“McLaren” and “subtle” are two words that rarely appear in the same sentence. But subtlety has never been the aim of of the storied British marque, which has left a burning streak of rubber on racetracks everywhere since its very first Formula 1 entry at the 1966 Monaco Grand Prix.
The McLaren F1 released in 1992, its first road car, justly became a multimillion-dollar icon while still in its infancy, but it wasn’t until the founding of McLaren Automotive in 2010, followed by the debut of the MP4-12C a year later that the company began building and selling sports cars in earnest.
From the 400 cars it sold that first year to the 4,800 it moved it 2018, a mere seven years later, McLaren Automotive has been a smashing success, thanks to eye-popping design, F1-bred engineering and incomparable performance.
And with a wide array of models available from from the “starter” 570S for under $200K to the unobtainable $1.4 million Senna GTR, there’s been something for nearly every driver to salivate over.
Every driver, that is, who fancied himself a contender for Senna’s legacy, because it’s nearly impossible to drive a McLaren at a stately pace. The cars just demand to be driven at speed and also demand your full concentration, as they should.
Having now proved its dominance in the supercar realm, McLaren has at last turned its hand to grand touring.
The hallowed motoring term refers to cars that have power, beauty and style in equal measure, able to burn by anything on the road but perfectly comfortable for crossing continents, stopping off at five-star hotels along the way.
The new McLaren GT is designed to do all this with ease, and though in grand touring terms it skews to the high performance end, after having driven it in the winding mountain passes above St. Tropez and then along the famed Croisette to Cannes’ iconic Hotel Carlton we can attest that it handles the job admirably.
And while “subtle” may seem inappropriate for a car wearing a McLaren badge, a $200,000 price tag and a 620 hp engine, compared to the marque’s other rides the GT definitely qualifies.
To emphasize that this is a different animal, McLaren has mainly been showing it in dark green and dark blue as opposed to its signature bright orange or other ‘f––k you’ colors; it even offers cashmere as an upholstery option, along with a custom fitted set of leather luggage.
Long and low, with enough cargo space for a bag of golf clubs or two pairs of skis and a perfect center of gravity thanks to its mid-engine layout, it’s also the lightest and quickest accelerating car in its class. Wraparound glass also adds to the low profile, and the GT’s sharklike silhouette is best appreciated below eye level.
Even knowing all of this in advance, when climbing behind the wheel of a McLaren you instinctively expect it to shoot off like a Sidewinder missile at around Mach 2.7 the moment you press the gas.
With a 0-60 sprint of 3.1 seconds and a top speed of 203 mph the GT certainly doesn’t lack the capability. But when driven like a GT – the G to our mind also stands for “gentleman” – it conducts itself in a much more mannerly fashion.
We were lucky to be among the very first to drive the GT, which comes equipped with a 4.0 litre twin-turbocharged V8, on the global press launch in France. The setting, like something out of a Bond film, was highly appropriate; we wouldn’t be surprised if the next 007 petitions Q Branch to replace his Aston Martin with a McLaren GT.
Actually, McLaren has something even better than a fictional toy shop: McLaren Special Operations, or MSO, which can create a fully bespoke vehicle based on any of their models, with the options limited only by your imagination.
For the GT these range from nearly any type and color of leather you can dream up to carbon fiber anything (the GT already houses quite a lot of it) and even engine enhancements if money is no object.
On a carefully chosen loop in the foothills of the Alpes-Maritimes on some enthralling twisty passes where the scenery was an ever-present distraction, we let the GT have its head and demonstrate that it could deliver on the promise of those 620 horses on demand. That is by applying sudden pressure to the accelerator.
Later on floating down at a more relaxing pace to the famous Croisette in Cannes, one of the most famous thoroughfares in the world, we realized we were nonetheless rapidly approaching our destination, the legendarily luxurious Hotel Carlton where Cary Grant frolicked with Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief. And we found ourselves employing the brake pedal ever more frequently.
Because the only thing more appealing than checking into the Carlton was spending more time behind the wheel of the McLaren GT.
Driving up to the famed portico, the car, appearing for the first time on public roads, arrested the gaze of the Croisette denizens for whom Ferraris are as common as taxicabs, and elicited plenty of envious glances.
And the only person whose expression of anticipation and glee matched our own of reluctance and regret was the valet, already rubbing his hands in anticipation of being handed the keys.