fixed passenger seat saving further weight, are standard, with buyers given a choice of two sizes. There's no beating about the bush, the 600LT is built with a single purpose in mind, and none of the six preset interior packages is going to change that.
In order to properly score a supercar's interior, you usually need a grading curve steep enough to forgive mail slot visibility and storage cubbies large enough for just a Tic Tac container. The 600LT tries to buck that convention, but at the end of the day it's still a supercar. Interior storage isn't bad-there's enough of it to fit the contents of a tight jean's pockets-but headroom and forward visibility are the 600LT's strong suits. Alcantara covered seats-the same ultra-lightweight units you get in the P1 or Senna depending on spec-place the occupants as low in the cabin as possible. That doesn't just reduce the center of gravity, it also means that two six-foot-tall occupants wearing racing helmets can sit inside.
Ample forward visibility is made possible by thin carbon fiber A-pillars, but thick B and C pillars means that looking over your shoulder won't reveal any information that the mirrors don't already supply.
The sheer elegance of the 600LT's interior comes down to the design team's ability to combine high-quality materials, good craftsmanship, attention to detail, and driver-centric ergonomics, and still end up with a lightweight cabin. Though 600LT customers shouldn't expect 570S comfort, the Longtail's cabin also doesn't feel like it makes many concessions. The cabin's dark Alcantara coat and equally dark exposed carbon fiber ensure that a driver's focus stays on the track, but it's also possible to appreciate the small touches, like colorful stitching, contrasting seatbelts, exposed carbon fiber weave, and exposed speakers that somehow don't look out of place. While some frequently accessed buttons feel cheap (like the parking brake, which is used in lieu of a Park setting on the transmission), others, like the paddle shifters and steering wheel-mounted switches, are among the most solid a driver will encounter.
Being a diminutive super-sports car of a mid-engined nature, the 600LT naturally doesn't have a traditional trunk. It does, however, boast a frunk measuring a measly 5.3 cubic feet. That's enough space to accommodate a large suitcase, but it favors malleable duffel-type bags instead, and would ideally be suited to two sets of racing overalls and a helmet per occupant.
Internal storage is far worse. No door pockets, the glovebox removed to reduce weight (can be optionally re-added), and the center console, that's purely reserved for gear and driving mode selection controls and a single bottle holder. Two tiny nets are all the extra storage you get, one in the passenger-side footwell and the other in place of the absentee glovebox. But this is a track car, so why are you looking for places to keep your small change?
The standard features list on the 600LT reads as if somebody at McLaren's Woking HQ got lazy and forgot to include half of them, but that's just how pared back the 600LT is as a package. What is included is a set of automatic full-LED headlights, automatic windscreen wipers, keyless entry and start, a tire-pressure monitoring system, an alarm, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and dual-zone climate control with no cooling air-conditioner as standard. You get standard cruise control, too, but aside from that, hill hold assist, and a mandatory-in-the-US backup camera, there's no such thing as standard driver assistance.
You can option on front and rear park sensors, air conditioning, power seat adjustment with heating and memory, a vehicle lift system, and even soft-close doors - but that would be going against the very ethos of a lightweight track car, so instead you might want to option the available six-point racing harnesses instead.
Crucial to keeping the 600LT's cockpit simple is the 7-inch portrait touchscreen infotainment system, which houses multimedia, navigation, and smartphone connectivity functions to cut down on the number of individual buttons needed. Though McLaren fits models like the 720S with a newer generation of infotainment software, the 600LT relies on the automaker's older IRIS system. The system doesn't have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto despite boasting a set of USB charging outlets, and usability isn't helped by the fact that the screen is slow to respond to inputs. By default, the 600LT comes without an audio or navigation system to cut weight, but customers can choose to add these functions back. The FM/AM radio, satellite radio, auxiliary input, and Bluetooth can play through either a 4-speaker McLaren audio system or a premium 12-speaker Bowers & Wilkins system.
New for 2019, the 600LT hasn't had a chance to be recalled yet, but the 570S on which it's based has been recalled just once since 2015, with a single recall affecting 2015, 2016, and 2017 models whose airbag inflators might explode - part of the larger spate of Takata airbag problems. That aside, McLaren covers the 600LT with a three-year/unlimited-mile standard warranty with roadside assistance, but buyers can purchase extended warranties of up to 12 years.
There haven't been any safety evaluations conducted for the 600LT or any of McLaren's current product range, but while the lack of advanced assists and safety features may seem concerning, make no mistake, McLaren would not sell a vehicle incapable of protecting its occupants in the event things go awry on track.
In something like a track-focused McLaren, there's no such thing as forward collision alert, automatic emergency braking, or even blind-spot monitoring. Instead, McLaren's MonoCell II carbon-fiber chassis maintains its rigidity in the event of an accident while the various body panels absorb the impact and four airbags (dual front and front side) keep the occupants in one piece. Preventing such incidents in the first place are high-performance brakes, a low center of gravity, and highly advanced software systems that manage the ABS, EBD, traction control, and stability control. Additionally, a rearview camera is standard, while the options list has a checkbox for front and rear park sensors.
Like a Picasso, the McLaren 600LT is in a class of cars that have more in common with pieces of rare art than they do with other cars on the road. That being said, it also boasts the kind of precision you find in a laser guided missile-there's no mistaking that it's a machine crafted with the types of tools, materials, and computer-derived knowledge that a 21st century understanding of the world brings about. The combination results in a car that perfectly defines the current era we live in. It has all the performance that you'd expect out of a supercar, but it's also been tailored to the human experience. Regardless of whether a newbie or an experienced race car driver is behind the wheel, the 600LT offers something for everyone because it can convey the outermost limits of physics at a rate that the human mind can experience. The 600LT's ability to merge the personal touch with precision is what makes it a perfect balance between two of its most prominent rivals, the Porsche 911 GT3 RS and Ferrari 488 Pista.
Getting behind the wheel of McLaren's range-topping Sports Series coupe, the 600LT, is no cheap feat, commanding a base price of $240,000 before options, licensing, registration, and delivery fees. This represents a $32,000 increase over the 570S and a $52,500 premium over the MSRP of a Porsche 911 GT3 RS. But with production limited to a 12-month span, limited availability means you're paying for more than just an incredible track day weapon, you're paying for exclusivity. Start ticking the options and the price can soon pass the $300,000 mark, with the model we tested coming in at $306,440 with goodies including the $3,090 carbon-fiber Switch Pack, some $22,770 worth of MSO Defined carbon-fiber exterior bits, and $1,380 gloss black ten-spoke alloys.
The 600LT stands alone as the top-ranking model within McLaren's Sports Series range of super sports cars, taking a 570S and turning it into something... else.
Standard exterior equipment includes a set of 19- and 20-inch staggered lightweight alloy wheels shod in Pirelli Trofeo R rubber, full LED head and taillights, top-exit exhausts, and carbon-fiber aero, including a fixed carbon-fiber rear wing. Under the rear decklid sits a tuned up version of McLaren's 3.8-liter twin-turbo V8 engine developing 592 hp and 457 lb-ft, sent to the rear wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. The inside is more a story of what's been taken out than what's included. There's no glovebox, no air conditioning, no radio/speaker system, and even the windows and wiring looms have had been stripped down. You do get dual-zone heating, though, and a seven-inch portrait-orientated touchscreen that controls basic infotainment (when optioned) and McLaren's Track Telemetry lap timer. Standard carbon fiber seats are upholstered in Alcantara - as is much of the interior - but can be swapped out for ultra lightweight carbon-fiber racing seats.
3.8-liter Twin-Turbo V8 Gas
The 600LT's options list reads like the standard specification of a $30,000 family sedan - eight-way power sports seats with heating and memory, power-adjustable steering column, AM/FM radio, Bluetooth, SiriusXM satellite radio, a four-speaker audio system, dual-zone climate control, front and rear park sensors, and branded floor mats. Those have all been stripped out to make the 600LT as hardcore as it is but can all be added back.
Other more exclusive features include soft-close doors, a 12-speaker Bowers & Wilkins sound system, a vehicle lift kit, a power-adjustable steering column, six-point racing harnesses, and ultra-lightweight carbon-fiber racing seats, or if you don't like having sticky tires, you can get regular Pirelli P Zeros.
Various carbon fiber styling packages are available for the inside and outside of the 600LT, and six interior design packages can be selected: three Alcantara options of Carbon Black paired with Burnt Orange, Graphite, or Midnight Blue, and three leather interiors pairing Jet Black with Carmine Red, Scoria Grey, or Midnight Blue.
Though every McLaren Longtail is born and bred for drivers who find pleasure in shaving tenths of a second off their best lap times, optioning out the 600LT is still a balancing act of optimizing for either on-track performance or off-track comfort. Colors and wheel choices remain an issue of taste, and optional carbon fiber parts still give the McLaren an expensive look while saving weight, but the true indicator of how an owner will use their 600LT is to see whether they go for either of the two MSO Clubsport packages or opt for the Luxury package. We'd go with every carbon fiber option in the book as well as the milder MSO Clubsport package (unless you want the MSO Clubsport Pro package's six-point harness) to carve out a weight budget before adding back a few comforts, like the nose lift function, an air conditioner, soft close doors, the 12-speaker sound system, and a three-camera track telemetry system to make the ownership experience as rewarding as it can be.
It's a wonderful problem for McLaren to have, the fact that a model from their 'entry-level' range of vehicles can be compared to their Super Series flagship, the 720S. There are loads of similarities between the two, though, like a carbon fiber chassis, mid-mounted twin-turbo V8, and the ability to decimate lap times. But the 720S takes on a somewhat different role to the 600LT. While the LT is a focused track machine, the 720S can be used comfortably every day, thanks to super-supple trick suspension and impressive specification levels that lean a little more to luxury than the 600LT's spartan interior. The 720S is vastly more powerful, powered by a new-generation 4.0-liter V8 that develops 710 hp and 568 lb-ft of torque, but the acceleration and quarter-mile figures are almost identical between the two models. However, the key difference is in livability - you could daily the 720S, as it rides more pliantly, is comfier inside, and the new carbon cockpit is easier to get in and out of, whereas the 600LT should really only be reserved for hitting the track on weekends.
If you had money to burn in search of a super sports car, would you buy the hardcore 600LT or the 911-rivaling 570S? It all comes down to requirements, as despite the 600LT being based on the 570S, it's evolved into a different beast altogether. More power, firmer suspension, stickier rubber, and the removal of every non-essential interior luxury from the glovebox to the air conditioning and speakers means the 600LT is rough-riding and tough to live with. Much of the luxury can be re-added through the options list, but then you're just paying more to undo the car's purpose-built nature. The 570S, meanwhile, rides on road-focused tires, has a more pliant suspension setup, and boasts standard air conditioning, a radio, and more comfortable seats. The two are chalk and cheese, so if it's a track-car you're after, the 600LT will be the only option, while if you have any intention of driving your McLaren on-road, the 570S not only makes financial sense but practical sense too.