Every road-legal McLaren since 2010 – ranked!
From a virtual standing start, McLaren Automotive became a world-beater. We grade its homework
By PH Staff / Saturday, 16 September 2023 / Loading comments
Staggeringly unfair to put the 12C (or the MP4-12C) at the bottom of the pile, because it was a staggering achievement back in 2010. Despite its extensive racing experience and Ron Dennis’s famous attention to detail, McLaren had no God-given right to start building exceptionally good rear-drive, V8-powered supercars – it just did. Up to a point. Which was remarkable, even allowing for some well-documented teething problems. McLaren itself will likely be content to see its earliest model propping up an entirely subjective running order, simply because it will tell you that it has long since improved upon every single metric. That makes the 12C a warm-up in the grand scheme of things. But what a way to start. Still looks the part, too.
The 540C, on the other hand, is early evidence of McLaren tying itself in unnecessary knots. On paper, the option of an entry-level 570S must’ve seemed like a no-brainer – after all, Porsche has been using a scalpel to differentiate the 911 for decades. But the 570S is not a 911 and the idea of a less powerful and therefore slightly more ‘cost-effective’ supercar moved precious few buyers to part with their hard-earned cash, and with good reason. Who wants a McLaren-badged supercar with inferior status built-in? The firm didn’t even bother trying to sell the variant in North America and eventually gave up domestically. Still hugely fast, mind. And jolly capable, too. But there’s a reason you never see them.
The GT’s shortcomings are arguably less to do with the job McLaren did on the car and more to do with the ingredients it was stuck with. Targeting the cash-rich, status-obsessed GT market was a prudent enough business decision, but trying to do it with a mid-engined supercar is like trying to pick a Mortise lock with a marshmallow. The GT is perfectly lovely to drive and look at – and, as McLaren is fond of saying, it does many, many things that a Bentley Continental GT never could – but in the small matter of getting people and probably too much luggage to the south of France, Crewe’s heavy-hitter is custom-built for the job. The GT is not. Again, buyers have tended to vote with their feet.
Obviously the 570GT was an earlier attempt to convince people that they could have a proper, lightweight supercar without sacrificing luxuriousness or livability. If you’re inclined to favour the fully-fledged and significantly more powerful GT over a tweaked 570 variant, that’s understandable. But the latter was not without its charm – it’s better looking than the GT for one thing and arguably more satisfying to drive fast – and, much like the rest of the 570 line-up, is remarkably good value secondhand. It also did what it said on the tin: for minimal sacrifice, you got a to-die-for supercar that was slightly easier to rub along with. Not the perfect 911 Turbo rival perhaps, but in many ways a more interesting choice.
Very hard to categorise the Elva fairly because it lives in that fantasy realm beyond a million quid where nothing needs to make a tremendous amount of real-world sense. Also, PH never actually drove one (very few humble car hacks did) so we can’t speak from first-hand experience – but the suspicion, from the debatable styling and improbable cost to the production volume reversal and the belated introduction of an optional windscreen, is that this was probably the least successful of McLaren’s Ultimate Series contenders. Or at any rate, the most frivolous. Which is a shame, because the finished product, being both impressively lightweight and viciously quick, is said to be joyous to drive against the right backdrop. And with the right headgear on.
Potential howls of protest here given the run-out model was designed and built with the hardcore track day enthusiast (read: PHer) in mind. Again, though, this is less about the comparative strengths of the car itself and more to do with McLaren’s penchant for rearranging deckchairs in a lineup that already included the 600LT. Very few road cars are as single-minded or as task-focused as the 620R, but for all its take-no-prisoners verve, it wasn’t head and shoulders superior to the much more famous and better-resolved Longtail. A step too far? Certainly not if you bought one with 15 track days a year specifically in mind, no. But otherwise, probably.
Important not to understate the significance of what now seems like McLaren’s forgotten middle child. Back in 2014, the 650S was pitched as the supercar the firm had always meant to build – and there’s no doubt it achieved significant gains over the 12C, not least in output. True, it was very much an evolution of the existing formula, but McLaren had diligently massaged all the right areas and the new model was indisputable evidence that all its talk of a Formula 1-style obsession with continual improvement was not just a slogan. It also helped cement the idea that when it comes to Woking-built supercars, you’re probably better off with the no-compromise-required Spider. That the 650S fell comprehensively into the shadow of its better-still successor is perhaps no surprise. Canny secondhand buyers certainly won’t have minded.
9. 765 LT
It says something about the calibre of McLaren supercars in general that we’ve placed a c.800hp rocketship here. The LT was – and still is, given how recently it arrived – almost painfully hard to criticise. There was the same clarity and feedback of all the harder-edged derivatives, with the deranged accelerative hit that comes from a 765hp variant of the V8. Helped that it looked like something from a Gotham City track day, too, with a bit of wild child excitement on top for those that felt silly supercars had gone soft. It’s possible the 765LT represents the McLaren track car at its peak, damn near as fast as a Senna for a whole lot less. All that prevents it from ranking higher is the existence of earlier Longtails – and we like those even more…
The most radical departure for McLaren in its short time as a manufacturer, the Artura proved that all the traits which have come to define a modern Macca can absolutely survive the transition to a series production plug-in hybrid. It’s so authentically McLaren that even the sound from the new V6 – just like the V8 that went before it – isn’t quite as thrilling as might be hoped for. Otherwise, and allowing for some early technical setbacks, it’s a triumph to drive: great ride, handling and visibility, not to mention intelligent assists that make the most of every mile, and a dual-clutch transmission as good as any other out there. Only now the Artura brings even more to the party, with a genuinely usable electric-only range and an innovative, intuitive interior. It’s exactly the kind of hybrid we hoped McLaren might make.
Like the Elva, it’s conceivable the Speedtail would rank higher if we’d been lucky enough to get behind the wheel. This is another Ultimate Series McLaren, after all, and the most powerful car ever to leave Woking, with 1,070hp courtesy of its hybridised 4.0-litre V8. It’s also the fastest McLaren ever produced, its monstrous output combined with a super slippery shape to zoom past that other three-seater, all the way to 250mph. And just look at it – can’t say all McLarens are the same after this. But with all 106 selling out not long after it was unveiled – and for something like twice the price of a P1 because each was considered ‘unique’ – drive opportunities have been few and far between. Also, while its spiritual relationship with the distant F1 is well-established, they are not the same thing. The bullet-fast Speedtail is a wonderful technical achievement, no question – but ultimately we prefer our McLaren’s a bit more raw and raucous, and much more readily attainable too. Which brings us to the top six.
From the ridiculous to the sublime. And that’s because, from a purely value-based perspective, there’s a case to be made for the 570S as the best McLaren yet produced. Here’s a supercar with a carbon tub, dual-clutch gearbox and twin-turbo V8 like the rest of the Woking wonders (albeit the 3.8-litre here, rather than the later 4.0). It also looked smarter than earlier efforts, and drove just beautifully: conventional springs and dampers weren’t as clever as the hydraulically linked ProActive Chassis Control, but McLaren tuned them perfectly. Perfectly judged hydraulic steering featured, too – of course. The 570S launched at R8 V10 and 911 Turbo money; today they’re available from just over £70k. Stretch that to about £85,000 – new BMW M4 money, basically – and low mileage examples crammed with options are on the table. For a 200mph supercar that’s sublime to drive just about anywhere. If there is one (vaguely) attainable car on this list to buy now and wrap in cotton wool for 2035, it’s probably this one. In Spider format.
Years after its introduction, the Senna’s stats still blow the mind. It produced 40 per cent more peak downforce than a P1, or the same made now by a GT3 RS that people can’t get their heads around – 800kg. It could reach 124mph in just 6.8 seconds, stop again from that speed in just 100m, and weighed just 1,198kg dry. With an 800hp, twin-turbo V8 to move it along. Which made the thing monstrously fast around a track. We’d all hoped as much from a car named after perhaps the most iconic Formula 1 driver, but it really was in another league. It lapped the Hockenheim GP track in 1:40.8 on Pirelli P Zero Trofeo Rs, more than five seconds faster than a Ferrari 488 Pista and more than eight seconds (!) ahead of a 600LT. The Senna was the ultimate representation of the McLaren road racer brief, combining everything it knew about driving on circuit (and away from it) to create a sensational, style-be-damned supercar. None of the cars ranked above are any more absorbing to drive – they’re just that bit nicer to look at…
McLaren had really gotten to grips with the whole supercar thing by 2018, and it showed in the 600LT. By taking the best bits of everything it had done up to this point (not least the wildly likeable 570S) Woking created a firecracker of a supercar: circuit prowess inspired by the 675, Senna brake booster, and the approachability of the entire Sports Series line, wrapped up in one pitch-perfect package. McLaren didn’t limit production as formally for this Longtail as for the original, either, protecting the hallowed status of the 675 (guess where that ranks) while also allowing a few more folk access to the LT magic. And it really was magic, somehow combining lithe and supple road manners with laser-guided accuracy and formidable stamina on circuit. It’s why the LT, for us at least, ranks so much higher than the 620R; the compromise here between road and track ability was so smartly struck that any tinkering ultimately felt unnecessary. So much so that a 570S felt plain after a 600LT, despite so much commonality, and a 620R a bit OTT. It was another Longtail masterstroke, and something of a steal now as well.
The 720S, launched in 2017, is pretty much all the mid-engined supercar anyone could ever need or want for less than £200,000. So much else has been going on over the past six years, it’s probably fair to say the regular, series production lynchpin of the McLaren range hasn’t received the attention it deserved. Nevertheless, the 720 was a quantum leap forward: the Monocage II made it even stiffer, the new 4.0-litre V8 sounded better, it took learnings from the LT to ramp up excitement, and it still looks a million bucks inside and out. That is not true for every old McLaren, and nor is this: during its lifespan, it rivalled virtually every move Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche made. The 570S makes a formidable, bang-for-buck case for itself, but the 720S is arguably the best pound-for-pound supercar Britain has ever produced. Just look at its replacement, the 750S. No quantum leap this time, because it’s not needed. Expect the result to be fan-bloody-tastic.
It can be hard to remember McLaren before the 675 Longtail. Partly because 2015 is now a very long time ago, but also because the fabled LT completely reset our expectations of the brand. Prior to it, the 12C and 650S had been innovative, advanced, capable supercars; they were still a little short on excitement, which seemed a ludicrous assessment for 600hp, 200mph cars, yet the impression lingered. A Ferrari wouldn’t go any faster, sure, but you’d feel the difference. The LT, in a stroke, changed all that: lighter, keener and louder than a 650S, it made every single mile memorable, without subjecting its occupants to unwanted noise or harshness. The 675 was exactly the kind of road racer we wanted from McLaren – probably it was the McLaren that Woking always wanted to build too: the one that mainlined raw emotion without abandoning any of its core principles. 500 Coupes went very quickly; 500 Spiders went even faster. Today an LT commands twice as much as a 650S, a mark of just how significant the model really was. Only one modern McLaren has ever surpassed it.
The P1 was an extraordinary achievement. It should not have been possible for a still wet-behind-the-ears automotive division based in Woking to challenge Porsche and Ferrari in the endlessly tricky business of mating fledgling battery tech to a cutting-edge, composite supercar. Sure, McLaren wasn’t a start-up in the same way a company like Rimac might now be classified, but the P1 still represented an almighty undertaking: a near-as-dammit 1,000hp plug-in hybrid, with some actual EV range, plus a kerbweight to make the porky Porsche blush. We’ve all seen wild claims from hybrids over the past decade; the difference here was the P1 really delivered on them, all the way back in 2013. It was no mere straight-line monster, either, though with 963hp moving less than 1,500kg it could certainly be that; what made the P1 so epic was that the power existed alongside a deft, delicate, hyper-engaging mid-engined sports car. A beautiful-looking one, too. It was a joy to drive when using just 63 of the available horsepower, and utterly transcendent when there was a chance to explore the other 900. A sensational thing in all regards, and still McLaren Automotive’s lasting achievement. To date.
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