Hard to believe it’s just seven months since Chris Evans burst onto our screens as the new host of Top Gear. Yet five tumultuous weeks later, he’d quit, ego and reputation irrevocably dented.
Evans did gain something positive from his double-act with Matt LeBlanc, though: a McLaren 675LT. Driven by the Stig, the fluoro-green supercar set the fastest lap time of the TG Track ever, its time of one minute 13.7 seconds beating the Pagani Huayra. Evans was so impressed he jumped the queue and bought one.
The car I’m driving today is a 675LT Spider, the open-top version of TG’s record-breaker. But don’t imagine that makes this 675hp powerhouse of British engineering any slower. It blasts past the benchmark 62mph in 2.9 seconds, while top speed is 203mph – just 2mph shy of the coupe.
If the 675LT looks familiar, that’s because it’s essentially a harder, faster take on McLaren’s 650S. The most obvious difference is longer rear bodywork (the long tail, or ‘LT’ of the car’s name), which harks back to racing versions of the McLaren F1. It also boasts lower suspension, a wider track, 40 per cent more downforce and 100kg shaved off the kerb weight.
Driving back-to-back with a 650S, the differences are obvious. The 675 feels keener and more connected; its super-sharp steering uses a quicker rack than McLaren’s P1 hypercar, while the suspension has the taut, tightly-damped feel of a racer.
With Normal driving mode selected, the 675LT will potter around town with surprising docility. But switch to Sport, click the carbon fibre paddles down a couple of ratios and – wham – the McLaren hurls you towards the horizon with a zeal that punches you in the guts and scrambles your synapses. God knows what the 917hp P1 must feel like.
On the roads of Surrey and Sussex, opportunities for full-throttle acceleration are rare. But while the 675LT’s performance might intimidate, its chassis does not. Approach the limits of grip (not hard on damp tarmac with semi-slick Pirelli P-Zero Trofeo R tyres) and the P1 feels neutral, predictable – even playful. Doubtless it would be sensational on a circuit.
One advantage I have over Chris Evans – for today, at least – is that I can retract the Spider’s electrically-folding hard-top. This allows the full twin-turbo V8 soundtrack in, amplified by the 675LT’s longer titanium exhaust. The noise is bassier and more brutish than a Ferrari or Lamborghini, but somehow more authentic as a result. And there are wonderful pops from the tailpipes when you shift up in Sport mode.
Above all, the McLaren makes every drive feel like an event. Duck under its dihedral doors and you’re ensconced in a cabin that, with its wide sills, low scuttle and wrap around windscreen, is pure Le Mans racer. It may be rather firm and ferocious for everyday use, but that scarcely matters; owners will probably have a 650S for more prosaic journeys.
The 675LT Spider is an experience to be savoured: a shot of 98 RON adrenalin for weekend blasts and perhaps the occasional track day. Dramatic to behold and intoxicating to drive, it’s a superb modern supercar: the equal of anything with a prancing horse on its bonnet.
There is one problem, though: McLaren only built 500 coupes and 500 Spiders, and all have been snapped up. If you want one, expect to pay around £100,000 more than the original asking price – anything up to £400,000, in fact. Still, few would bet against this big Mac increasing still further in value over time. Investments don’t come more exciting than this.
Tim Pitt works for motoringresearch.com