There’s a reason the term “daily driver sports car” exists. That’s because purpose-built performance cars typically suffer from an inherent lack of usability: they’re noisy, uncomfortable and require impeccable driving conditions. Plus, they’re often devoid of the accessories we’ve become accustomed to, and when they come with them, they tend to be substandard.
This may sound like small concessions for the chance to drive a top-of-the-line vehicle, but try to spend over $200,000 on a car that makes you unhappy half the time. Thanks to advancements in technology and manufacturing, the line between sport and luxury is blurrier than ever.
Making nice cars more accessible is a good thing, but at the very least they should feel different from your daily commute. Few modern sports cars stand out more than McLaren Automotive’s, so much so that I was somewhat concerned that the latest vehicle, the McLaren GT, would lose those specifics as a result of making the car more responsive. While some rough edges have been smoothed out, for better or for worse, the deluxe overhaul is a bit over the top, but the signature McLaren charm remains.
Bolts and nuts
The McLaren GT is a mid-engine, rear-wheel drive, two-seater that serves as the entry-level model from McLaren Automotive. It is powered by a 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8, a variant of the engine found in other models in the lineup equipped with smaller turbochargers. This iteration lowers overall power but delivers power lower in the rev band, making peak power more accessible. It generates 612 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque that is routed to the rear wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.
Using launch control, the McLaren GT can sprint from 0 to 60 in 3.1 seconds and reach a top speed of 203 mph.
As with all McLaren cars, the GT is built on a carbon fiber chassis that contributes to its light curb weight of 3,384 pounds. It’s also fitted with electro-hydraulic steering, which goes a long way towards adding to the distinctive driving feel. It all rides on an adaptive damping system and 20-inch front and 21-inch rear wheels.
As a GT, this McLaren is intended for extended rides and so its signature feature is the 14.8 cubic feet of storage space located behind the driver and on top of the mid-engine.
It also features an active dynamic panel that allows drivers to customize the car’s behaviour, a 1200 watt Bowers & Wilkins sound system and the latest version of McLaren’s custom infotainment system. This is the heart of the McLaren GT’s user interface and is housed in a 7-inch touchscreen in the center of the dashboard. Along with entertainment features, it pairs with mobile devices via Bluetooth, gives access to a handful of car settings like mood lighting, and features HERE-powered satellite navigation.
This display is supported by a 12.3-inch digital meter cluster behind the wheel. Some of the above information is pushed to that screen, such as turn-by-turn directions, although its main function is to provide instant information about car behavior. The typical speedometer and tachometer are of course present, but there are also tire pressure displays and other status indicators. This screen reconfigures itself depending on the driving mode to better position more vital information in a track or dynamic environment.
The great mission of the McLaren GT is to better balance the driving dynamics McLarens are known for and creature comforts. Each sports car manufacturer tackles this particular dish with its own recipe and McLaren Automotive, for its part, goes heavy on performance and light on usability. The McLaren GT is supposed to be the most approachable car yet, but thankfully the extra dollop of refinement doesn’t overpower the signature McLaren umami underneath.
Sliding under the biplane doors and into the GT reveals a highly performance-oriented cockpit. Two ergonomic seats are separated by a very small armrest and the sparse cabin is dominated by a leather and steel steering wheel, flanked by two wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Behind it is the aforementioned 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster accessible through one of the few stems that protrude from the steering column. The 7-inch touchscreen sits above the active dynamic panel and drive selection buttons, while the Bowers & Wilkins speakers stare at you from the doors like a hawk’s eye.
All of this is the first indication that the McLaren GT won’t stray too far from its sports car roots: this cabin is almost identical to the one in the 570S. Of course there are minor differences, including additional sound bewilderment. But you could go from car to car and have a hard time seeing them.
Next up is the sense of how purpose-built the car feels. All the luxurious details can’t hide the fact that you’re in the carbon fiber monocell of a race-ready vehicle.
The McLaren GT is not quiet. Once the twin-turbo V8 fires up, it’s your soundtrack to the ride, Bowers & Wilkins damn. From now on, the McLaren GT requires the driver to be laser-focused on driving, as none of the half-hearted lollipop gags we’re used to in everyday traffic will fly. Steering feedback is ample, the brakes require a very heavy footing, and the athletic-looking sports car’s crouching obscures much of the rear view.
When allowed to gallop, the GT is thrilled with its acceleration and the thrill between all the systems working to keep the McLaren on track is palpable. Its electro-hydraulic steering fluidly communicates road conditions, and its weight gives drivers something important to embrace. This system combination responds better to the fully electronic power steering we’re used to, it’s beefier and heavier, but mechanically so, not just with pre-programmed motorized resistance. The same goes for the suspension and active dampers, as it’s easy to feel every bit of the McLaren GT doing its job.
How it does its job is also determined by the active dynamics settings. Two controls and power buttons each have three settings, Normal, Sport and Track. Normal is the most docile setting, keeping the car’s ride as comfortable as possible with all the usual driving aids on and the engine at its most tame. Sport makes the car’s overall handling feel a tad more aggressive and smoothes out some of the stability control, and it also increases throttle response, as well as the transmission’s affinity for lower gears. Track is the McLaren’s most aggressive setting: Handling? Stiff. Traction control? Out. Engine and transmission? Unlimited.
One of the most beautiful attributes of the McLaren GT and indeed one it shares with its super brother, the 570S, there is very little electronic handholding in the way. This lack of an automated safety net requires a higher application of the driver’s driving skills and thus makes sharp maneuvers very rewarding, just as slipping is nerve-wracking. Think of the experience as somewhere between a Lotus Evora and the Audi R8 V10.
Living La Vida Macca
As exciting as it is to live life on the cutting edge with the McLaren GT, the intermediate parts succumb to the usual unfriendliness of supercars. A range of parking sensors and a rear-view camera make positioning the precious GT much easier, as does a push button to raise the nose, which is a huge relief.
This alleviates some of the usual everyday sports car frustrations, but the real crux of the GT’s problems lay with the in-car interface.
Because no matter how good the car is mechanically, the operating system developed in-house is a particularly noticeable weak point. McLaren knows this. Frankly, it used to be worse.
The 10-core processor-powered “Infotainment System II” is faster and more responsive than the units in previous McLaren vehicles. Familiar swipe and pinch-and-zoom functions make using the touchpad easy, but finding the menu you want is another matter. More often than not, a co-pilot on the passenger side will be needed to give him the necessary attention or for the driver to get off the road to sort things out. This can be something as simple as selecting a music input source, but it’s most frustrating when it comes to navigation.
Despite the upgrade, the built-in system still feels much less intuitive and limited by today’s standards. Enter the address and if it finds it, there are limited routes to choose from, if there are alternatives. If you deviate from the route, he will stubbornly insist that you find your way back long before he decides to choose another route himself. There were also instances of inaccurate road data pushing our way, instructing us to take roads that weren’t there, or sometimes didn’t recognize the ones that were there.
Since the GT is not compatible with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, drivers are out of luck when it comes to alternative navigation systems such as Google Maps or Waze. Indeed, the size and orientation of the heavily-edged touchscreen mirror that of a smartphone, and there were many times when we wished we could just suck our own phone over it and find our way back home.
This doesn’t bode well for a car meant for long road trips, and the 14.8 cubic feet of storage doesn’t function as intended either. The extra space that sits on top of the motor means that anything placed on top of it is subject to a lot of heat. It’s great for a few pairs of skis, but not so great for cargo like electronics.
The McLaren GT is a true sports car and nothing of its down-tuning or soft appointments detracts from that. In fact, it’s arguable that they don’t go far enough to substantially differentiate this car from others in the lineup or to live up to its Grand Tourer moniker. That is certainly the case when it comes to its technology.
McLaren could have kept everything mechanically identical to its siblings and the GT could have distinguished itself with a more robust, user-friendly interface for road trips, easier mapping, larger screens for easier access and 360-degree parking cameras, and more modern compatibility with mobile devices, just to name a few features we would like to have. As it stands, the $205,000 McLaren GT is a true entry-level sports car that sticks to the classics.
It delivers the full experience, but technology-wise it’s a side step.