The 765LT is a lighter, sharper version of the McLaren 720S. And the new Spider is a heavier, softer take on the 765LT. Confused? Well, nobody said supercars have to make sense.
Driving a convertible in the depths of January doesn’t make much sense, either. Particularly when the hedgerows are glazed by morning frost, and the rear tyres have 765 horsepower to contend with.
Thankfully, McLaren has fitted Pirelli P Zero tyres to suit the season, rather than the semi-slick Trofeo R the 765LT comes with as standard. But the Spider still spins its wheels easily in the first four gears – and probably beyond. ‘Softer’ is a relative term here.
Still, whether you’re soaking up sunshine (as per McLaren’s press photo) or catching a cold (my less photogenic reality), this latest ‘Longtail’ looks sensational.
From the front, its jutting splitter and wheelarch vents bristle with motorsport intent. At the rear, a P1-style mesh grille offers a lascivious glimpse of the mid-mounted engine – and frames the four titanium tailpipes, which glow blue when hot.
Lift up the dihedral door (nope, the novelty never wears off) and the McLaren’s cabin is equally pared-back and functional. There’s an abundance of carbon fibre, the steering wheel is just that – no distracting switches or touchpads here – and the hard-backed bucket seats lock you firmly in place.
The electric roof disappears beneath the rear deck in just 11 seconds, or you can simply drop the vertical rear window for more V8 volume.
Bring the noise
The Spider also has a more exuberant exhaust than the 765LT coupe, all the better for al fresco enjoyment. In truth, this was never the most musical of engines, but there’s something authentic about its twin-turbo whoosh and flat-plane snarl. The melodramatic yelps and crackles of a Lamborghini, wonderful as they are, seem contrived by comparison.
Another change versus the coupe is more forgiving suspension, to reflect the Spider’s primary role as a road car. With clever cross-linked hydraulic dampers, it rides far better than you might expect, but can still jitter and twitch over mid-corner bumps where a 720S stays serene. The payoff, of course, is laser-like focus and control on a circuit.
Even on a warm and dry day, you need a racetrack to really exploit the McLaren’s performance. It goes from zero to illegal in three seconds and covers a standing quarter-mile in 10 seconds dead.
The 4.0-litre V8 actually feels a little flat below 3,000rpm, but then it takes off like a lit firework. You’re pinned into the seat, involuntarily holding your breath, fingertips on the right paddle as you watch the change-up lights then grab the next gear. It’s intense.
Niche to see you
Thankfully, at least for your licence’s sake, the LT is also engaging at sensible speeds. Its hydraulic steering – with a slower ratio for the Spider – is alive with constant feedback, while impressive visibility helps you place it precisely and use every inch of road.
The huge carbon-ceramic brakes feel mighty, too, supported by a rear spoiler that flips up to function as an airbrake.
As a track-oriented convertible supercar, the 765LT Spider exists in a niche of its own. Ferrari didn’t make a Pista, Speciale or Scuderia version of the outgoing F8 Tributo, and the Lamborghini Huracan STO only comes as a coupe. There’s the even quicker McLaren Elva, perhaps, but that costs a million pounds more…
A new era for McLaren
For me, the 720S is still the most multi-talented supercar you can buy, even five years after launch. And the hooligan Huracan is even more of a riot on-track.
Make no mistake, though, the 765LT is another fantastic Longtail – and a reminder that McLaren is a force to be reckoned with. The new Artura plug-in hybrid, due imminently, already has a formidable legacy to live up to.
Tim Pitt writes for Motoring Research
TOP SPEED: 205mph
FUEL ECONOMY: 23.0mpg
CO2 EMISSIONS: 280g/km