With its $210,000 GT, McLaren Bears Down on Bentley
(Bloomberg) -- With the 2020 McLaren GT, you could say McLaren is taking on Bentley.
Sure, one of them makes bone-light track cars that howl, and one makes stately chariots for tycoons and heads of state. But stick with me.
I witnessed this shift last week in New York, when I showed up at the Classic Car Club one morning to take one of these rather spacious-for-a-sports-car V8 coupes for the day. Jo Lewis, McLaren’s senior color and materials designer, described the $210,000 grand tourer as “opulent” during a private presentation just minutes before I drove it.
An “opulent” grand tourer that costs more than $200,000? That’s Bentley’s terrain, for sure. The bastion of British automaking makes the best in the world, as far as I’m concerned: the Bentley Continental GT.
For McLaren, this is untested ground.
Since the first street-legal, production-ready McLaren—the MP4-12C that debuted in 2011—McLaren’s cars have ben laboratory-precise and track-focused, made in rural England by salt-of-the-earth builders and Formula 1-trained engineers. They’re low and lean, even stark when it comes to creature comforts. That’s by design.
But the GT represents an entirely new segment offered by the 34-year-old company, that of the grand touring machine. Where Bentley Continental GT, Aston Martin DB11, and Ferrari GTC4Lusso and Superfast have played for years, McLaren now makes an entrance.
Something New From Woking
The car does feel rich.
With new, double hand-stitched cashmere seating options and a beautiful array of perforated, soft calf hides tanned in Scotland, the interior feels thoughtful, like a beautiful designer chair that makes you gasp when you see the price tag. The luggage bay stretches for what feels like half the length of the car’s interior. It’s covered in a special woven material McLaren calls “SuperFabric,” resistant to tears, stains, and moisture, and drenched in sunlight, thanks to a special glass roof that can switch between opaque and transparent with the slide of a finger across a small screen on the ceiling. The electrochromatic technology works by passing an electrical charge through the panel, aligning the particles within. When the car is off, it reverts to opaque.
A brief background, to put into perspective what this car must do: The McLaren GT is the latest embodiment of McLaren’s plan to spend £1.2 billion ($1.58 billion) on design and research by 2024, resulting in a whopping 18 new models or model variants created by then. The GT is the fourth to arrive since McLaren announced the news in 2018. It will be the prime mover to pushing the company to 6,000 units sold annually by 2024, aimed at attracting new buyers to the brand, including the type of “lifestyle” consumer who might be influenced by, well, influencers. Last year, for reference, McLaren sold just under 5,000 cars worldwide.
I drove one the color of springtime moss around Manhattan. It felt pleasingly different from its leaner siblings the 600LT, most noticeably in the interior quality of the cabin, in the ski bag-ready space of the trunk, and in the anxiety-abating clearance afforded under the chassis—using the push-button lift system, the GT lifts its front nose to reveal as much clearance as a Mercedes C Class and a DB11.
Its 4.0-liter V8 mid-engine gets 612 bhp, with 18 mpg in combined fuel efficiency. It can get to 60 mph in 3.1 seconds, with a top speed of 203 mph. This falls a nearly imperceptible hair under the numbers we see in the 720S, but I liked this car much better—and not just because it’s the McLaren with the most class.
Here’s why: My reviews of McLarens over the years have alluded to their well-documented, thrilling driving nature—and their sometimes lackluster entertainment systems or poorly assembled fit and finish. More often than not, McLarens are stressful to drive in any sort of dense urban environment; with one small error, pot holes, curbs, construction, and even speed bumps can spell five-figure repairs.
But as I drove the GT down Manhattan’s West Side Highway, through the intense traffic and construction congestion of Soho, and down Tribeca’s cobblestone alleys, I detected none of that car anxiety inside my chest. This cultured beast proved solidly built, well-balanced at speed, quiet inside, and even accommodating when dealing with the accoutrements of daily life (coffee cups, USB cords, multiple cell phones, purses, hats, gloves, and other assorted paraphernalia of winter cold). The interior dials and gearbox selector are machined in cool aluminum; the elongated gearshift paddles come with a pleasantly knurled metallic finish on the back where my fingers hit. That these comforts augment the already powerful drive and exceptionally nimble performance of the car is like getting a fat Christmas bonus: job done, and then some.
McLaren has gone so far as to add mood lighting with its first-ever application of soft illumination inside a cabin; chrome trim highlights around the doors and passenger-side dash appear to be solid metallic but glow with a distinct pattern of soft pastel hues when the car starts. You can even buy a handsome set of bespoke luggage ($2,300 for the garment case and up to $6,800 for the golf bag) to match and fit into your car. None of this would have been seen in a McLaren car even two years ago.
I’m also happy to report that McLaren continues to make real improvements in its infotainment setups with every introduction of a new vehicle; the GT comes with a system that works five times faster than that of the one used in any previous McLaren Sports Series models. It’s still oriented vertically, with a seven-inch touchscreen, but it works with fewer kinks in the fabric, if you will. Real-time traffic information and an updated mapping system are new here as well, all the better for cosseting yourself in this gilded, little cocoon.
It all makes for a thoughtful, well-executed setup inside a car that still screams when it needs to. Does the McLaren GT push the Bentley Continental GT from its top spot? No. It’s still at heart a racer, with too-narrow footwells and a lighter feel to the touch and driving personality than the confidence-inspiring Bentley, a car that is truly opulent in the most refined way. The McLaren GT still lacks many of the trappings of luxury, safety, and comfort that the Bentley provides; it doesn’t even have ventilated seats. I doubt there will be much cross-shopping between it and the Bentley.
It is also true that both of these cars are exceptional, and Bentley’s excellence in no way dims what we can see as a rising star in the GT world. The McLaren GT is a beautiful touring car that will delight its owners at every turn along the road—no matter how long the trip.
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