There is a reason the term “daily-driver sports car” exists. That’s because typically, purpose-built performance cars suffer from an inherent lack of usability: they’re noisy, uncomfortable, and they require immaculate driving conditions. Plus, they often lack the accessories we’ve grown accustomed to, and when they’re included, they’re usually substandard.
It may seem like small concessions for the chance to drive a top performance vehicle, but try spending over $200,000 on a car that makes you miserable half the time. Thanks to improvements in technology and manufacturing, the line between sport and luxury is more blurred than ever.
Making fun cars more accessible is a good thing, but they should at least feel different from your daily commute. Few modern sports cars stand out better than those from McLaren Automotive, so much so that I was a bit concerned that its latest vehicle, the McLaren GT, would lose those special characteristics by making the car more accommodating. While some rough edges have been smoothed out, for better or worse, the luxury overhaul has been a little overdone, but the signature McLaren charm remains.
Nuts and bolts
The McLaren GT is a mid-engined, rear-wheel-drive two-seater that acts as the entry-level model from McLaren Automotive. It’s powered by a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8, a variant of the engine found in other models in the lineup with smaller turbochargers. This iteration reduces total power output, but delivers lower power in the rev band, making peak power more accessible sooner. It generates 612 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque that are routed to the rear wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.
With the help of launch control, the McLaren GT can sprint from 0-60 in 3.1 seconds and can top out at 203 mph.
As with all McLaren cars, the GT is built on a carbon fiber chassis which contributes to its light curb weight of 3,384 pounds. It is also equipped with electro-hydraulic steering, which goes a long way in providing a distinct driving feel. It’s all based on an adaptive damping system and 20-inch front wheels and 21-inch rears.
As a GT, this McLaren is meant for extended journeys and so its defining feature is the 14.8 cubic feet of storage space that sits behind the driver and above the mid-engine.
It also includes an Active Dynamics Panel that allows drivers to personalize the car’s behavior, a 1,200-watt Bowers & Wilkins sound system and the latest iteration of McLaren’s bespoke infotainment system. It’s the heart of the McLaren GT’s user interface and sits in a 7-inch touchscreen in the center of the dashboard. As well as entertainment features, it pairs with mobile devices via Bluetooth, provides access to a handful of car settings like ambient lighting and has satellite navigation powered by HERE.
This screen is supported by a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster behind the steering wheel. Some of the above information is transmitted to this screen, such as turn-by-turn instructions, although its main function is to provide immediate feedback on the behavior of the car. The typical speedometer and tachometer are of course present, but there are also tire pressure displays and other status indicators. This screen reconfigures itself based on the riding mode to better position the most vital information in a track or dynamic setting.
The big mission statement of the McLaren GT is that it strikes a better balance between the driving dynamics McLarens are known for and creature comforts. Each sports car manufacturer tackles this particular dish with its own recipe and, for its part, McLaren Automotive emphasizes performance and ease of use. The McLaren GT is supposed to be its most accessible car to date, but thankfully the added dose of refinement doesn’t overpower the distinct McLaren umami underneath.
Slipping under the dihedral doors and into the GT reveals a highly performance-oriented cabin. Two ergonomic seats are separated by a very small armrest and the sparse cabin is dominated by a leather and steel steering wheel flanked by two paddle shifters on the steering wheel. Behind that is the aforementioned 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster which can be accessed by one of the few stalks protruding from the steering column. The 7-inch touchscreen sits above the active dynamics panel and drive-select buttons while Bowers & Wilkins speakers stare at you from the doors like a hawk’s eye.
All of this is the first indication that the McLaren GT isn’t going to stray too far from its sports car roots: that cabin is almost identical to that of the 570S. Naturally, there are minor differences, including additional sonic baffles. But you could go from car to car and have trouble spotting them.
Next is the feel of how the car is purpose built. All the luxurious touches can’t hide the fact that you’re sitting in the carbon fiber single cell of a race-ready vehicle.
The McLaren GT is not silent. Once the twin-turbo V8 fires up, it’s your soundtrack for the ride, Bowers & Wilkins be damned. From now on, the McLaren GT requires the driver to be focused on the act of driving, because none of the half-witted lollygagging we’re used to in everyday traffic will fly. Steering feedback is ample, the brakes require heavy footing, and the athletic-looking sports car’s hips obscure much of the rearward visibility.
When allowed to gallop, the GT is enthusiastic with its acceleration and the feel between all the systems working to keep the McLaren on track is palpable. Its electro-hydraulic steering communicates road surface conditions smoothly, and its weight gives drivers something substantial to embrace. This combo system feels more responsive to the all-electronic power steering we’re used to, it’s meatier and heavier, but mechanically, not with simple pre-programmed motorized resistance. The same goes for the suspension and active dampers, as it’s easy to feel every element of the McLaren GT doing its job.
How it performs its task is also determined by the active dynamics settings. Two buttons for handling and power each have three settings, Normal, Sport and Track. Normal is the tameest setting, keeping the car as comfortable as possible with all the usual driving aids and the most tame engine. Sport makes the car’s overall handling a bit more aggressive and loosens up some of the stability control, and it also increases throttle response, as well as the transmission’s affinity for lower gears. The track is the McLaren’s most aggressive setting: Handling? Rigid. Traction control? Stopped. Engine and transmission? Frantic.
One of the McLaren GT’s most wonderful attributes and one that it shares with its super sibling the 570S, there’s very little electronic handling. This lack of a computerized safety net demands a greater application of driver skill and therefore makes sharp maneuvers very rewarding, just as skids are nerve-wracking. Think of the experience as somewhere between a Lotus Evora and the Audi R8 V10.
Live La Vida Macca
As exciting as it is to live life on the razor’s edge with the McLaren GT, the in-betweens succumb to the usual supercar unfriendliness. A series of parking sensors and a rear-view camera make positioning the precious GT much easier, as does a push-button nose-lift feature, which is a huge relief.
This alleviates some of the usual everyday sports car frustrations, but the real heart of the GT’s problems lies in the on-board interface.
As good as the car’s mechanics are, its in-house developed operating system is a particularly glaring weak point. McLaren knows this. Frankly, it was worse before.
The ‘Infotainment System II’ powered by a 10-core processor is faster and more responsive than units found in previous McLaren vehicles. Familiar swipes and pinch-and-zoom functions make it easy to use the touchpad, though finding the menu you want is another matter. More often than not, it will need a co-driver on the passenger side to give it the necessary attention or the driver to pull off the road to sort things out. It can be something as simple as trying to select a music input source, but it’s more frustrating when it comes to navigation.
Despite the upgrade, the built-in system still feels much less intuitive and limited by today’s standards. Type in the address and if it finds it, there are a limited number of routes to choose from, alternatives if any. Deviate from the route and he will stubbornly insist that you find your way back long before he decides to reorient himself. There were also instances where inaccurate road data was pushed to us, prompting us to turn onto roads that weren’t there, or sometimes not recognizing which ones were.
Since the GT isn’t compatible with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, drivers are out of luck when it comes to alternative navigation systems like Google Maps or Waze. Indeed, the size and orientation of the heavily beveled touchscreen mirrors that of a smartphone, and there were plenty of times we wished we could just suction our own phone onto it just to find our way home.
That doesn’t bode well for a car meant for long road trips, and the 14.8 cubic feet of storage space doesn’t work as expected. The extra space at the top of the engine means anything placed on top of it gets a lot of heat. It’s great for a few pairs of skis, but not so great for goods such as electronics.
The McLaren GT is a true sports car and none of its idle or mild tuning appointments take away from that. In fact, arguably, they don’t go far enough to substantially differentiate this car from others in the lineup or to live up to its Grand Tourer moniker. This is certainly the case when it comes to its technology.
McLaren could have kept everything mechanically the same as its sister cars and the GT could have stood out with a more robust and user-friendly road-oriented interface, easier-to-use maps, larger screens for easier access and rear view cameras. 360-degree parking, and more modern compatibility with mobile devices, to name a few features we wish we had. As it stands, the $205,000 McLaren GT is a true entry-level sports car that sticks to the classics.
It offers a full experience, but in terms of technology it’s a side step.