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McLaren 720S 2017 review

McLaren has done it again, only much faster
EXPERT RATING
7.6
The 720S is the new Super Series McLaren, replacing the 650S, and the super-car maker claims it has no direct competitors. It has a twin-turbo V8, a carbon fibre tub and bristles with cleverness.

Years ago, McLaren wasn't really making McLarens. The ill-fated SLR was still in production, but was an oddity that made little sense - it was a highly specialised Mercedes and built to sell for crazy money to mega-rich F1 fans. Production was down to a trickle,and  the iconic and legendary F1 had completed its run a decade earlier.

The "new" McLaren Automotive had a shaky start in 2011 with the unloved MP4-12C, which became the 12C and then morphed into the 650S, getting better with each reinvention. 

The P1 was the car that really grabbed the world's attention and was then-new designer Rob Melville's first project for the British sports car maker. 

Last year, McLaren sold its 10,000th car and production numbers are closing in on Lamborghini's. Sales have almost doubled in Australia and Rob Melville is still there, and is now the Design Director. The company, clearly, has done very, very well.

Now it's come time for McLaren's second generation, starting with the 720S. Replacing the 650S, it's the new Super Series McLaren (fitting in above the Sport Series 540 and 570S and below the Ultimate P1 and still-mysterious BP23), and is a car McLaren claims has no direct competitors  from its rivals at Ferrari or Lamborghini. 

It has a twin-turbo V8, a carbon fibre tub, rear-wheel drive and bristles with cleverness. 

McLAREN 720S 2017: LUXURY
Safety rating
Engine Type4.0L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency10.7L/100km
Seating2 seats
Price fromNo recent listings

Is there anything interesting about its design?   9/10

The 720S has received mixed reviews but nobody will say it isn't striking. I love it - every designer says their influence is a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird (designer Melville even jokes about it), but you really can see it in the 720S, especially in the cockpit design, which looks like a glass canopy from that surveillance jet.

McLaren's signature dihedral doors, which go all the way back to the 1994 McLaren F1, are substantial, with a double skin to act as a serious piece of aero kit.

Melville told me in January that he thinks the cars look shaped by nature, using the example of a stone left in a stream to erode. The 720S is full of details evoking that image, with a clean, taut surface. Where everyone complained that the 12C was "designed in a wind tunnel", the 720S looks designed by the wind. In the carbon and aluminium, it looks extraordinary.

Designer, Melville said he thinks the cars look is shaped by nature, using the example of a stone left in a stream to erode. Designer, Melville said he thinks the cars look is shaped by nature, using the example of a stone left in a stream to erode.

One of the most talked about features are those headlights - almost always finished in black, they're known as "the socket". When you get close you see slim LED DRLs, small but powerful headlights, and you then discover two radiators behind them. Follow it through and the air exits through the bumper, around the wheels and then through the door. It's quite something.

Inside is the McLaren we've come to know and love, but with a clever kicker. The dash panel looks lifted from a race car - but with far nicer graphics. Switch to "active" mode, turn everything up to Track and the panel swings down and presents you with a minimised set of instruments to reduce distraction and make up for a lack of head-up display - just speed, get and, revs.

How practical is the space inside?   6/10

For a supercar, there is a surprising amount of space in the cabin. You can strap 220 litres of (hopefully) soft stuff on the rear shelf behind the seats and there's a 150-litre boot under the nose. You can store your track gear under there, including helmet, or even cram in a few soft bags for a weekend away.

Again, unusually a for a supercar, you're also  treated to a couple of storage cubbies in the centre console.

There's plenty of room in cabin for two bodies and the driver's seat offers lots of adjustment. Despite being so close to the front wheels, your feet have space even for my ridiculous duck feet to fit easily. There's even enough headroom for those over six feet, although the glass portholes in the top of dihedral doors might not be so welcome in an Australian summer.

There's plenty of room in cabin for two bodies and the driver's seat offers lots of adjustment. There's plenty of room in cabin for two bodies and the driver's seat offers lots of adjustment.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   7/10

Kicking off at $489,900 plus on roads, it's fairly clear that the car the local operation has in its sights is the Ferrari 488 GTB, which sells for around $20,000 less but rarely arrives with less than $40,000 in options on board. Two further versions of the 720S are available from $515,080, the Luxury and Performance spec levels, both largely cosmetic.

The 720S ships with 19-inch front wheels and 20-inch rears wrapped in Pirelli P-Zeros. The exterior is finished in "dark palladium" trim and the cabin is lined with Alcantara and Nappa leather. Also onboard is a four-speaker stereo, digital dash, dual-zone climate control, sat nav, active LED headlights, power windows, sports fronts seats and not much else.

  • The 720S ships with 19-inch front wheels and 20-inch rears wrapped in Pirelli P-Zeros. The 720S ships with 19-inch front wheels and 20-inch rears wrapped in Pirelli P-Zeros.
  • When you get close you see slim LED DRLs, small but powerful headlights, and you then discover two radiators behind them. When you get close you see slim LED DRLs, small but powerful headlights, and you then discover two radiators behind them.

A predictably lengthy options list includes paint from $0 to $20,700 (McLaren Special Operations, or MSO, will cheerfully find ways to charge you more for that extra special paint job), but most of the list is carbon fibre bits, reversing camera ($2670!), a $9440 Bowers and Wilkins stereo... you get the picture. The sky, or your credit card, is the limit.

The front lift kit is $5540 and totally worth it to protect the underbelly from driveways. Unlike a couple of Italian rivals, it's not mandatory for all speed-bump ascents.

As we discover every time we look at a car like this, the spec seems slim but none of its competitors have much in them, so it's line-ball.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   9/10

The 720S runs a 4.0-litre version of McLaren's familiar flat-plane crank twin-turbo V8. Power is up to 537kW (or 720PS, hence the name) and torque up almost 100Nm to 770Nm, from 678. McLaren says 41 percent of the components are new.

Power is up from the 678 with the 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 now producing 537kW/770Nm. Power is up from the 678 with the 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 now producing 537kW/770Nm.

A seven-speed twin clutch sends power to the rear wheels and the 1283kg dry (down 106kg from the 650S) monster hits 100km/h in 2.9 seconds, surely a cautious claim. The more alarming 0-200km/h clam is a terrifying 7.8 seconds, half a second quicker than its closest rival, the 488 GTB. That is seriously, insanely quick, while top speed is equally bonkers at 341km/h.

Instead of a complicated and heavy active differential, the 720S uses the rear brakes and various other methods to get the same effect. It's one of several ideas pinched from F1, some of them now banned.

How much fuel does it consume?   7/10

McLaren claims the European combined cycle could return 10.7L/100km, but we have no way of knowing if that is accurate because we weren't mucking about on the day we had the car.

What's it like to drive?   9/10

One of the biggest changes from 650 to 720 is the new Monocage II carbon fibre tub. The drop in overall weight is partly because the cage now includes the windscreen hoop, which previously was metal. Kerb weight with all fluids and a 90 percent full fuel tank (don't ask why 90 percent, I don't know either) it weighs 1419kg, giving it the same power-to-weight ratio as a Bugatti Veyron. Yikes.

The 720S is an astonishing car. We always say you can pootle in a modern supercar, but the 720S is so user-friendly, maneouvreable and so easy to see out of - there are no significant blind spots with an almost entirely glass roof - you can tackle city and country in comfort mode and actually be comfortable. Comparatively, a Huracan goes all blergh in Strada mode and the 488 GTB never stops begging you to kick it in the guts. The McLaren is easy, liveable and smooth. 

I was driving a left-hand drive car in the UK, which should have been a complete nightmare, but it was fine - the vision is excellent, particularly over the shoulder. 

  • One of the biggest changes from 650 to 720 is the new Monocage II carbon fibre tub. One of the biggest changes from 650 to 720 is the new Monocage II carbon fibre tub.
  • I was driving a left-hand drive car in the UK, which should have been a complete nightmare, but it was fine - the vision is excellent, particularly over the shoulder. I was driving a left-hand drive car in the UK, which should have been a complete nightmare, but it was fine - the vision is excellent, particularly over the shoulder.
  • Because the 720S is quite light, the nose goes where you point it. Because the 720S is quite light, the nose goes where you point it.

But when you do decide to kick the 720S into action, it's wild. The acceleration is brutal, the handling impeccable and the ride, oh, the ride. No supercar can handle bumps, irregularities and flat out poor surfaces like the McLaren. The 540C's ride is incredible as it is, but the 720 is just wow.

Because it's quite light, the nose goes where you point it, the huge brakes have less to stop, the towering power less to push. The steering in the 720S is well-weighted but has tons of feel - you know what's going on underneath the double-wishbone sprung front wheels and you can adjust what you're up to accordingly. The stability system is excellent, too. Never overbearing or abrupt, where talent ends and the help begins is delightfully blurry.

The new engine is a bit more tuneful than past McLarens - there's even a loud-start party trick - but it's not loud and overbearing. You'll hear turbos whisting, sighing and pshawing, a deep bassy exhaust note and some awesome intake roar. But there's not much off-throttle character. It does at least do away with the histrionics of the Italians.

The only serious drama is the amount of noise bouncing around the cabin over about 100km/h. There's a lot more glass than sound-soaking Alcantara, which explains some of the extra tyre racket over a 650S. You can't have everything, I guess.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

3 years / unlimited km warranty

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   7/10

Along with a super-strong carbon tub, to which is fitted aluminium crash structures front and rear, the 720S comes fitted with six airbags, stability and traction controls and carbon ceramic brakes with ABS (100-0 happens in fewer than 30 metres).

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   7/10

The 720S comes with McLaren's three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty with roadside assist. McLaren will want to see you every 12 months or 20,000km, which is quite unusual at this level.

Verdict

Past McLarens have been accused of being a bit soulless, but this one is alive. The last time I felt like this in a car was a Ferrari F12, one of the scariest but most brilliant cars I've ever driven. Except the 720S isn't scary on the road, just sheer genius.

The 720S doesn't necessarily beat the competition but it opens up new ways of doing supercar things. It's a car that looks amazing, is more than fit for purpose but has a wider range of talents than the others. 

That makes it ever more compelling, both as a piece of automotive brilliance to admire, andl as something to consider when you've got half a Sydney apartment to spend on a car.

Australian roads await, but the drive through rural English country roads and villages was a great preview. All I can say is: gimme one.

Does a McLaren do it for you, or should super cars only be Italian?

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
(base) 4.0L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO No recent listings 2017 McLAREN 720S 2017 (base) Pricing and Specs
LUXURY 4.0L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO No recent listings 2017 McLAREN 720S 2017 LUXURY Pricing and Specs
PERFORMANCE 4.0L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO No recent listings 2017 McLAREN 720S 2017 PERFORMANCE Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7.6
Design9
Practicality6
Price and features7
Engine & trans9
Fuel consumption7
Driving9
Safety7
Ownership7
Peter Anderson
Contributing journalist

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