by Jared Rosenholtz
The term supercar is tossed around a lot to describe high-performance vehicles, usually mid-engined, capable of bending reality around a racetrack and attracting droves of attention on the street. McLaren is technically one of the newbies in the supercar segment (although the company has decades of experience in Formula 1) having introduced the 12C in 2011.
But in less than a decade, McLaren has vaulted itself from a brand only car geeks knew of to a true object of desire rivaling the likes of Lamborghini and Ferrari. And in some respects, the British supercar maker has left the Italians behind with its latest creation, the 720S Spider. McLaren kindly loaned us a 2019 720S Spider finished in Helios Orange for a few days, where we quickly discovered it may be the best car on sale in 2019.
The McLaren 720S was released in December of 2018 and hasn't received any substantial updates as of yet. The 720S is built on a modified carbon-fiber monocoque that is stiffer and stronger than the outgoing 650S, and according to McLaren, 91% of the car is completely new. The 720S Spider arrives for 2019 as part of Mclaren's plan to design and build 15 new cars by 2025. McLaren plans to incorporate hybrid electric systems into all of their cars by that deadline.
The 720S Spider is the perfect example of form and function coming together to make something truly enchanting; there's a certain beauty in the way that the 720S Spider uses its flowing curves to create downforce, keep the engine and brakes cool and slip through the air to a top speed of 212 mph. Make no mistake, McLaren emphasizes performance above all else. The designers have to work around what the engineers deem the best possible configuration.
With such a no-compromise attitude, it's surprising them that McLaren has managed to produce such a stunning car. The most striking feature of the 720S Spider's exterior is the flow of the bodywork, which has a near organic look but is disrupted, in a good way, by the classic dihedral doors. The doors not only give the 720S a classic supercar appeal but makes it easier to live with, especially on tight roads and parking spots. Standard exterior features on the 720S Spider include dark palladium exterior trim, ambient lighting in the engine bay (which glows red), and full LED head and tail lights. Open up your checkbook and the 720S can be decked out in carbon fiber trim.
The 720S Spider shares many of its dimensions with its sibling, the 570S Spider. Both measure 178.4 inches in length, both are 47 inches high, and both measure 76 inches wide. The 720S Spider rolls on a 105.1-inch wheelbase. Thanks to a carbon fiber monocoque and extensive use of other lightweight materials throughout the car, McLaren has managed to keep the weight down and the 720S tips the scales at only 3,247 lbs, but is still nearly 200 pounds heavier than the 3,053 lbs Ferrari 488 Pista Spider. Keep in mind though, the Pista is a lightened track car and a lighter LT version of the 720S could be introduced soon.
McLaren wants new owners to feel like their new car suits their individual personalities, and by offering 37 different color combinations, it should be easy to find a color that makes the cut. The 720S Spider comes standard in either blue or silver, with the remaining color options divided into three categories: Special, Elite, and MSO Defined. The special segment includes Silica White, Storm Grey, Memphis Red, Aurora Blue, and the classic McLaren Orange, while the Elite range of colors includes some curious oddities; Volcano Yellow, Supernova Silver, Bourbon, Cosmos, Belize Blue, and Aztec Gold. The specialized MSO Defined color options are Sarthe Grey, Papaya Spark, Murawai White, Paris Blue, Mauvine Blue, Helios Orange, Ludus BLue, Lantana Purple, Borealis, Burton Blue, Abyss Black, Ceramic Grey, and Amethyst Black.
It seems almost impossible to go wrong choosing a color on the 720S Spider. The car's aerodynamic shape is a work of art no matter which shade of paint is thrown on it but our tester's Helios Orange, a McLaren Special Operations color, looked divine and broke several necks in traffic. Supercars are meant to come in brash colors, so as long as you opt for an exciting hue, you'll get our seal of approval.
The 720S Spider is categorized under the McLaren Super Series, which should make it rather obvious that performance levels are high. The 720S Spider is a bespoke piece of automotive art, specifically in the way its parts are carefully designed to deliver a symbiotic performance experience that is hard to get anywhere else in the motoring kingdom. A rigid carbon fiber monocoque, race car suspension setup and fire breathing turbo V8 all come together to push the boundaries of what a street-legal car can be capable of.
The 720S is propelled by a marvel of an engine, a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 producing a cataclysmic 710 horsepower and 568 lb-ft of torque. McLaren's advanced traction control works overtime sending all of the grunt to the rear wheels only through a lightning-fast seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Few rear-wheel-drive vehicles can put the power down like the 720S and with launch control, you'll pass 60 mph on your way to prison in just 2.8 seconds. Keep the throttle mashed for about five seconds longer and you'll be doing 124 mph on the way to a top speed of 212 mph (or 202 with the roof down).
Acceleration in the 720S can only be described as dizzying. After enough launches, your eyeballs will be begging to be pushed back to the front of your head. The power is intoxicating but it would be useless without McLaren's brilliant seven-speed transmission. Other dual-clutch units are fast but this one can blip from seventh to third gear before your brain has a chance to react. There is no feeling of the transmission going seven-six-five-four-three, just seven-three-TERROR.
Once the 720S is finished pulverizing your organs with its rapid acceleration, it can tear your face off with its impressive cornering ability. Opting for convertible only adds 108 pounds to the mix, still keeping the 720S Spider under the 3,000-pound mark. Combined with wonderfully calibrated electro-hydraulic power steering, McLaren has produced a driving experience that exceeds perfection, then loops around to pass it again. When you run over a coin lying on the road, the steering communicates (almost as if through telepathy) whether it was a nickel or a dime. The 720S is a masterclass on how to execute modern steering and other automakers need to enroll. On a side note, the brake pedal is the heaviest we've ever felt in a car and takes some getting used to. When you hop back into a normal car after the 720S, you'll probably send yourself through the windshield by braking too hard.
Handling is equally impressive thanks in combo to McLaren's Proactive Chassis Control System II and Adaptive Dampening System. The chassis control system allows the driver to adjust the feel of the drivetrain and suspension using two dials labeled C, S, and T (comfort, sport, and track). Comfort keeps the 720S under wraps so when you mash the throttle, there is a layer of protection stopping you from making an expensive mistake. Sport wakes up the drivetrain, allowing a more immediate response from the engine under throttle tip-in and quicker changes from the transmission. Track requires the driver's full attention – in this mode, it's all up to you (so good luck).
The level of speed this car achieves should really require some sort of driving test before McLaren just lets you drive off with one. We didn't have access to a race track nor do we have years of racing experience, so the 720S was deeply terrifying on even the straightest, emptiest roads. But even when we drove around normally in traffic, the 720S Spider has the ability to feel remarkably comfortable. Unless the car is moving slowly over terrible roads, the suspension doesn't beat up the driver and the transmission feels perfectly content to creep along in traffic.
Supercars have come a long way in every sense, but one trademark that will never change (until we go all-electric) is heavy fuel consumption. The twin-turbocharged V8 found in the 720S Spider does make a case for itself as a daily driver, offering fuel consumption figures on par with some popular performance SUVs. The 720S Spider will return 15/22/18 mpg city/highway/combined. Not bad for a car that can cross the quarter-mile mark in the ten-second range.
It is hard to drive a supercar like this without downshifting unnecessarily as onlookers start taking photos and hanging out of their car windows to say hello. We averaged around 17.5 mpg, falling short of the EPA ratings (which didn't surprise us in the least). However, when we kept the car in its comfort setting on the highway, we bested the EPA ratings with around 25 mpg. As supercars move on from large, V12 engines into turbocharged V8s like this one, mpg will start to improve drastically.
Far from being an all-out racecar, the McLaren 720S greets passengers with class-leading opulence and comfort. It is clear that the driver is the main focal point of the interior design; all important controls and displays are angled towards the driver in an almost aggressive, fighter-jet style. McLaren has made sure that their clients are well looked after, and the standard list of interior features is impressive; dual-zone climate control, heated rear glass, engine start-stop button, 12V socket and a folding driver display make the 720S Spider feel modern and fresh. Steering wheel mounted shift paddles feel solid to the touch but the paddles on the last coupe we drove felt larger and more usable.
Supercars are, by their nature, focused on other endeavors besides comfort. But McLaren has someone managed to hide its 700 horsepower missile in a leather and suede suit. The cabin feels airy thanks to a piece of glass integrated into the convertible top, which can become transparent or opaque at the press of a button. Even tall drivers will be perfectly comfortable with the roof up or down, so the NFL athletes who go test drive this car won't come away disappointed.
Our tester was equipped with the sport seats (carbon fiber racing buckets are also available) which do a nice job holding you in without feeling uncomfortable. Based on how fast the car rips around a corner, we'd heavily recommend the racing seats if you plan to use the car on a track. The sport seats simply didn't feel bolstered enough and McLaren's electronic adjustments are convoluted, to say the least. There is an option for manual seats if you'd like to shave a few more pounds off the curb weight. All complaints aside, the 720S Spider is among the most comfortable supercars on the market. McLaren has even set aside room behind the infotainment screen to store a few miscellaneous items - just be sure those items are securely fastened before engaging Race Mode.
Our test car featured an understated black leather interior with plenty of Alcantara suede material. There are more exciting color options, like a bold yellow option, and McLaren offers a nearly endless array of material choices to make each car unique and almost every surface can be replaced with carbon fiber.
Total cargo space comes in at 7.2 cubic feet, which is divided between the front trunk and a rear storage area under the convertible cover. Space in the front measures 5.2 cubic feet and offers enough space for a couple of weekend travel bags. Storage in the back is typically taken by the convertible top and only offers two cubic feet of space, enough for a quick trip to the shops or enough golf balls to last a 13 handicap player a full season. Personal storage is limited, to say the least, but it isn't as lacking as some other sports cars.
The 720S Spider gets a healthy dose of features, and deservedly so, seeing as the asking price is considerable. Starting with the basics, the Spider gets keyless entry and start, an alarm system with immobilizer, fully automatic leveling LED headlights, taillights, and indicators, an active aero spoiler with automatic air brake and drag reduction and electric folding wing mirrors. Once inside, the 720S Spider spoils its occupants with standard dual-zone climate control, a folding driver info display screen that houses the all-important engine readouts like the tachometer and boost levels and individual gauges for engine and oil temperatures. A 12V power socket adds to the 720S' daily practicality.
Since McLaren is a small, privately-owned company, it doesn't have any larger entity from which to pull an infotainment system. The result is a system that works well but doesn't offer advanced features like Apple Car Play or Android Auto. This system is called the McLaren Driver Interface and it is housed in an eight-inch touchscreen. We found the screen to be slightly laggy at times but the system is fairly easy to navigate and isn't the main focus on a performance car with over 700 hp.
All of the basic functions you'd expect like Bluetooth and turn-by-turn navigation are present and are all tied to an optional 12-speaker Bowers & Wilkins audio system, which is impressively capable of overpowering the monstrous V8 howl. McLaren also includes a digital gauge cluster with a folding track mode to only show vital information. We initially thought the idea was silly but when you have 700 horsepower at the disposal of your right foot, it helps to only have the essential information shown.
There have been no recalls issued for the 720S Spider, although numerous McLaren cars were recalled in recent years for an issue with their Takata airbag systems, an issue that affected millions of cars across the globe. McLaren covers the 720S Spider with a three-year or unlimited mile warranty, with a three-year paint warranty and ten years of corrosion cover. McLaren offers an extended 12-year warranty that covers factory fitted mechanical and electrical parts, including labor and parts. Only McLaren Sports Series and Super Series cars under 10 years of age with less than 75,000 miles qualify. The extended warranty offers good value and peace of mind, since the McLaren 720S Spider, or any McLaren for than matter is seen as more of an investment than simply just a car.
But supercars can be notoriously tricky to own and the 720S does little to assuage us of this fear. Our tester often failed to recognize the key fob, which was remedied by hopping in and out of the car. The soft close door on the passenger side also malfunctioned, causing a jack hammer-type sound if it wasn't closed with the utmost care. It is worth noting, however, a 720S Coupe we tested did not experience this issue. Aside from these minor issues, the 720S ran like clockwork mechanically.
Six-figure supercars cars tend to be spared from crash testing, so there is no data available from either the NHTSA or IIHS on the 720S. What can be said about the McLaren 720S Spider is that the very nature of its construction process lends heavily to its ability to keep occupants safe during an accident. The carbon fiber monocoque is ridiculously strong and acts as a sort of impenetrable cocoon that will remain intact, even if the rest of the car disintegrates around it. McLaren builds supercars, and as such, they have a strong track record of building a product that would be considered safe even under high-speed track conditions.
The 720S Spider might seem like its light on safety features, but the sheer ability of the car counts in its favor. Its massive brakes will stop the car from 60 mph in only 98 feet and comes with ABS, traction control, electronic stability control, launch control, a special drift mode and hill start assistance. A folding driver display behind the steering wheel folds flat when you need to focus on the track, lessening the chances of getting distracted and making a mistake that could lead to serious damage to the car or injury to the occupants.
The full LED headlights are adaptive and follow the car's cornering line to illuminate any approaching obstacles in time for the driver to react accordingly. There are front and rear parking sensors, but a 360-degree parking assist system is available. The standard slew of airbags are included, but the most important safety feature of the McLaren 720S Spider has to be its carbon fiber shell. In addition to traditional cruise control, the 720S also has a speed limiter function, so the car will only go a certain speed no matter how much you mash the throttle. With over 700 hp on tap, this is a great feature to avoid costly speeding tickets.
Most supercars are fantastic, that's why they are called super-cars. But the McLaren 720S Spider rises above its competition by offering almost zero compromises. A Lamborghini or Ferrari may keep up on a race track but those cars will probably punish the driver on the drive back home. The 720S functions as well as a daily driver as it does on the track, which is why we consider it the best car currently on sale in 2019. Sure there are more comfortable and affordable means to travel around town, but the 720S Spider would be our number one choice if money was no object.
We've had the chance to drive the 720S Coupe and for a marginal price increase, we see no reason not to select the Spider. For a $30,000 premium, the convertible top allows for even more driving enjoyment and greater access to the 4.0-liter V8's roar. The 720S is the epitome of a dream car and it is hard to imagine any other car matching this level of performance, comfort, and sheer perfection.
The 2019 McLaren 720S Spider starts off at an MSRP of $306,000. A serious price for a very serious car. Optional extras will see that price rise quite rapidly, as supercar options tend to be on the expensive side. The 720S Spider does offer some value for money, seeing as the rivaling Ferrari 488 Pista Spider comes in at $350,000 before options. The V10 Lamborghini Huracan Performante Spyder comes in close to the 720S at $308,859. Dollar for dollar, the McLaren can't be beaten in terms of outright performance and offers class-leading levels of comfort and features. Not bad for a small car company from the UK.
McLaren sells the 720S in just one trim, but three sub-trims can be selected: the base 720S, Luxury, and Performance.
The base model comes standard with palladium exterior trimmings, satin graphite window surrounds, Alcantara covered seats, full LED lighting, an eight-inch touchscreen with voice control and twin USB charging ports amongst others. Higher trim levels keep the same features as the base model but receive changes to the exterior and interior appearance.
The Luxury model gets Zircon window surrounds, engine ambient lighting and a leather-wrapped interior with heated and memory enabled sport seats.
The Performance package sees the addition of carbon fiber hood intakes, side mirrors, and rear fenders. The seats are covered in Alcantara and Nappa leather and the interior gets a dash of carbon fiber.
4.0-liter Twin-Turbo V8 Gas
|720S Luxury Spider||
4.0-liter Twin-Turbo V8 Gas
|720S Performance Spider||
4.0-liter Twin-Turbo V8 Gas
The 720S Spider is one of the most customizable cars on the market; McLaren gives new buyers a ton of options, configurations, and packages, which means that you'll never come across two of the exact same cars in a parking lot. The exterior can be modified with three individual carbon fiber packages that change the appearance of air vents, diffusers, and the like. There's also a Stealth Pack that darkens small details such as exhaust tips and the oil cap cover panel. McLaren Special Operations (MSO) has its own catalog of modifications that include super-lightweight wheels, a sports exhaust, and even carbon fiber shifter paddles. You get to choose from three tire compounds, two alarm system upgrades, and more color and appearance options than you can shake a stick at.
If you are in the market for a 720S, we highly recommend opting for the Spider. Color choice is subjective but we prefer a bold hue paired with an even bolder interior. McLaren will nickel and dime you for carbon fiber on the inside and out, so we'd save our pennies for more practical features like the wonderful Bowers & Wilkins audio system, vehicle lift system, and sports exhaust.
The Ferrari 488 Pista Spider is a formidable car and is one of the most powerful Ferraris ever put into production. The 488 Pista is powered by a 3.9-liter V8 that punches out a 720S-equalling 710 hp and launches to sixty in only 2.7 seconds. The Pista makes use of a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that sends its power to the rear wheels. The Ferrari is slightly sharper between the corners, but can't match the McLaren in terms of outright punch, especially in the midrange. Ferrari sells the 488 Pista Spider for an eye-watering $350,000 before options and gets similar features, but the McLaren is the more comfortable car and has a better infotainment system. The Ferrari might not have the comfort or straight-line performance, but it is the better driver's car on track - which makes sense since it's a proper track special. The upcoming McLaren 750LT should narrow the small gap in performance.
The Aventador S Roadster is the only drop-top Lamborghini that can keep up with the 720S Spider in terms of outright performance. It is powered by a heavenly sounding 6.5-liter V12 that produces an all-natural 729 hp and 507 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent to all four wheels via a seven-speed auto transmission and results in a zero to sixty time of 2.9 seconds. Where the McLaren demonstrates how a near-hypercar can be a practical car (within reason), the Aventador sticks to the exclusive supercar privilege of being a slightly unlivable beast to drive on the road. The McLaren does almost everything better than the Lambo, but can't match its attitude and its bucket loads of supercar soul.