There are some experiences of such intense beauty that they can cause your brain to short-circuit a little. Whipping the 2020 McLaren GT on an empty mountain road in the south of France, turning a sharp corner only to be immediately faced with a monolithic column of rock was definitely one of those moments. I heard a pop. Some important connection fizzled out. I may never be the same again.
(Full Disclosure: McLaren flew me out to Nice, France, choppered me to a nice hotel in St. Tropez, fed me, and handed me the keys to a fully gassed-up Mclaren GT. I drove through the manufacturer’s planned route to another very nice hotel by the beach in Cannes.)
McLaren calls the GT a “continent crosser,” though I’m pretty sure it’ll be hard to find any examples on the road in flyover country. If you do find yourself in the blessed position of requiring something fun and smooth for your drive from your airy apartment in Nice, France to your equally rich friend’s villa in Cannes, then you’d have quite a pleasant cruiser indeed. It’s certainly easier and much more fun than all that mucking about at a hanger, waiting for your personal jet to be fueled up, finding the pilot and sobering him up, and on and on.
This was the drive McLaren programmed for my companion and I to experience what the GT has to offer. The route wound through lush alpine valleys, up white granite cliff faces and into quaint small villages with economies seemingly based on dairy. The idea was for us to drive the GT in its natural habitat as a long-haul performance car extraordinaire. It was that, and then some.
The McLaren GT is McLaren’s first committed entrance into grand touring, as opposed to hardcore performance (like the 675LT), or super sports cars you can hypothetically daily drive (like the 720S). But it quite possibly won’t be the last McLaren made for long hauls. McLaren sees Grand Touring as a whole new segment for the company, similar to the Super Series, Sport Series or Ultimate Series, all of which have multiple models under their banner.
The GT comes in three trims: Standard, Pioneer and Lux, each with the same engine and transmission, but slightly different interiors and the option for a sports exhaust system for drivers who really want to hear that V8 sing. The car is highly customizable though, with thousands of possible combinations and custom options to consider. Prices start at $210,000 with a $3,195 delivery fee.
While McLaren says the GT is two-thirds completely new, a lot of the remaining inspiration came from the company’s hypercar, the Speedtail. At just over 15 feet long and 3,373 pounds portly, it’s similarly long and lightweight, like the Speedtail. But with a 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 creating “only” 612 horsepower and 465 lb-ft of torque, the GT is not as intimidating a machine to drive as its 1,000 HP inspiration. This is a car built with accessibility in mind, after all. And honestly, for a lovely Sunday drive, that’s plenty of ponies, though don’t go thinking the GT is a slouch.
McLaren claims the GT can hit 62 mph in just 3.2 seconds with a top speed of 203 mph. The 4.0-liter engine is connected to a 7-speed SSG transmission, and I can confirm the engine was very quick to grab on to the higher gears to really get going. That first “S” in SSG stands for seamless, and it feels it, if you’re curious.
The engine sits low behind the driver, as there are no back seats, and it’s a positioning that allows the GT to not only cram the cockpit with that delicious turbo whine and low-growl engine sounds but also allow for some real, usable storage space—20.1 cubic feet, in fact.
The McLaren team showed us the trunk in this mid-engined vehicle could fit a set of golf clubs or even skis, but my driving partner and I only had a backpack and shoulder bag to test it out, which also managed to fit in nicely. And the frunk can easily fit a small carry-on bag.
The storage compartment is kept cool despite sitting directly over the engine thanks to the two large vents feeding on either side of the GT. These vents feed the engine all the O2 it needs to achieve glorious combustion, as well as providing a layer of cooling air to the luggage compartment and providing downforce for the car.
Official fuel economy stats are 15 mpg city, and 22 highway for 18 combined driving. This means the GT does not qualify for the gas guzzler tax, though if you’re buying this car to save on gas or money, you may need to reexamine your priories a little. As for what we saw, my notes say 19.6 mpg for the trip.
First off, the exterior. It’s a softened version of the McLaren design language we’ve seen on the company’s other extreme sports cars, though it keeps the teardrop shape of the cockpit of the car once again hearkening back to the Speedtail, with a full-length glazed glass rear tailgate that I love.
It’s useful while still looking badass. That and it lets a lot of light into the car. To keep the nose looking pretty in all types of driving, the GT sits 4.3 inches off the ground, which is similar to a Mercedes-Benz C-Class or Aston Martin DB11. This was very useful as I navigated unforgiving French speed bumps.
The GT comes with three drive modes, two of which we were allowed to try: Comfort and Sport, and one our handlers wisely forbade us from using. That would be the shiny, candy-like switch for Track Mode. I figured it’s pretty goddamn dumb to not follow the rules when handling a beautiful and expensive car that is not yours. As such, Track Mode and its alluring companion, Launch Control, remained a mystery for this drive.
I did, however, find it easy to switch back and forth between Comfort and Sport often as I slowed down for villages and slow-moving ’80s Volkswagens. Comfort Mode allows for much easier braking and smoother take-off from a full stop while Sport really lets you connect with the car. Sport made the GT an extension of myself, something that happens when you’re behind the wheel of a really good machine. It allowed me to confidently throw it into the curves and switchbacks of rural France.
I can’t imagine what Track mode would be like. Would the GT and I fully merge our souls into one? I may never know, but I’d like to try.
Sport had the added benefit of quickening gear changes and opening up McLaren’s new exhaust system’s active valves as well. When you hit the gas hard, valves in the exhaust system open wider, turning a civilized sounding engine into something fierce. The turbo whine, mixed with smooth acceleration and ride of the car fully opened up while blasting through a mountain tunnel battered my mind’s already fractured state. It was all so achingly beautiful.
McLaren’s new Proactive Damping Control suspension system made the drive so smooth and easy I could have happily spent many more hours behind the wheel.
Inside is a simply designed center console, with those lovely mode switches that allow the driver to choose Comfort, Sport and Track modes for both the engine and suspension. The infotainment system is a small, well-integrated touchscreen with a much simpler, quicker and easier-to-use software than the last McLaren I was in three years ago. (It was a 720S, if you’re wondering.) The company claims the new system is five times faster than the previous system, and it’s not hard to imagine that that is true. The seats are cushy, coated in soft leather and everything you’d expect from a supercar company aiming for road trip usability.
While the infotainment may have been a huge improvement over previous McLaren systems, ours froze after all-day use about a mile and a half from our destination in Cannes. Stressful, considering we were in a crowded and unfamiliar city, however, the McLaren folks tell me that the system is still awaiting updates before the car officially hits the market, so it was probably a momentary blip, but a blip worth mentioning.
And while the company says the visibility is excellent and describes the cabin as light and airy, it’s about what you expect from a supercar—still pretty darn difficult to see out of, especially if you are on the shorter side. Even with the beautiful, full-length glazed glass tailgate, the cabin is still a tad dark. Those lucky enough to buy a GT will have the option to have a sunroof added, and the car certain felt like it needed one. What’s a pleasure cruise without a few rays after all?
In a video before the drive, McLaren showed a sharply dressed woman perfectly alighting out of the GT while wearing three-inch heels. That... did not happen on our drive.
Even wearing sensible lady journalist flats, getting in and out of the thing is a bit of a challenge. I found a sort of exhausted flop into the seat was the best was to enter the car, like a trust fall with supple seats catching you. Getting out of the car is best achieved by mimicking an alligator’s death roll. Doing all that in heels and fancy dress would not make for an elegant picture of refinement.
And while there certainly may be room for a golf bag, or a few sets of ski boots, there really isn’t room for all the baggage you’d need to take this car on a proper drive across nations, unless you have your assistant follow you in a chase car with your bags, or are just bouncing from property to property. Let’s just say, the way you and I road trip is most likely very different from how the rich road trip. There’s was hardly any place to put gas station snacks or half-finished Sodoku books.
Trying new things can be scary, you never know what’s going to work and what’s going to make you fall flat on your face. To me, the GT works, not because of its mild amount of storage space or comfortable ride, but because it connects with me on an emotional level—there were thrills and chills but very few opportunities for spills. Like when I turned that corner and gasped in awe at the building-size boulder. It was hanging in air the way stones don’t just off the side of the road. It was on the other side of the canyon, but it was so close to the road and so unexpected it was like it was in the middle, seemingly right in front of me. My co-driver and I both gasped and I slowed down to like 25. This, an experience guided with the comforting hand of McLaren, is not found within the confines of a private jet.