Here’s surprise number one from the GT. It’s fitted with the same 4.0-litre, twin-turbocharged V8 as the 720S, but in a different state of tune. In the GT the engine (an M840TE in case you wondered) achieves 620PS (612bhp) and 630Nm (465lb ft), both impressive figures – but it doesn’t give you either until way up the range. To be precise peak power doesn’t come until 7,500rpm, and torque from 5,500rpm. To put it simply, that means you need to rev the nuts off it to extract the true performance. If you leave the McLaren GT in comfort mode and the gearbox in auto, you’re going to have a very relaxed time. The seven-speed DSG tends to shift up at around 4,000rpm no matter what you’re doing, so it’s never going to break you with a sudden unexpected burst of acceleration. The ride is also incredible – anyone who has been to the Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard knows the roads around Goodwood can be difficult at times, and the GT wasn’t fazed by the worst that West Sussex can throw at it. Around town it’s relaxed and easy, with light steering and nothing to really tell you you’re in a 620PS supercar.
But when you do take control yourself, all hell breaks looks. Break through that 6,000rpm barrier and the GT just goes nuts. It’s absolutely not a slouch lower down, easily beating most things on the road, but something changes at 6,000rpm. Rather than being a relaxed cruiser the GT is suddenly an absolute weapon – the first time it happens you find yourself shocked, even if you’ve driven the 720S. I’ve not driven a modern car whose nature changes so dramatically with rev range in, well, ever. The GT revs all the way out to beyond 8,000rpm, so there is a decent whack of this modern version of overdrive to use, but you need to stay in manual to extract it. But that just makes it more engaging, you and the car are working together to do this.
The handling is not as pin sharp as the 720, but it’s been tuned for a bit more comfort, with a custom setup for the suspension and dampers. Even so it’s still not the boat you expect with its name. You can carry a lot of speed into the corner, expecting the car to grip as you turn, and pin the throttle not too far from the mid corner without being bitten by the rear end. It feels on its toes without being floaty, the steering is quick and weighty without being heavy, and the carbon brakes do exactly what carbon brakes do (although for £7,000 I don’t think you need them).
Using the two rotating dials to select the powertrain and handling settings can change the nature of the car. In terms of ride there is little difference between comfort and sport, and if anything I had more fun in comfort, but track will shake your teeth out. And the sound? Well, like all McLarens (as far as I’m concerned) it sounds fine, nothing incredible. They have included more sound deadening in the GT than its siblings, but not as much as you might expect in the average continent cruiser. That was a conscious decision say McLaren, and it allows some of the mechanical noise of the V8 mounted a few inches behind your back into the cabin, so your drive is constantly sound-tracked by that V8.