Mercedes-Benz has AMG, BMW has M and Cadillac has V-Series. Surely McLaren of all companies has transcended this need for even sportier and more exclusive versions of already very sporty and exclusive cars? Evidently not, because its Longtail-treated models exist, the latest of which is the 2019 McLaren 600LT Spider.
And like the rest of the cars in the McLaren lineup, this one also makes you feel like a hero behind the wheel.
(Full Disclosure: McLaren wanted me to drive the 600LT Spider so badly that it flew me to Arizona, put me up in a great hotel, fed me a lot of food and rented out the Arizona Motorsports Park for a whole day for us to use.)
The 600LT Spider was clearly designed with the track in mind. Take just one look at its massive rear diffuser if you’re unsure. And damn, it does track marvelously while tickling your ego so much that you’re willing to forgive the other discomforts that are part of the packaged deal.
The 600LT Spider is the most recent McLaren to be Longtail-ified. Essentially, these McLaren models see an increase in horsepower, a decrease in weight and additional exclusivity. For more money, obviously.
The 600LT Spider is the convertible version of its 600LT Coupe brother, easily identifiable by the very awesome top-exit exhaust pipes (!) and marginally lengthened profile by 2.9 inches over the 570S. And because the carbon fiber monocoque chassis that underpins both models, called the MonoCell II, lacked roof beams in the first place, McLaren didn’t sacrifice stiffness when it pulled the top off the coupe.
There are some weight gains over the coupe, though: with a full tank of gas in both of them, the convertible is 105 pounds heavier. This, in part, is the result of the three-piece folding hard top roof and the necessary mechanisms to electronically raise and lower it.
But the most dramatic weight savings are over the 570S Spider. It trims nearly 200 pounds off the regular car with things like carbon fiber racing seats, those short top-exit exhausts, lighter suspension bits, a thinner windshield, lack of a glovebox or door pockets and air-conditioning delete.
On the rear of the car, you’ll find a fixed wing and quite possibly one of the biggest rear diffusers I have seen on a car “normal” people can buy.
From the 3.8-liter, twin-turbo V8 comes 600 metric horsepower (hence the car’s name) and 457 lb-ft of torque. McLaren also advertises 592 brake horsepower, because the Brits are fond of that spec. Zero to 60 mph happens in just 2.8 seconds. With the roof up, the 600LT Spider’s top speed is a claimed 201 mph; with the roof down, it’s 196 mph. And it’ll do a quarter-mile sprint in 10.5 seconds.
McLaren says the Spider weighs 3,099 pounds ready to go, with a full tank of gas. I guess that’s what an all-carbon fiber chassis will get you.
The car is fast. Do I even need to tell you this? You hit the throttle, let out your breath and you’re already in the triple digits. It’s effortless and far too easy.
But what’s especially great is the handling. The 600LT Spider uses a hydraulically assisted steering system, which makes turning the wheel heavier at low speeds and provides better feedback when you’re going fast. In a world that’s overrun by numb and feathery electronic assisted systems, the weight is welcome. It guides the Spider’s nose to laser-focused turn in, feeding information from the front wheels beautifully up into your hands.
McLaren did a great job keeping the wind buffeting and noise out of the cabin at high speeds, too. Cruising on the highway with the top down and the windows rolled up, I had no problem carrying on a conversation at normal speaking volume. My hair experienced some chaos, though that was to be expected.
Of course, with the top exit exhausts, you sit closer to where the noise comes out, which is something McLaren made damn sure you’re aware of. In Sport mode, there’s something called an Ignition Cut, where the system cuts the ignition spark during a shift, which results in a sensational crack! when you need to change gears. (According to McLaren, this increases the gear change speed too.)
So, because I am a child and I’d just been presented with a new toy, I was going to play with it.
On-ramp? Second gear, third gear, fourth gear. Crack! Crack! Crack!
Passing a semi? Seventh gear, sixth, fifth, fourth, third. Crack! Crack! Crack! Crack! Crack!
In Track Mode, the shifts are obviously faster, but they lack the drama. At least, they’re not as noisy. In Track the 600LT uses what McLaren calls “Inertia Push,” which “harnesses the built up kinetic energy to deliver an impulse of torque as the next gear is engaged,” and is supposed to make hard-charging super seamless.
In anything close to socially acceptable street driving you’re not going to need the extra boost. I’ll take the slower but more theatrical shifts, thanks.
Once you do get to a sanctioned race track, the feel of the 600LT Spider is nearly unbeatable. It’s heroically well-balanced and gives you the utmost confidence to push it further and further with each lap you take. It’s both light on its feet and able to hammer itself into corners with the force of a battering ram and come out without a scare. It is so good at sorting itself out—at making fast this easy—that you cannot help but trust it.
I certainly trusted the car more than I trusted myself. I started out cautiously, since I had never driven the 600LT Spider before and it didn’t belong to me. And we were on a track that I was wholly unfamiliar with. Luckily, though, AMP is a sprawling, 2.23-mile affair with plenty of wide open safety areas. There are four straights and 16 corners to memorize.
The McLaren didn’t engine-brake as much as I thought it would when I went to scrub speed for corner entry. But it’s not like I needed it much, as the brakes were more than enough to handle anything I put the car through. The additional added aero on the body worked beautifully with the stopping power of those aluminum calipers and carbon ceramic discs.
The monocoque chassis’s characteristics seem to come out the most under hard cornering. Because it’s all one piece, nothing felt like it was flexing or rolling or deforming in any way under the changing lateral forces. I’m sure that, plus all the clever, onboard stability aids in the car were working hard to save me from messing up too badly, but it also didn’t feel so scary that I would be too shy to toe around for its limits.
I never felt like I was going to run out of grip. The brakes never faded, even after continuous usage. The shifts came faster than coherent thoughts. Everything about the Spider, I soon realized, was so utterly competent that I didn’t need to think about them. The car removed all distractions so that I, the driver, could focus on my line instead—the only thing the car couldn’t control.
I am a far, far cry from being at the skill level of a professional driver, but behind the Alcantara-wrapped wheel of that 600LT Spider that day, it was easy to pretend. If only for one afternoon.
Barreling down a straight on a race track with your full-face helmet on and a friendly British racing instructor offering encouraging tips in your ear through a crackling mic, it’s easy to proclaim the 600LT Spider the greatest car in the whole damn world. Because for track use, it certainly seems close.
But take the helmet off and put the Spider in the real world, things start to shake loose a bit.
I understand that weight savings are the object of the LT game here, but with that weight went any sort of comfort at all. The molded carbon fiber seats, brilliant at holding me in place on the track, are incredibly uncomfortable for longer journeys when my full attention isn’t devoted to merely going fast.
I don’t think being five feet and three inches should disqualify me from being able to see out of cars, but it nearly did here. With the seat scooted up as far as it would go, I still had difficulty reaching the pedals fully. And with my back resting against the back rest, I was barely able to see over the instrument cluster. The driver’s seat is on rails, but there’s no raising or lowering it, as tested by me and confirmed by a McLaren rep. As for over-the-shoulder glances? Forget about it. The nice people at the track gave me a cushion to sit on during my track laps, though.
It seems like only certain people will be able to sit in the 600LT Spider and be able to drive it properly. Everyone else is either too short or so tall that they’re getting constantly buffeted in the forehead by wind.
Will those lucky Goldilocks drivers be comfortable while they drive it? Hard to say.
McLaren didn’t specify exactly how many examples of the 600LT Spider it’s building, but they start at $256,500. That’s at least $60,000 more than the 570S Spider for less car overall with marginally increased power. The 570 is already quite good, so taking away from it almost doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.
If you live near a race track and have plans to regularly thrash your 600LT Spider, then I’d say go for it. That’s what the car was designed to do. But if you just want it because it’s expensive and exclusive and you’re only going to use it to get to your dental appointments, then I’d suggest to look elsewhere. You’d just be wasting it.