Distilling the track-ready Longtail ethos to McLaren's entry-level sports car.
Given McLaren's performance in Formula 1, it's best that its most track-focused Sports Series model doesn't reference Zak Brown's squad. Instead, the 600LT riffs on the 1997 McLaren F1 GTR Longtail. It raced at Le Mans and was so named because its longer rear bodywork was optimised for high-speed straights.
McLaren first used the Longtail name on a road car with the 675LT of 2015, a spellbinding track weapon that seemed to heighten your senses like an illicit substance– it tingled with feedback and was irresponsibly addictive in the best possible way. Now we're driving the second Longtail to hit the road, the 600LT. It sits one rung down from its Super Series predecessor to crown the Sports Series line-up.
Formula 1 references might have been swerved during both our press presentation and the naming process, but we are testing on the excellent Hungaroring GP circuit near Budapest (which last witnessed a McLaren victory in 2012). For context and circuit familiarisation, we're out first in the McLaren 570S that the LT is based on. Then the 600LT is all ours.
Sitting in the pitlane, the 600LT certainly looks purposeful, but perhaps only spotters will notice the new carbon-fiber front splitter, lightweight wheels, and side intakes flared a fraction to improve cooling. Changes are more noticeable at the rear, including stainless-steel exhausts that exit ahead of the rear spoiler and reduce back pressure, and a more dramatic rear diffuser, which contributes to 220 lbs of downforce at 155 mph – the 570S is said to be neutral in this respect.
Does it look longer? Not really, but it is: 2.9 inches overall, the fixed rear spoiler is bigger, but we're not talking the 25-inch bragging rights of the Le Mans car here. McLaren cautions that the name shouldn't be taken too literally, though – it's more about drawing parallels to the racetrack, and the extra driver engagement that suggests. Director of engineering design Dan Parry-Williams says the team spent a lot of time benchmarking its own 675LT throughout development, trying to re-capture a feel that had quickly set the template for the LT sub-brand.
Like the 570S and 675LT, the 600LT is built around a carbonfiber MonoCell, with a 3.8-liter twin-turbocharged V8 and seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox mounted behind the driver. But McLaren claims 23 per cent of parts are changed compared with the 570S. Power and torque increase from the 570S's 562hp and 443 lb-ft of torque to 592 hp and 457 lb-ft. The boost comes purely through calibration changes where the 675LT engine featured significant hardware revisions. McLaren's official figures state 2.8 seconds from zero to 60 mph, 8.2 sec to 124 mph and a 204 mph top speed. The 570S is quick, but those numbers shade even its 3.1 sec, 9.5 sec and 204 mph stats.
The gear shifts are said to be 25 percent quicker at around '40-50 milliseconds' too, and use the cylinder-cut and intertia-push technology already seen on other McLarens. Platform engineering director Carlo Della Casa says they adapted lessons learned with the Senna, and the downshifts are particularly improved, which again contributes to performance, but also a more incisive feel.
The LT is quoted as being 220lb lighter than the already feathery 570S, weighing in at an impressive 2749 lbs without fluids. That figure does include some optional parts, and assumes you won't option the no-cost air-con (a 27.7lb saving) that everyone will, but other big culls come from forged alloys with Pirelli Trofeo R tires (-37.5lb), forged aluminum double-wishbone front suspension and carbon-ceramic brakes taken from the 720S (-31.3lb), the shorter exhausts (-27.8lb), and the carbon splitter, rear diffuser and sideskirts (-15.9lb). Front and rear screens are thinner, the wiring harness is lighter, there's no glovebox or door pockets… it all adds up.
Inside you find swathes of purposeful Alcantara including on the tactile steering wheel, there's no carpet, and our car has the optional McLaren Senna carbon seats. Two sizes are available, but we've got the supersize-me variant – you'll need to be pretty chunky not to swill around in these chairs. But this is an interior that feels functional without looking spare, and it's certainly special.
The chassis gets the LT treatment too. The engine mounts are stiffer, the electro-hydraulic steering 4 per cent quicker, grippier Pirelli Trofeo R tires are standard, and the 720S suspension and brakes we've mentioned. The suspension is lowered 0.3 inches on springs some 13 percent stiffer front, 34 percent rear, and the front track is 0.4-inches wider.
Adaptive dampers carry over with some re-tuning. New chief test driver Kenny Brack (replacement for Chris Goodwin, now at Aston working on the Valkyrie) is also said to have insisted on the new brake booster, for a firmer pedal feel.
The Hungaroring is fast and relatively tight, and mixes high-speed flicks of direction with some pretty huge stops. But even at out-lap speeds, the 600LT's improvements over the highly impressive 570S are tangible. The steering feels even more precise and direct and impresses with its authentically meaty weighting and natural self-centering effect, the gear shifts pop in like you're pulling a trigger, and there's definitely a more positive bite from the brake pedal – one of the 570S's bigger weaknesses.
There's a richer soundtrack too, though a flat-six Porsche still easily shades it for goose pimples. And while McLaren has focussed on making the power delivery feel like it constantly climbs towards the redline, this remains an engine that does little below 3500 rpm and then shoots off like a lit fuse has just found the dynamite. The 675LT and 720S remain on a different performance plane, even if the 600LT is more than potent enough and certainly more visceral than a 570S.
Drive as fast as talent can carry you and the LT's strengths come in to even sharper focus, particularly in terms of grip, handling and stopping power. The new Trofeo R tires claw at the surface much more positively on turn-in, noticeably reducing understeer and allowing higher cornering speeds. As does the reduced body roll, which you appreciate even more through the fast left-right flicks at the back of the circuit – the LT is less prone to weight transfer than the 570S, so it feels more composed and stable; faster, but easier and more intuitive.
Not that this is a chassis without a sense of humor: it'll eagerly pivot about its middle if you lift the throttle mid-corner, and gives you confidence to squirt through the apex with the rear tires fizzing and just a little steering correction. It's nimble and adjustable and deeply engaging in the way it encourages you to edge up to and beyond the limits; in Track mode, the stability control has your back like a secret-service agent: hardly noticeable, but ready to pounce when things go awry.
Great brakes too. By the end of the Hungaroring's start/finish straight, you can carry 150 mph and counting, while running straight for a 180-degree right. It's a corner that's extremely heavy on the brakes, but the 600LT's carbon ceramics just wipe off the speed with a reassuringly firm pedal and seemingly no ABS intervention. We did six-lap stints and never noticed a drop-off in performance. It's also impressive how stable and planted the 600LT remains, despite all that mass rushing for the headlights.
If there's a disappointment we'd pin it on transmission's downshifts – they might be super-snappy during gentler laps, but it's as if there's more of a delay under heavier use. It erodes a little of that precision feel.
And what of the promise that this could be a cut-price Ferrari 488 Pista, a car similar in spirit but costs around 40% more? Good as the 600LT is, I'd say the Ferrari justifies its premium.
But really, the 600LT is a truly impressive track car, from its more than generous performance to its nimble handling and staggeringly effective brakes. Above all, it's the extra driver engagement that makes it such a rewarding experience. Just as McLaren intended and we hoped, the 600LT is defined by the same granular texture and precise feedback from all its controls that defined the 675LT; yes, the two share much, but it's to McLaren's credit that the Longtail DNA has been so clearly defined at such an early stage in the performance sub-brand's development. Previous form suggests it'll work well on the road too, though we can't confirm that yet.
The 600LT is on sale now for $240,000 and perhaps this time, more people will have a chance of getting their hands on one – 675LT production was capped at 500 units, but McLaren is saying only that the 600LT will be produced for 12 months from October 2018, when build slots allow. Does that make it a less special Longtail? Perhaps. But that doesn't make us yearn for it any less.