The 720S Spider is a rare thing - a convertible that gives little away to its coupe sibling. Surely that makes it a no-brainer? Trinity Francis has the answer. Photography by Ben Midlane
The McLaren 720S needs little introduction. Successor to the acclaimed 650S, the 720 is arguably one of McLaren’s best road-legal supercars to date. Its lineage is steeped in racing liveries and game-changing performance stats. The 720S moved the game on so much, it quickly garnered comparisons with the brand's own, £1-million plus, P1 hypercar.
A tenth of a second slower than the P1 to 60 mph, 49 kg lighter than the 650S and far more striking than a Ferrari 488 GTB, you won’t miss a 720S hurtling past - providing you don’t blink! Nestled behind the driver is the familiar 4.0 litre twin-turbocharged V8 with 720PS (hence the name), a top speed of 212 mph, just 5 mph less than the P1, 0-62mph time of 2.9s and it’ll do 0-124mph in an earth-shattering 7.8s. What’s equally impressive is the Spider will return to a standstill in an astonishing 4.6s.
But this car is so much more than raw numbers. Historically the P1 held the power as one of the most sought after McLaren’s but the 720S remains one of the best examples of a supercar that dominates on the track and doubles as a daily driver, as long as you travel light. It’s like the duality of the original Honda NSX dialled up way past a Spinal Tap 11. The Coupe was originally released in 2017, with the Spider following in 2019, it was way before its time and for less than a quarter of the eye-watering price of a P1 and nearly matching in performance, the 720S is a steal. Even at nearly six years old the design remains striking, captivating and futuristic. If only the new Artura hybrid was so bold.
Curb appeal has to be strong for any supercar, especially one that’s worth more than a one-bedroom flat (£200,000+). McLaren choose a different animal to inspire the design for each of their cars with the 720S taking cues from the Great White Shark. Admittedly in Volcano Yellow, it could’ve taken inspiration from an angry wasp but the design language is well suited to cut through the air or water. The open-top dihedral doors also add to the sense of supercar theatre.
Unlike the rear intakes on the 650S, the 720S channels the air through the door and up over the rear to keep the back end down. Where you get to really see and feel the impact of the calculated aero design is the spoiler. Hit 70mph and it pops up to give you extra downforce, not that the car feels like it needs it. The real novelty is when you brake hard and if you're going fast enough it’ll spring up and act as an airbrake. Unlike the accelerator, you have to push firmly on the brake before it starts to respond but it’s satisfying to use a lead foot on at least one of the pedals. If you’re not keen on the Spider flashing its tail feather, you can deactivate the additional aero via a button in the cockpit, however given the performance on tap, it should be considered a vital asset.
What struck me the most was how the laws of physics don’t seem to apply to the 720S. The standard sensations you come to expect in any car are forward motion and some body lean when cornering hard, even in cars tuned for minimal body roll. But the 720S makes you forget that movement in the sideways plane of motion exists. It’s so grippy and low to the ground that there’s no lean in the bends, but not in an uncomfortable way because the chassis is so communicative. It gives you implicit trust and maybe a little too much confidence that the car will place exactly where you tell it to. You get so used to the grip, the wonderfully responsive steering and a lack of any tilting sensation that when you get back into another car, it feels like you’ll fall out the window going around a bend.
To play with the grip you’ve got track mode which flips the dash down into a minimalist no-frills display showing just the revs, gears and speed. And there’s also Variable Drift Control so if you want to throw it into a corner and drift out of it, you can set the traction for your desired drift arc. Rather than confuse, this is a suite of electronic aids that enhance the driving experience, focus the mind and open up the performance of the Spider to mere mortals.
For more low-key driving around town, the front axle has a lift system to raise the car under 30mph so it can clear speed bumps without destroying the front bumper. It’s reasonably quiet at low speeds (particularly when off-boost) and it’s certainly a rarity on local roads. Tickle the accelerator though and the horizon you were just looking at is suddenly upon you and 30mph very quickly turns into 100 mph. Should this amount of power and acceleration be legal on the road? The acceleration is so violent that 60 mph feels like 120 mph, you hardly have time for your brain to register how fast you’re going. There’s barely an occasion to even put your foot halfway down. Ideally, you need an open road that stretches for miles and miles to push this car to its limits. But even then you’ll always reach the limit of your conscience before the car’s road-holding expires.
It’s easy to see how people can wrap themselves around a lamp post within five minutes of owning a supercar like this. But if you’re going to crash it, it’s likely whatever you hit will end up worse off. The 720S has what McLaren calls the Monocage II, and the Spider has the Monocage II-S. This carbon fibre cell is designed to protect passengers and keep the weight of the car to a minimum, achieving an impressive kerb weight of 1,419 kg. The carbon fibre makes it super lightweight but incredibly tough to withstand impact. For the Spider model, the cell has been adapted to add roll protection so even with the roof down you’ll be safe inside. Even though it’s an integral safety feature, it’s not unstylish, the carbon fibre complements the all-black interior.
In the cabin it all feels well put together with leather and suede feel materials all over. As a two-seater, you don’t expect heaps of storage room but there’s a cubby hole in the centre console to hold your phone and door pockets for any other bits and bobs.
The gear selection is straightforward with buttons down the centre but the infotainment screen is starting to feel a little dated. It’s due for a refresh in 2023 so that’ll make the interior feel modern all over again. There’s plenty of steering wheel and seat adjustment so you’ll be able to get comfortable. If you’ve got someone riding shotgun, a handbag or overnight bag is probably better off in the frunk. It’s surprisingly spacious (for a supercar) with 150 litres of room or if you’ve got the roof up, there are 58 litres where the roof sits, if it’s down, ideal for suit bags or your backup cocktail dress.
We’re all so used to the high SUV ride height but down low in the 720S the visibility is pretty good. Thankfully it’s got a reversing camera and an optional 360 camera as well as parking sensors so it’s not a handful to park or manoeuvre. It’s quite a wide car though at 2161 mm, considering its chief competition, the Ferrari 488 Spider is 1952 mm wide. But it’s not difficult to drive or gauge how big it is. As it sits so low to the ground it’s fairly easy to situate yourself in it and anticipate what gaps it’ll fit through. If in doubt, opt for a bright-coloured version and people will move out of your way.
Out the back, the flying buttresses are glazed to maximise the view out the rear window. And if you want a little more engine noise from behind you, the rear window goes down even if the roof is up so you can let the V8 into the cabin.
One of the most satisfying things about the 720S is seeing the heat waves rising off of the engine in the rearview mirror and feeling the heat radiating from the engine. Now, the 720S has been criticised for not being tuneful enough and I can see why. In a way, it’s a victim of its own success - the drama all comes from how effective it is rather than operatic, despite a redline that begins with an eight. In a way, it suits the Great White Shark aesthetic, just one with blood lust that’s got a whiff of crimson on the currents.
The seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox is flawless. If anything it’s too good. It changes seamlessly and if you’re pushing it, it’ll stretch out beautifully through the gears but as soon as you’re cruising it calms down again. If you want that supercar roar all you need to do is switch to the flappy paddles.
If you like the manual driving experience then it’s a great way to feel more in control of the car. And it’s easy to see why it’s not available as a manual, it would be even more lethal. The purist in you might pine for three pedals, but trust me, in a car this fast it would be nothing other than a hazardous distraction that would land you in the nearest ditch, so the flappy paddles are the perfect compromise between fun and not dying.
Overall, the Spider takes all the advantages of the fixed roof version with none of the traditional drawbacks fresh air motoring can inflict upon a chassis, thanks to that carbon construction. The next inevitable quantum leap forward McLaren makes from here will be truly special indeed.
McLaren 720S Spider
Engine - 3,994 cc twin-turbocharged V8, DOHC 32v, VVT max 8,500 rpm
Output - 710 bhp @ 7,500 rpm, 568 lb-ft @ 5,500 rpm
Weight (DIN) - 1,468 kg, bhp/tonne 484, lb-ft/tonne 387
Transmission - 7sp dual-clutch, RWD, open differential with E-brake assist
Performance - 0.60 mph – 2.8s, 0-124 mph – 7.8s, max – 212 mph
List price - £237,000 (Sept' 2022)