Review: 2020 McLaren GT -- The Hardcore Enthusiast's Grand Tourer

By Peter Nelson

December 10, 2020

All photos by Peter Nelson

 

 

During these bizarre, modern times we live in, the overall popular way for high-end sports/super car brands to appeal to a wider share of the market is to hop on the SUV bandwagon and offer their very own high-performance machine on stilts (or, one that shares a platform with other established SUVs). We use the word bizarre, because just ten years ago it would’ve sounded utterly ridiculous that Lamborghini and soon Ferrari would sell an SUV. For now, we’re ok with this strategy as it packs the coffers and allows high-end sports car manufacturers to then throw plenty of money at more fun things, like racing programs.

 

This method has been generally popular, though not everyone has signed on.

 

McLaren’s strategy to appeal to a bigger piece of the pie for the past year has been to instead offer their own version of a comfortable grand tourer, which they’ve aptly named the GT. Their formula: develop something that’s more usable day-to-day, as well as more roadtrip-friendly and has above-average cargo room for its segment, that possesses the same DNA as the rest of their lineup in both styling and equipment. It shares a lot of the same underpinnings as the 570S, though features a detuned version of the 720S’ powerplant.

 

This strategy appeals to us, so we were quite excited when our McLaren rep recently offered us one for a long weekend. Not to give too much away just yet, but the term grand tourer is a bit a stretch, though in a good way.

 

Here’s how it all went. Thanks very much to McLaren USA for lending us this beautiful Amaranth Red tester for our review. Pricing for the 2020 McLaren GT starts at $210,000. After a myriad of options, our tester’s price post-delivery worked out to $280,490. Not cheap in any sense of the word, though the specs are very impressive.

 

 


 

Engine and Transmission

 

Positives: Awesome power with accompanying beautiful engine and turbo sounds, thrilling shifts

Negatives: None

 

Under the rear cargo area lives the Woking manufacturer’s M840TE 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8. Producing 612 horsepower and 465 lb-ft of torque, this powerplant helps the athletic, 3,373 lb GT reach 60 MPH in just 3 seconds, and can double that speed in an additional 6. With a flat-plane crank, all-aluminum design, low-inertia turbos and high compression ratio, this engine is an absolute screamer, and the fastest revving we’ve ever tested. We found its characteristics to be more in-line with a more exotic, fast-revving V12 than a bi-turbo V8; the speed at which it built and lost revs with a quick jab of the throttle was uncanny, and always gave us a big, dumb smile.

 

Its power curve was also fast-revving-V12-like; peak horsepower is available at the top of the tach at 7,500 RPM. Though, its turbo V8 characteristics are quite apparent, too: all 465 lb-ft of torque are available from 3500 RPM and up.

 

It’s these characteristics that make the GT’s engine a thrill in pretty much all scenarios. The sensations that were transmitted into the cabin, such as audible turbo noises that began around 3250 RPM, and an ever-present, aggressive baritone growl, made us never want to get to our destination and turn it off. Then, receiving a greenlight with a wide-open stretch of road in front of us revealed that this thing was an absolute screamer. The accompanying thrill of getting shoved back in the seat by a high-strung engine sitting literally right behind us was utterly intoxicating, and why keeping this little beast fueled was the number-one most financially rewarding decision of 2020.

 

Even while cruising along in seventh gear on the highway, turning 2500 RPMs, there was enough low-end torque to scoot us past slower drivers quicker than pretty much anything else we’ve ever reviewed. This was convenient, as well as incredibly deceiving: we had to keep an eye on the speedometer at all times, as 100 MPH was always just a mild push of the gas pedal away. Talk about the best of both worlds: raging, high-RPM theatrics and low-end torque muscle.

 

The GT’s seven-speed dual clutch was a joy to operate and incredibly fast: we didn’t find ourselves winding out the angry 4.0 V8 very much as it was just such a pleasure to shift. Thanks to the GT’s low-end torque, we didn’t even have to, either. According to McLaren, shifts in Sport mode utilize momentary ignition-spark-cut technology, which made them feel very precise and mechanical. Track mode utilizes McLaren’s innovative Inertia Push technology, which made acceleration right after upshifts feel even more rapid. Our tester’s massive carbon fiber paddles behind the steering wheel felt so nice that we didn’t mind them getting in the way of the in-dash backup camera while scooting around in tight parking scenarios. Half the fun of schlepping around SoCal streets in the McLaren was experiencing its shifts. Alright, maybe not half, as there was so much to enjoy about this angry little GT car.

 

 

 

 

Suspension, Handling, Steering, and Brakes

 

Positives: solid compliance, perception-warping cornering speeds and lack of body roll

Negatives: Again, none

 

To save cost, the McLaren GT has more conventional suspension design over higher-end models. The GT does away with the brand’s well-known hydropneumatic suspension in favor of active dampers, springs, and sway bars. Naturally, beyond this kit is all-aluminum double-wishbone suspension at all four corners. Despite this cost saving, it still rides incredibly well and is quite daily friendly: McLaren engineered the dampers to have more travel, and spring rates/roll bar sizes aren’t as hardcore as one would think.

The idea behind the GT is to be more comfortable and, well, GT-friendly. When it comes to the ride, they nailed it. Only rolling over Los Angeles’ most destroyed streets was a bit too jarring, otherwise it was quite comfortable on normal tarmac and on the highway. It was solid and compliant, and exhibited no body roll in Comfort mode; probably due to its high-end suspension design, mid-engine chassis, aluminum body, etc. The cherry on top for daily-friendliness was a front-nose lift that made the angry McLaren impervious to SoCal’s brutal driveway angles.

 

Turning the heat up in Sport and Track modes on a twisty mountain road revealed a ride that was still very good, though with a bit more sharpness in the steering, and more bumps and miniscule abrasions getting translated through the chassis. It was a blast for sure; we were able to maintain some wild cornering speeds without any hint of drama coming from the tires. Grip was brilliant. The chassis was so capable and athletic that we were routinely deceived by our inner yaw-rate sensor; 55 MPH through a corner felt like 20 MPH. We even went full-McLaren driver by quickly becoming impatient with other enthusiast cars holding us up who were giving it everything they had.

 

While cornering grip was deceiving, steering-feel was anything but. The carbon fiber-accented steering wheel translated every tiny variance in the road’s surface, which was thanks in part to its hydraulic steering rack; we’re still blown away by McLaren utilizing hydraulic steering in 2020, and very much appreciate it. Seeing the wheel move about on the highway was something we hadn’t experienced in a long time, at least not behind the wheel of something that hasn’t been given a brutal track alignment and sticky track tires.

 

Between Comfort, Sport, and Track modes, steering weight was very good, and quite heavy while scooting around in tight parking scenarios; we appreciated the workout and nodded our heads contently over the rack being barely powered. Perhaps this isn’t the best trait for a supercar that’s meant to be the comfortable member of the lineup, but it's definitely on-brand.

 

 

 

 

Interior and Exterior

 

Positives: Comfortable, daily-able interior, gorgeous looks, barely fits the definition of a grand tourer

Negatives: Touchscreen was annoying to use, shape of rear cargo area wasn’t ideal

 

While the GT had a very likeable and versatile engine mounted up behind the driver’s seat, and possessed a ride quality that was quite good for a supercar, we were slightly conflicted when it came to its interior.

 

Firstly, we must report that interior comfort and materials quality was above and beyond. The prevalence of carbon fiber throughout thanks to our tester’s carbon package, as well as every surface and switch having a substantial feel, made it a very nice place to be. Leather was naturally also quite prevalent. The seats, while more difficult to adjust than other brands’, were very comfortable and tall-stature-friendly. The seating position wasn’t too low slung, but still quite sporty. The interior was very driver-centric and very easy to get used to; nothing about it was very niche-supercar-like. The space felt very airy, too, thanks to its tint-able glass roof and large front and rear windshields.

 

The interior design also followed McLaren’s daily-and-grand-touring-friendly strategy by being easy to get in and out of. It wasn’t like other supercars that require having to contort and then drop deep-down into the seats; we were able to slide in and out very easily considering how small the GT is. Though, if we weren’t careful, it was a little too easy to bang our shin on the edge of the large cutout in the rocker panel (made possible by being a carbon monocoque) while ingressing and egressing. Overall visibility was great, too.

 

The center infotainment screen and button layout was brilliantly simple, and figuring out where everything we needed within McLaren’s system, as well as configuring HVAC settings, was a breeze (pun mildly intended). We really enjoyed cranking Sirius satellite radio and Bluetooth music through our tester’s optioned-on 12-speaker, 1200-watt Bowers and Wilkins stereo, too. Though, the screen itself was susceptible to glare due to its location and size, and despite being a large 12.3-inch screen, the actual arrows and “buttons'' to move through screens were annoyingly small. They required hands no larger than the size of a river otter’s to avoid accidentally pressing the wrong thing.

 

 

 

 

We realized after a few longer jaunts on the highway why McLaren installs such a bumping optional sound system: road and wind noise were very high. NVH was no problem; the only mildly-annoying noise and vibration we experienced was for a short moment after cold starts. Despite McLarens best efforts, including putting liners in the wheel arches to reduce road/tire noise, it was still quite loud, making it hard to imagine as a long-distance tourer (at least on crappy American roads).

 

It’s got to be awfully difficult to engineer out road and wind noise when low curb weight is high-priority (it only weighs around 250 lbs more than a Honda Civic Type R). In light of this, maybe the GT’s wind and road noise shouldn’t be viewed as a downside, but rather something that separates enthusiasts from normies. This is the enthusiast’s grand tourer: those who use it should know to disregard its road and wind noise, and savor the fact that it's incredibly lightweight, has amazing suspension, possesses a screamer of an engine, and still has room for some of their earthly belongings..

 

Which is what brings us to our next point: stowing cargo in the GT. McLaren went to great lengths to give the GT class-leading cargo room, such as mounting the engine slightly lower, engineering the exhaust system for optimal space, and re-working the carbon monocoque’s design. All of this works out to a combined cargo volume of 20.1 cubic feet, of which 14.8 occupies the space behind the passengers. This sounds like a lot, and while the frunk is nice and deep, the rear cargo… we’ll call it shelf, is a little more difficult to picture as being roomy. This is due to it being a long, flat space; it really shows that McLaren had golfers and skiers in mind when they designed this area (which, considering the GT’s lofty $210,000 starting price, is quite on-brand). Again, this is the enthusiasts’ choice for a grand tourer, more space would just mean more weight and a larger overall size.

 

The GT is absolutely gorgeous, and one of the best-looking in McLaren’s lineup. It looks like a supercar, though has more reserved looks: its shark nose front end, large side ducting, big intakes on its shoulders, sharp LED headlights, huge dual exhaust pipes, and overall athletic proportions all come together quite nicely. It also slots in nicely with McLaren design language; it’s not super-high-strung like 720S, so its styling shouldn’t be either, though it definitely looks like it's related. It’s also much smaller in person than we thought it would be, much to our relief.

 

 

 

 

Truly, the Best Grand Tourer For Well-Heeled Enthusiasts

 

McLaren’s version of a grand tourer was a lot of fun and never really a burden while tooling all over Southern California for a few days. Its traits that were engineered for grand touring - its torquey engine, compliant ride, comfortable interior, and reasonably good cargo room - made it all the more fitting for daily-duty. Thrilling daily duty, that is. Besides the costs of regular maintenance, we’re not sure why more people who have the means wouldn’t also daily one.

 

The brand’s method of taking the DNA from a couple of their other models and shaping it into something that passes the test as a grand tourer, but just barely, is amiable, and shows the brand wants to appeal to more buyers (or fill in more parking space in their current customers’ garages) and make a little more money, but not jump on the high-end SUV bandwagon just yet. They're sticking to their guns with building as thrilling and engaging supercars as possible. Though, there have been rumors of them submitting to the SUV craze at some point; the bandwagon might end up being a death cult instead of a cash cow.

 

 

Just sticking with offering a usable, more comfortable supercar like the GT sounds an awful lot more appealing.