McLaren GT vs. 720S

13th January 2022
Ethan Jupp

McLaren often faces criticism about the modularity of its range of cars. It’s often asked, is one any different from the other, or the next? The reason being in its ten years, each of McLaren’s cars, be they series production or limited-run, ‘Ultimate’, ‘LT’, ‘Super’ or ‘Sports’ has built outwards from the same fundamental formula: a carbon tub, dihedral doors, a twin-turbo flat-plane crank V8 and a dual-clutch transmission putting power to the rear wheels.


Of course, distinguishing many of these are the aerodynamic platforms, suspension systems and indeed hybridisation. Beyond the stated anchor points, the likes of a P1 and a 570S are chalk and cheese in terms of respective performance, capabilities and the experience generated therein. But what about the McLarens that a prospective buyer is faced with when they walk in a showroom in 2022? From GT to 720S, in spite of the brochure jargon and media furore, are they much of a muchness? You only find out by driving them back-to-back. So that’s what we did, in less than favourable conditions.

The venue was a drizzly Millbrook proving ground, a backdrop that had McLaren Orange and Volcano Yellow hues glowing like buoys to a storm-weary sailor. Not the ideal conditions for exercising mid-engined machinery with upwards of 600PS and 700PS to its limits but perhaps a catalyst to better-understanding what distinguishes McLaren’s GT from its supercars. Here’s what we found.


The GT is an entry-level McLaren… and that’s okay

You have to experience the fury of the 720S (more on that in a bit) to truly understand the GT and its place in the McLaren line-up. A cynic might wonder what the point of it is at all. All became clear as we opened it up around Millbrook. The supercar ingredients are softened for what is a fabulous way to get into these sorts of cars. The smaller turbos and lower 620PS (456kW) output is infinitely more deployable, even in what were terrible conditions.

Ferrari is unashamed of the Portofino and Roma’s places in its line-up as introductory models, so too should McLaren be of the GT. The open airy cabin eases your nerves, as does the familiarity of the fixed aero and suspension systems. Yet the character of the 4.0-litre V8 sat just behind you remains, as does the theatre of the carbon platform and silly doors. McLaren toots the GT’s horn as the lightest and fastest in the Grand Tourer class it’s claimed to occupy. We’d argue it should be as vocal, if not more so, of its ability to give the uninitiated an exciting as it is a warm and unintimidating welcome into the supercar world. A car of two characters it may be, a jack of both trades and a master of neither it might be too, but to understand the GT is to get that absolute dedication to one cause was never the intention.


The 720S is a soup-to-nuts supercar…

By contrast, the relative civility of the GT brings into sharp focus the uncompromising nature of the 720S. That then in turn cements a favourable view of the GT. Things are altogether more serious in the 720S, especially in the grey drizzle of the real world. The door feels more of a reach to pull shut, you’re more enclosed once it’s down and the engine resonates more. A much more traditional supercar character is previewed before you’re even moving.

Once you are going, the weight of the steering appears to indicate fatter tyres extended further away from the car’s centre. There’s a more kart-like feel. Then you notice the sophisticated feel of the hydraulic suspension system. Novel if you’re anticipating it, perhaps intimidating to a supercar newcomer. The boom of the twin-turbo V8 is broader even in the lower revs, hinting at the circa-100PS surplus the 720S wields over the GT.


… and it’s all you could possibly need

The 720’s hydraulic suspension isolates you from the cambers, ruts and bumps of the sprawling alpine route. The available grip is prodigious, once you get the tyres a bit toastier and nail your lines. Yet with all the confidence you build, the fear looms of a throttle pedal you’ve barely explored one third the travel of. There’s nothing about the limits of this car any owner should ever see on the public highway, which brings me to a curious trend about these cars.

With every generation, it seems they build the standard variant not from the achievements of its direct predecessor but the extreme run-out model. The 720S doesn’t feel like a 650S successor, it feels like a 675LT successor – a car more honest about its extreme nature. The 720 genuinely makes you wonder what you’d really gain from an LT. If it’s about the driving and not having the new thing, it could be all the supercar anyone could ever need…


Less is more in the ‘real world’

And if we’re being honest, probably a bit too much supercar. Getting into the power on a straight the GT is by comparison a night and day difference, even after a further half an hour of rainfall after driving the 720S on the same stretch and with both cars in similar adaptive dynamics settings. The 720’s rear end spools as if it were a standing launch, even up in fifth with very little pedal extension. The GT flutters and tramps in third but with a slight ease, hooks up ready to go again.

By virtue of being able to extend the GT more, even without the hydraulic proactive chassis control, it offered more of a thrill more of the time on that day. What was perhaps most telling was listening to my accompanying pro driver trying to navigate espousing the virtue of the GT’s accessibility, without coming off negative about the 720.


From very similar ingredients come distinct models

No, this isn’t a back to back test to see which is ‘better’. It’s about really understanding the core McLaren range and what the point of it all is beyond the polar opposite worlds of magazine group tests and like-grab Instagram posts. Wizened old-guard helmsman journalists with calloused palms and an air miles tally longer than my phone number will tell you the GT is soft. Influencers will complain that its smooth inoffensive looks don’t pop in an “I bought a new car!!!” YouTube thumbnail. For me, it joins past lower-powered models as a McLaren that I truly get.

Of course, the 720S is and always has been an incredible world-beating car. Even now, a full five years on from its debut – yes really – it feels razor-sharp and relevant and it would knock seven bells out of the GT on track or even up a crisp dry Alp. But on a drizzly day at Milbrook, it came on just a little too strong.

So yes, while comments section cynics will decry a range of McLarens cut from similar cloth, each by our reckoning brings a distinct character and wild variations in accessibility to what these sorts of cars are all about. The GT, or something like it in the range, is entirely relevant to people who are actually considering buying these things. And the 720S? Now, as when fresh in 2017, it begs the question of what the point is of hypercars anymore.

A McLaren dealer is like a Nandos. You’re getting South African-style chicken, but how much you spend and how spicy it’ll be is entirely up to you. How, we wonder, will the all-new V6-engined Artura shake things up? We hope to be telling you soon…

  • McLaren

  • GT

  • 720S

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