Living with a McLaren GT – Thank Frankel it’s Friday
As motoring journalists we tend to drive a lot of cars. Even in these tricky times the process has gone on, sometimes in amended form, but drive we must so drive we do. The cars come to us, or we go to them but one way or another, they get driven.
What they don’t do so often is get lived with. At least not those cars for whom the reality gap between the driving and owning experience may be larger than most. Drive a Volkswagen Golf and you can glean a fair amount about what it might be to own, because there tend not to be too many surprises lurking within such cars. They work well, or well enough, at anything you are likely to ask them to do.
But exotica are different. Usually when we drive them we are far, far away, in some sun-kissed land, on the roads of our dreams often with a race track laid on. I’m not asking anyone to feel sorry for me, but it is very difficult indeed to compute from such a rich stream of deliciously diverting data what daily life back home in filthy weather might look like. I am however able to shed just a little light on this because for the last couple of months I’ve had a new McLaren GT at my disposal. All £165,230, 620PS and 204mph of it.
I don’t intend to dwell on the performance aspect of the car because you’ve probably already figured out that it’s absurdly fast. But I will say that this is now the least powerful McLaren on sale and on a straight, level and dry road in December, it will trigger its traction control in fourth gear without any problem at all.
Nor am I going to bang on about its handling, because you will have guessed correctly that it’s superb. All I’d observe is that anyone who ever wondered about the merit of retaining old style hydraulic steering over the now near ubiquitous electric systems would wonder no more if they drove this. The GT’s steering, like that of all McLarens, is hydraulic and wildly better for it. I hope they keep it forever.
But what about the stuff you tend not to read about in the road tests? What’s it like to climb into at 5:00am on a cold and frosty morning? In the main, better than I had expected. On one occasion the driver’s door refused to open because it was iced up, but I just opened the passenger door, ran the engine for a couple of minutes and all was fine. Once on board warning chimes start pinging alarmingly telling you that all four tyres are flat which seems something of a coincidence, but if you dive into the sub-menu that gives actual tyre pressures, you can see their pressures are down a little only because it’s so cold, but they recover very quickly and are thereafter fine. I put that down to someone setting the warnings to come on too early rather than an inherent fault in the car’s software.
In other areas it’s unexpectedly brilliant. It clears its screens quicker than the aforementioned Golf (I know, I’ve got one), the traction systems are superb so it always feels incredibly sure footed on uncertain surfaces, the headlights are simply outstanding and if the heated seats were any hotter you’d have to wear asbestos pants. They do have a low setting too…
It’s also amazingly practical. McLaren likes to say it has more luggage space than a Ford Focus which, technically, it does, but it’s not as convenient, split between a deep boot in the nose and what you can squeeze under the wide, long but shallow area under the rear hatch. But by 200mph mid-engined supercar standards, it’s the best you can get. And I should mention the fuel consumption: if you cruise at the legal limit, it does 35mpg easily which is pretty impressive. Even at 80mph (in France of course) it does 30mpg.
But I’m still not sure it carries off that GT name with sufficient conviction. You are always aware of the gruff engine and you don’t emerge after a few hundred miles behind the wheel as if you’d just climbed aboard as you might in a more traditional GT like a Bentley Continental. But then it doesn’t drive like traditional GT either. To me it’s more of a conventional supercar, a car that’s good on the way to the great roads of Europe, but even better once you get there, and there’s nothing whatever wrong with that.
Like all cars, the McLaren GT is not without its flaws but to me the positives far outweigh the negatives. That a car can be this fast and that great to drive yet also prove so practical (at least for two) makes it a pretty wonderful beast. A daily driver then? If I had the money, I’d do it in a heartbeat.