“What can you do with that thing?”
The young police officer grinned from his patrol car while we were stopped side-by-side at a traffic light, as if lined up for a drag race. Which we definitely weren’t. But it's no wonder the cop was riveted by my brand-new McLaren.
Other supercars' greens merely evoke the verdant chlorophyll of Augusta National during the Masters. The 675LT is the glittering iridescent green of that tropical fish you spot in the reef just before your mask fills with water. McLaren calls it “Napier Green,” and it glows like Luke’s light saber from Return of the Jedi.
So what can you do with a retina-searing green 666-horspower twin-turbo, V8 intercontinental ballistic missile? The boffins at McLaren—they have those in England—proudly claim that it launches to 100 kph in just 2.9 seconds (62 mph on this side of the Atlantic) and hits a top speed of 205 mph.
But it probably shouldn't do that on public roads, least of all with Officer Friendly striking up traffic light conversations. The 675LT is a track-optimized weapon, with less weight and more power than lesser variants like the 650S.
The “LT” designation stands for “Long Tail” a tip of the hat to the uprated edition of McLaren’s first car, the F1 of 1992-’98 that had extended rear bodywork to help racing versions stick to the track better. The F1 is now a sought-after classic, with one selling at auction during the Pebble Beach Concourse d’Elegance in 2013 for $8.47 million. So any association with that car is desirable.
McLaren Automotive is a spin-off from the McLaren Formula One team, founded in 1963 by Kiwi racer Bruce McLaren and led to astonishing success by CEO Ron Dennis since 1981. One of the team’s early achievements was to be the first to adopt emerging fighter aircraft technology to Formula One by building the first all-carbon fiber race car in 1981.
With carbon fiber as a calling card, McLaren Automotive today sells a line of cars, all of which are all-carbon. The object is to minimize weight – at 2,712 lbs.) and maximize chassis rigidity.
Less weight means less work for the engine and the brakes, making the car faster. And stiffer means wheel travel is strictly controlled by the suspension as intended, without the unpredictable effects of a bending, twisting frame muddying wheel control and steering accuracy.
It all comes together brilliantly in the 675LT. Though the car is largely stripped of sound deadening, the carbon chassis offers its own dampening effects, so the cabin doesn’t ring like the inside of a drum.
The one-piece carbon fiber racing seats, however, are a bit more of a test of the driver’s dedication to the cause. The seats save 34 lbs. compared to the regular seats. But their upright position and lack of adjustability make them unlikely to suit anyone well. Yes, racing seats are just like this.
But those seats have customized padding specifically made for the driver to make them comfortable. These seats are one-size-fits-none. Such is the price of the pursuit of light weight.
The other ergonomic problem in the cabin is less comprehensible. The buttons for the shifter and for the windows are mounted so far rearward as to be unreachable. People who have short enough arms to possibly use these buttons will have their seat too far forward to be able to reach them. Those with longer arms may have the seat most of the way back, but our hands are too far from our elbows to reach the buttons. Should drivers really have to reach over with their left hand to put the car in Drive? Very puzzling.
The rear bodywork is revised, even if it isn’t noticeably stretched as in in forebear. The most notable aerodynamic detail at the back of the car is the moveable spoiler that stands up vertically as an air brake under hard braking. This helps slow the car like a parachute while sticking the back tires to the road with additional force so they can brake even harder than usual.
However, as the admiring police officer noted, gaining benefit from such features on the street is hard to do. Comparing the 675LT with the 650S or with competitors like the Ferrari 458 Speciale requires back-to-back laps on a race track, and my brief time with the McLaren didn’t permit that.
Previous track time in a McLaren MP4-12C, the company’s first car using this same foundation, showed a car with impeccable balance, letting the driver control the car’s trajectory through corners using the gas pedal and the steering wheel with equal precision. By comparison, the 675LT feels similar, with even higher limits, though without some track time it is impossible to quantify the improvements.
Similarly, the 675LT rolls on Pirelli Trofeo R tires. When track-tested on a Camaro Z28, these Pirellis give the car the feel of racing slicks, with none of the vague tread squirm-induced steering response that street-legal tires can suffer when driven hard.
The McLaren’s exhaust note is suitably stirring, without being loud. Though while the Ferrari 458 Speciale produces aural entertainment on par with the thrust delivered, the McLaren produces distinctly more acceleration than the corresponding sound might indicate.
Maybe this leaves the 675LT feeling a shade understated in a class of extroverts. Or maybe it provides welcome relief from the “look at me” syndrome afflicting some of its competitors. However, on cold start in a quiet neighborhood, the McLaren does nevertheless rattle windows with its raucous fast idle. Remember, this is a track car, after all.
There is surely nothing subtle about the 675LT’s dramatically swoopy styling or its shocking green paint. Criticism of its MP4-12C predecessor’s styling for being too mild is long forgotten now, as this McLaren swivels heads everywhere it goes.
However, McLaren isn’t a well-known name in the U.S., so onlookers generally fell into one of two camps: those who thought it was a Lamborghini (Can’t be a Ferrari because it isn’t red!) and those who asked what it was and were baffled by the response “McLaren.” More than once, this group followed up with, “Is McLaren a Lamborghini model?”
The 675LT is a masterpiece, but it seems that McLaren’s brand recognition significantly lags the excellence of its cars. In an age of social media-fueled fame and viral videos, surely McLaren can find a way into the hearts and minds of Americans who love the cars. Even if they think they come from Italy.
Photos by Dan Carney