2021 McLaren 720S review: A sublime supercar


Yeah, there’s not a lot of subtlety here.

Andrew Krok/Roadshow

If you’re going to specialize in one thing, it’d better be damn good. McLaren builds just one type of vehicle: the two-seat supercar. So it’s no surprise that this high-dollar, high-style 720S is positively impressive, offering immense capability in more ways than you might expect.  

LikeBonkers performanceBonkers stylingBonkers everything

Don’t LikeMiddling infotainmentWeird brake pedal feelNo smartphone mirroring

Subtlety is about the only thing the McLaren 720S has no desire to master. This thing looks like it came straight out of the government’s UFO report. Every inch of its bodywork is engineered for slicing through the air, which means there are oodles of smooth curves that channel air where it’s needed, whether it’s into the radiators under the headlights, the radiators behind the doors (there are a lot of radiators) or the massive airbrake that deploys under heavy deceleration. The rear end is pure engineering aggression, with high-mounted tailpipes and a lower fascia that provides a near-unencumbered view of the rear axle hardware.

The McLaren’s interior does away with most fripperies, leaving only the relevant bits. On my Performance-trimmed tester, a liberal amount of suede plays well against the smattering of Nappa leather on the dashboard, doors and center console. If you’re not a fan of the soft stuff, the Luxury trim swaps it out in favor of an all-leather getup. But no matter the equipment, the 720S’ cabin is a great little space, offering an impressive amount of visibility in all directions. The seats are comfortable and supportive, with my example going above and beyond by way of optional heated electric chairs ($3,510).

There’s a decent amount of practicality inside the 720S, too — for what it is, at least. Two small cup holders in the center console let you bring a Red Bull along for the ride, while a tray under the infotainment system is great for phones or masks. Pop open the center armrest and there are two USB-A ports and room for a small purse. There’s a decent parcel shelf behind the seats and the frunk is just large enough to accommodate an 8-cup food processor from Target, but a 12- or 13-cupper might be a bit too tall.

From a performance standpoint, the 720S is an absolute beast. With 710 horsepower and 568 pound-feet of torque at my disposal, it’s obvious from the first flat-footed acceleration that I can only get the most out of this car at the track; it’s simply too dang quick in spirited backroad driving, catapulting me well past the speed limit with very little issue. Acceleration is brutal and the V8 only seems to push harder as the revs climb, turbos whistling and exhaust pipes screaming ever louder as the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission rattles off shifts with impressive haste. If your passenger is not used to this kind of performance, it’ll probably scare them. Hell, if you aren’t used to it, it will probably scare you, too.

Handling is, for lack of a better word, supernatural. The steering is wonderful, relying on an electro-hydraulic setup that sends tons of feedback to my hands. It’s direct without feeling twitchy, giving me plenty of confidence when driving harder than usual. The complicated hydraulic suspension allows McLaren to forego traditional sway bars, but handling is flat at all times, keeping all four wheels glued to whatever surface is underfoot. That’s aided by loads of aerodynamics, as air channeled over the body adds downforce, which only gets stronger when the active spoiler out back gets to work. Throw in a set of Pirelli P-Zero summer tires (235/45ZR19 front, 305/30ZR20 rear) and traction is hardly ever an issue.

And that’s with the 720S in its default Comfort mode, which I find more than suitable for just about every moment on public roads. The powertrain and hydraulics can be configured individually in Comfort, Sport or Track modes, but only after you hit the Active button on the center console. Putting the powertrain in Sport boosts throttle response and hastens the cog-swapping to the point where it gets a little uncomfortable when tooling around. Fiddling with the hydraulics dial stiffens the suspension, prioritizing outright performance over any semblance of comfort. Track settings and adjustable levels of traction control are available, but I really wouldn’t put these to use outside of an actual track.

If you think McLaren’s cult-like obsession with performance comes with a litany of public-road drawbacks, think again. The 720S is one of the smoothest supercars I’ve had the pleasure of piloting. Sure, it’s still stiff, but it’s never truly uncomfortable, despite possessing the ride height of a Tech Deck fingerboard. The V8 is happy to putter along under 3,000 rpm and the soundtrack remains second to none. Excellent visibility keeps me aware of all the Yukons and Navigators towering over me, although hard braking will block my rearward view as that honkin’ airbrake pops up.

If you’ve ever wanted to know what it feels like to drive a fireworks factory around town, the optional sports exhaust gives you a pretty good idea.

Andrew Krok/Roadshow

Speaking of brakes, that’s the one part of the 720S driving experience that I’d call imperfect. The pedal has a fair amount of dead zone in the initial throw, requiring a surprisingly leaden foot to keep the car stopped at traffic lights or shift out of Neutral. Once the calipers start to bite down, that softness permits a decent amount of modulation and in spirited driving, it will bring the whole shebang to a halt in a hurry.

As for fuel economy, the 720S has some. The EPA rates it at 15 mpg city and 22 mpg highway, but if you’re buying a $300,000 car, you probably don’t care. The distance-to-empty calculator changes quickly based on driving style and it’s always pretty funny to see the car estimating just 45 miles of remaining range with a half-tank of gas after giving ‘er the ol’ what-for.

Like so many other supercars, the McLaren 720S doesn’t put a whole bunch of effort into its infotainment. The 7-inch screen on the dashboard offers up Bluetooth connectivity, an OK navigation system with vintage TomTom graphics and SiriusXM satellite radio — and I recommend the $4,420 12-speaker Bowers and Wilkins upgrade over the standard four-speaker getup if you like a little music alongside the V8 soundtrack. The lack of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is frustrating, especially since both Ferrari and Lamborghini offer it. The digital gauge cluster has some cool graphics and does a good job prioritizing what drivers will need to know, while those who prefer a more distilled experience can push a button, pivoting the screen downward to show a thin display strip that focuses on revs, gears and road speed.

Ferrari may charge ungodly sums for Apple CarPlay, which Apple doesn’t charge automakers to incorporate, but at least it’s an option over there.

Andrew Krok/Roadshow

The plethora of active safety systems you see on other cars isn’t available in the 720S. For $3,100, you can add 360-degree parking sensors and cameras, which definitely come in handy during around-town use, but that’s it. No automatic braking, no adaptive cruise, no lane-keep assist. Just you, your feet, two pedals and (hopefully) a whole lot of spatial awareness.

The 2021 McLaren 720S is a costly thing, starting at $303,650 including a nearly-criminal $4,650 destination charge and it only keeps rising from there. Did you like that Ceramic Grey paint job? Cool, that’ll be $9,400. The Performance trim adds $5,840 to the bottom line. Throw in a half-dozen other expensive options and my tester rings in at $343,190.

At this price point, there’s pretty much nothing a person can’t buy and the 720S’ competitive set is rife with household names like Ferrari and Lamborghini. They are all powerful statements and they are all hoots to drive. If it were my choice, though, I’d go with the McLaren. Whether we’re discussing performance or daily usability, the 720S impresses with every push of the start button.



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