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Meet McLaren’s Superlative Supercar

Lean and meticulously engineered, the new 720S Spider is as purposeful as it is sexy

Rear windows don’t generally get called out too often in supercar reviews, and certainly not for their providence of any sort of view rearward, but the little rear window of the new McLaren 720S Spider is not only larger than most, but, unlike that of its coupe counterpart, it also rolls down just like the side windows, even getting its own switch between the seats next to the one that makes the roof itself silently disappear beneath the rear deck in just 11 seconds. Thanks to that “rear drop glass,” as McLaren calls it, I am unable to report on the various nuances of the Spider’s uniquely tuned optional 12-speaker Bowers & Wilkins audio system. I’m quite sure it’s lovely, and had McLaren left its gorgeous, shimmering teal roadster with me for more a few additional days (or years), I’d surely get around to listening to it. But, alas, I returned having switched on the audio system once. Maybe.

No regrets, though. My music would be there later; I had only a few days to savor the twin-turbo V-8’s clear, baritone voice, crooning a repertoire ranging from prickly pulsations at idle to a full banshee wail near its 7,000 rpm power peak. Its rorty tones rise and fall in concert with my right foot while wispy swirls from the turbos whoosh in the background, with periods of spirited driving punctuated by an occasional firecracker “bang!” during downshifts, especially after twisting a dial on the dash to activate the separate Sport or Track settings for the engine and suspension.

The textured and dynamic and highly addictive sounds of the 720S’s mellifluous, high-revving 710-horsepower V-8 are intense enough with all windows sealed, given that the only things standing between it and your ears are the rear cabin wall and that vestigial rear window. Drop said glass, and all that character and energy is effectively mainlined directly into your cerebellum.

You get the point: It sounds good. And being both a supercar and a convertible, the 720S Spider can overload most of your other senses, too, with explosive acceleration, face-bending cornering grip, and brakes strong enough to dislodge your eyeballs from their sockets. Admittedly, those same words could be used to fairly describe the 720S Spider’s primary competition, namely the Ferrari 488 Spider and the Lamborghini Huracán Spyder, and while the McLaren boasts a nearly 200-pound weight advantage over its lightest Italian counterpart, when the slowest among them hits 60 mph in 3.1 seconds—the 720S gets there in 2.8, says McLaren—the statistical differences are purely academic. They’re all thrilling. What makes the beautiful, sparkling $411,300 roadster by an esoteric British race car company so strikingly different—and worth featuring in DuJour—is its clarity of purpose. The 720S is the superlative supercar, a lean, fastidiously engineered instrument of speed: nothing sentimental, nothing evocative of anything else, no superfluous frippery.

This is particularly apparent inside the 720S’s cabin, which, like those of other McLarens, is rather narrow, set within a carbon fiber tub structure that McLaren leaves exposed on the door sills. Very sexy. Getting in requires some practice, but McLaren points out that the tub is cut low near the front to make it easier for passengers, particularly those wearing skirts, to swing their legs in.

The 2019 McLaren 720s Spider in Silver

The interior decor is remarkably stylish—indeed, it’s the first McLaren interior I’d consider a truly designer space. The dashboard’s harmonious forms and textures stand in stark contrast to the Ferrari’s frenetic arrangement of switchgear and satellite pods and are delightfully free of oppressive visual themes, like the overpowering hexagons that attempt to conceal the Lamborghini’s many Audi-sourced components. Even when dolled up in the Luxury trim’s fragrant, butter-soft, hand-stitched leather and copious other sybaritic delights, the 720S Spider feels like a supercar first and a luxury car/design statement/anything else after that.

The steering wheel, for example, is an elegant, thin-rimmed, flat-bottomed sculpture utterly devoid of switches, dials, or controls for anything other than the horn. Sure, it requires the driver to reach a few inches to the comprehensive eight-inch portrait-oriented infotainment system to change the volume or radio station (had I turned it on) and flick the feathery stalks sprouting from the steering column to engage cruise control or cycle through the gauge cluster displays, but I didn’t miss them. Speaking of gauges, not only are there reconfigurable displays, but the entire module also motors down and away at the touch of a button to minimize distraction, leaving a simple readout of engine rpm, current gear selection, and speed.

Outside the car, the 720S Spider does anything but minimize distraction. Low and extremely wide, the 720S is wrapped in sculptural carbon fiber bodywork that seduces the eye like the flowing robes of ancient Greek statues, only with lessons learned during McLaren’s 60-year history in racing, so these robes can travel 212 mph, according to McLaren—or 202 with the top down. Set within the bodywork are so many ducts and grilles and scoops and vents channeling air to the various places it’s needed, it might look like Swiss cheese were it not for McLaren’s talented designers. But especially in the pearly turquoise hue that McLaren calls Belize Blue, the 720S Spider strikes a rare balance between aerodynamic proficiency and loin-stirring emotion.

The 720S draws a crowd pretty much everywhere it goes, so I learned quickly to point out its many clever design touches, starting with front turn signals that strike through the darkened triangles that also contain the LED headlamps and small radiators behind them. A modestly sized “frunk” is located in the nose, supplemented by another shallow cargo space under the rear deck lid atop the engine that can hold another two cubic feet of really flat things that hopefully aren’t chocolate. Flanking the special-order gloss carbon fiber engine cover—one of many such accessories that elevated the price of our tester from the $315K base cost to $411,300—are see-through aero buttresses that make the rear view through that little rear window a bit more expansive, while farther back, a really active rear spoiler not only rises and lowers to optimize aerodynamics but also pops up during moderate to hard braking to enhance stability, its angle of attack commensurate with how firmly one is braking.

My personal favorite innovation is the side engine air intakes, which are hidden behind what appear to be separate outer door skins, thus eliminating the unsightly holes on the body sides of most mid-engine supercars. Each intake is fed by a groove in the body that starts about eight feet forward, at the leading edge of the frunk, rising over the front fenders before dipping down deep into the body aft of the door, an arrangement that also creates a nice, clean hiding place for the electric door switches.

As for the feature that gleaned the most smiles from the crowds? Clearly the 720S’s upward-swinging dihedral synchro-helix actuation doors, which are not only fun to watch but also fun to operate, and are better than you might expect in tight parking spaces. And, yes, they’re exactly the sort of furnishing that helps elevate mere sports cars into proper supercars. And to that end, the 720S is superlative.

What is McLaren, anyway?

Motorsports fans are familiar with the late, great Bruce McLaren and the McLaren brand, with its remarkable bona fides as Great Britain’s preeminent builder of Formula 1 race cars, but most other folks don’t know Bruce McLaren from Bruce Almighty. Founded by New Zealand–born racer Bruce McLaren, who tragically passed away in a car accident in 1970 after assembling his own successful racing team in the early 1960s, McLaren has manufactured vehicles that have, for the vast majority of the company’s existence, featured a seating capacity of one and been illegal for street use. McLaren did build about 100 of its 240 mph, three-seat F1 supercars in the mid-’90s and partnered with Mercedes-Benz to produce the SLR McLaren a decade later. Only in 2011 did McLaren go all in with street-legal supercars, but it now offers a range of products, including Sport Series cars like the 570S, starting at about $200K; Super Series products like the 720S, from around $300K; and Ultimate Series cars, such as the new $837,000 Senna hybrid hyper-car.