First Drive: 2021 McLaren 620R Review
When in years to come we look back at the early history of McLaren Automotive, it will be noted for two significant events. First and most obvious is the launch of the original and somewhat tortuously entitled MP4-12C, unveiled to the world in 2010.
But in 2015 McLaren took the wraps off the 570S and, as it did, started the three series convention where the really fast, rare and expensive cars would be ‘Ultimate’ series, the top of the range standard production cars would be ‘Super’ series and the new entry level range pioneered by said 570S would be the ‘Sports’ series. And it was these Sports Series cars with their slightly less unaffordable pricing position that provided the key for unlocking McLaren’s business plan, providing the company with the volume sales it needed to bring in the revenue to allow McLaren to take the fight to its rivals which, let’s not forget include Ferrari and Lamborghini. The Sports Series turned McLaren from creators of niche automotive exotica into a proper car manufacturer.
But now the Sports Series is almost out of production and in the spring will be replaced by a car new from end to end save, I am told ‘a few fastenings’. That will become the third of the most important cars in McLaren Automotive’s history. It will be more powerful despite having a smaller engine with fewer cylinders because it will also be a hybrid, which means it will be heavier but, impressively, only by a few dozen rather than hundreds of kilos.
In the meantime a fitting farewell is required to say goodbye to the Sports Series not least because I believe that naming convention is unlikely to survive the transition. My understanding is that future production McLarens will not be so pigeon-holed but simply allowed to stand as individual models. Only those limited numbers ‘Ultimate’ cars will continue to be so described. So welcome, then, the 620R, the last ever Sports Series McLaren.
It has a few claims to fame beyond being the last of the line. It is the fastest and, at £250,000, by far the most expensive. Why so much? Because just 225 will be built, less than half the number of Sennas that were made. Of all McLaren Automotive products launched to date, only the Speedtail will be rarer.
- Bespoke tyres are sensational
- Suspension and cabin noise still reasonable
- Grip and downforce levels are perfectly judged
We don't like
- Navigation system is poor
- Price is hefty
- Only 225 will be built, so you might never see one
How best to think of it? Well if you could rightly describe the 600LT as a road car with a lot of track performance built into it, you could equally think of the 620R as its mirror image: a car primarily intended for the track but which is not totally impractical and won’t drive you mad on the way there and back.
McLaren says it is not a development of the 600LT, indeed it was done by a completely different team. Instead the start point for the 620R was the 570S GT4 racing car which, having raced one, I can tell you is a rather more serious proposition. What McLaren has tried to do is create a road going version of that car and if you’re wondering why they didn’t just bolt some plates onto the GT4 and have done with it, there are two reasons. First, there are all sorts of homologation issues which would never allow it and, second, even if they did, the result would be absolutely horrible.
Horrible because you can’t run racing car ground clearance, suspension geometry and spring rates on a road car. So what McLaren has done is bring over or adapt those components that can be used on a road car, including the GT4’s passive dampers, each with 32 clicks of adjustment for bump and rebound. The aero package (including the adjustable rear wing) is very similar to the GT4’s, but with sharp edges rounded off to make them road legal. It has the GT4’s solid suspension top mounts and spring and roll bar rates as close to the racer’s as is sensible for a car used on road too.
There are various carbon bits inside, like the shift paddles, steering wheel spokes and centre console, but the 620R’s real rabbit out of a hat are its tyres. Or at least its optional tyres. As standard it comes with the same Pirelli Trofeo R rubber seen on the 600LT, and a standard P Zero and all season Sotto Zero are available too. Not much news there. But you can also run your 620R on slicks. Now of course there’s nothing to stop you bolting slicks to any car, but the 620R’s are bespoke to the car, unique in their blend of size, construction and compound and tailored precisely to suit the characteristics of just one car, and I know of no other car company that makes that offer.
And finally there is the powertrain which is nothing like the GT4’s and thank goodness for that because the racer is so inherently rapid, its motor has to be pegged back to something less than 450PS just to give the opposition a chance. The 620R is entirely uncorked, its 620PS providing acceleration so rapid that by 200km/h it is only 0.3 seconds behind the 100PS more powerful 720S.
Performance and Handling
I won’t dwell too long on how the 620R fares on the road. When a McLaren representative asked me as I got back from an hour or two on Norfolk lanes my instinctive reply was that it was ‘good enough’ and some weeks later I don’t think I can improve on that. The ride is firm and noise levels in the cockpit are louder than in other McLarens, but the former is perfectly tolerable and the latter still not intrusive. I could and would drive it to Spa or the Nürburgring and be happy to be able to do so.
On the track it is a different world, at least with those slicks bolted on. Anyone who calls track day tyres like the Trofeo R ‘essentially a road legal cut slick’ I am afraid has no idea what he or she is talking about. For a start around Snetterton the slick is worth around three seconds a lap, which is a lot. But here’s the thing: if McLaren so desired it could have been far more even than that. Quite sensibly however it specified an extremely durable hard compound for the slick with the result that despite the extra grip, traction and braking ability provided, they actually last longer than the Trofeo R too. So while the GT4 race car slicks are very spiky, offering huge initial grip for about long enough for a qualifying lap before tailing off to a plateau that will survive a one hour race after which they’re fit for nothing but the bin, the 620R’s slick should run all day without a significant drop off in performance. Which means the only conundrum remaining is how you get them to the circuit in the first place.
So you can attack a circuit like Snetterton which has just about every kind of corner there is, with a confidence you could never summon in a normal road car. You can brake harder, carry implausible speed into the apex and jump back on the gas sooner. The car has significant downforce too, not enough to dislodge your eyeballs it’s true, but you can feel it the quick corners where the car just feels settled in a way that would not be possible were it relying entirely on mechanical grip. It has great balance too, but you have to turn off or at least turn down the stability systems to find it. Otherwise it understeers too much.
And in one way it’s far better than the racing car. The GT4 machine has so much grip – both mechanical and aerodynamic – that when I raced it at Spa I was turning into Eau Rouge at 144mph which was as exhilarating it sounds. Problem was that when you popped over the top and nailed the throttle the engine restrictors meant the car had so little power you travelled the entire length of the Kemmel Straight barely adding to your speed. So of course the 620R wouldn’t turn in at anything like that speed, but with at least another 170PS, it would still be hauling like hell when you got to the braking point for Les Combes, which is much more fun. Funnily enough the overall lap time on slicks of the power limited race car and the wide open road car are about the same.
Inside the 620R life is much like inside that of any other Sports Series McLaren. There are differences: bucket seats with standard race harnesses (though the inertia reel belt is still there too) and those carbon bits referred to earlier, but the usual trademark features – outstanding all round visibility, a steering wheel unmolested with buttons and McLaren’s frankly fairly woeful IRIS navigation system are all brought over from lesser models within the range.
Technology and Features
Like all McLarens, the 620R is as light as it can reasonably be, though at 1,282kg dry it’s actually around 40kg heavier than the 600LT because it has a longer low exit exhaust system to lower the centre of gravity, that big rear wing and other items such as its race harnesses. The transmission is still the seven-speed double-clutch gearbox used in other McLarens and has an ability use momentum built up in the flywheel to provide a brief burst of torque on upshift resulting in faster, more dynamic shifts.
The passive suspension not only allows the car to be set up for each circuit, they also save 6kg of mass. On the braking front, performance is aided by the vacuum pump and brake booster from the Senna.
The 620R is as astonishingly capable device that delivers fully on its promise of providing as close to a race car experience as is possible within a road legal format. Of course you could spend a lot less and buy a delivery miles LT and still have huge fun on road and track, and I’d blame no one who chose that route. But the high price of the 620R also reflects its rarity, a factor likely to make it as popular with collectors as enthusiasts. For both groups it is a fitting farewell to fine and important series of McLarens.
3.8-litre twin-turbocharged V8
620PS (456kW) @ 7,000rpm
620Nm (457lb ft) @ 3,500rpm
Seven-speed double-clutch, rear-wheel-drive
Reviewed by Andrew Frankel