Here it is then, your new, all-British, 250mph three-seat road car. What else but the McLaren Speedtail, one of the year’s (decade’s?) most eagerly awaited cars. Twenty six years after the epochal F1 first broke cover, has McLaren raised the supercar bar again?
The McLaren Speedtail is the most amazing looking car since the F1
We knew the Speedtail was going to be big, powerful and fast – and it is certainly fast. Incredibly it gets from 0-186mph in almost half the time it took the McLaren F1. And we definitely knew it would have the central driving position of its famous forebear. But perhaps we didn’t realise that it would be quite so big and its design, unsullied by scoops and spoilers, would be quite such a knockout.
Here is a McLaren that sticks rigidly to the brand’s ethos of form following function but whose primary function has shifted from the track to the road – and whose design clearly demonstrates the fact.
In the flesh the Speedtail is so seamless, low and long that it is Jaguar XJ220 like in the way it visibly captures the grandeur of speed. Astonishingly the Speedtail is almost 200mm longer than the Jaguar, at over 5.1 metres from stem to stern. That makes it the best part of a metre (3ft) longer than the original McLaren F1, and all of the extra seemingly in the rear overhang. It’s a foot longer than even the 1997 F1 GTR Longtail. In this respect the car really lives up to its name.
The car’s ‘face’ (think McLaren 720S) verges on the ordinary compared to the rest of it. To enjoy the full design impact you need to see it from rear three-quarters. The proportions, design cues and indulgent detailing recall 1930s-style automotive extravagance. Is there a suggestion of Bugatti or Talbot-Lago in the vertical line splitting the perforated rear engine cover and the “spine” brake light? Or a hint of 1950s Alfa Disco Volante in the unbroken line that encircles the drastically tapering rear end? That pointy rear is so low it barely comes higher than your knees.
The main materials used may be resolutely 21st century (mostly carbon-fibre of course) but there is still a place here for white gold badges and myriad other material innovations and hand-crafting, executed with the sort of technical precision McLaren is known for. It adds up to a car that McLaren thinks of as a concours d‘elegance star-in-waiting, and indeed it is easy to picture the Speedtail on the pristine lawns of the Villa d’Este or Pebble Beach in decades to come.
McLaren design director Rob Melville calls the design seamless and elegant. It features unusually large carbon panels (for fewer shutlines) and complex glazing, particularly in the one-piece of glass that blends window with roof light in the huge and electrically operated dihedral doors.
Also unusual are the wheels: different front and back. The fronts are in fact covered by static wheel covers that have been tuned to optimise air flow and are said to be essential for the car to reach its v-max of 250mph.
The unadorned purity of line, small frontal area and long, long rear deck are all calculated to give the car what the fastest-ever McLaren road car needs most: the ability to cleave the air as efficiently as possible. The front wheels are just one example of the lengths gone to to achieve low drag.
Others include concealed air ducts and rear radiators that are fed by air channeled from inside the double-skin doors, like the 720S. There are no rear-view mirrors; tiny cameras pop out of the doors instead. They were going to put a snorkel on the roof, like the F1, but replaced it with nostrils in the rear deck so as not to interrupt the air flow as much.
Downforce at speed is provided by the most subtle form of active spoiler: a pair of small hinged ailerons in the trailing edge of the rear bodywork. They tilt upwards automatically by up to 26 degrees to add stability at speed.
It all points to a super-low Cd figure but what that is, McLaren is not saying (they say they don’t want to add to the confusion over different measuring methods). Whatever the figure, it is enough with 1,050PS (1,036bhp) of petrol/electric hybrid power to see the Speedtail hit 250mph, beating the 243mph of its illustrious predecessor.
It could possibly go faster, if let fully off the leash and fitted with more extreme tyres than the 21-inch Pirelli P Zero 315/30s. As it is, McLaren is sticking with those tyres since they deliver both 250mph on the autobahn and an acceptable ride on the UK’s potholed roads. Woking people say this combination is far more relevant than getting involved in the much-hyped hypercar race to be first to 300mph.
What will you find inside? The extreme teardrop-shaped cockpit makes for a very bright cabin while McLaren says the driver gets a clearer view out in all directions than even the 720S offers. Sun in your eyes? There are no sun visors here. Instead push a button and watch the smart photochromic glass at the top of the windscreen and in the roof go dark. Reading lights are LEDs embedded into the glass above your head.
The interior is perfectly symmetrical with the fully adjustable driver’s seat slap-bang centre in front of an adjustable and button-free steering wheel. There are large matching touch-screens off to the left and the right, all infotainment functions one side, car systems the other. Two smaller screens at the base of each A-pillar show the rear view from the cameras that pop out of the doors as soon as the car is fired up. Aerodynamically-interfering mirrors are about to become very last year.
Compared to the F1, there are no big sills to climb over and no transmission tunnel to negotiate. With gearchanging via paddles behind the wheel rather than a lever on the centre console, the driver can get into the Speedtail as easily from the left side as they can the right. As with its F1 forebear, there are small oblong sections within the door glass that open; the lone driver will still need very long arms (or a selfie stick) at a motorway toll booth.
McLaren claims slightly more room than the F1 offered. The extra is said to be most noticeable in elbow room, impressive given the Speedtail is only marginally wider than the 720S and thus not impossibly wide for British roads. The passenger seats, fixed buckets moulded as part of the carbon-fibre MonoCageII structure, flank the driver’s seat and are set further rearwards (for an arrowhead formation) in order to make the most of the legroom.
Legroom will still be tight for long-limbed passengers. While the driving position is said to be fine for a 95th percentile male (just over 6ft 1in) the passenger seats are 50th percentile (5ft 8in). There’s obviously more to it than that though; Rob Melville is probably 6ft 4in and he fits. You would expect decent room since not only does the Speedtail have that massive length but its wheelbase has been stretched 50mm over that used by all other McLarens; it is now within 2mm of the F1’s wheelbase.
The Speedtail is a road car – sorry, “hyper GT” in McLaren speak – so it needs some practicality and it gets it in the form of small boots back and front offering a total of 162 litres of luggage space. Bags tailor-made to fit the spaces perfectly come with the car. Inside the cabin, there are storage bins under each passenger seat.
The McLaren Speedtail is powered by the familiar turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 from the 720S teamed up with an electric motor to provide that total of 1,050PS. The car weighs 1,430kg so impressively tips the scales at just 11kg more than the 720S (we won’t mention that the F1 weighed 300kg less…).
Power to weight ratio is 724bhp per tonne. It’s not a record but among road cars it is right up there, substantially up on the 720S (500bhp/tonne), McLaren F1 (543bhp/tonne) and McLaren Senna (659bhp/tonne), while not far short of the Bugatti Chiron Sport’s 758bhp/tonne.
All of the power is channelled to the rear wheels via McLaren’s familiar dual-clutch seven-speed transmission. We have only one acceleration figure so far: 0-300km/h (186mph) in 12.8 seconds. It’s not quite a record – owners should pray they don’t come across any of those pesky Koenigseggs at the traffic lights – but for a luxury three-seat grand tourer to achieve it is mind blowing. A Formula 1 car does 0-300 in nine and a bit seconds.
Mind-blowing just about sums up all of the Speedtail, including of course its price of £2 million, after taxes but before MSO gets its hands on it. And with so many bespoking opportunities no two of the 106 Speedtails to be made will either cost the same or look the same. MSO can put titanium in the paint for a uniquely sparkly finish and will even imprint your name, favourite photo or design into the carbon-fibre weave of the front undertray, sills and front wheel covers.
Design boss Rob (b: 1977) had a poster of the McLaren F1 on his bedroom wall when he was a kid and with the Speedtail feels he has honoured Gordon Murray’s legacy. The car is very different in lots of ways but in one big respect it’s the same: the shared allure of a fast car designed to drive down real roads to real places rather than merely go round and round a track. This is surely the car for the ultimate road trip.
Road trips are an old-fashioned, rather romantic notion these days – but one we hope the lucky 106 embrace to the full by actually driving their cars rather than simply locking them away in bank vaults.
Fastest cars 0-300km/h (186mph)
Keonigsegg Regera RS 10.9secs
Koenigsegg One:1 11.9secs
McLaren Speedtail 12.8secs
Bugatti Chiron Sport 13.6secs
Hennessey Venon GT 13.6secs
LaFerrari “under 15secs”
McLaren P1 16.5secs
McLaren Senna 17.5secs
McLaren 720S 21.4secs
McLaren F1 22secs
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