Payne review: All I want for Christmas is a McLaren GT

Posted by Talbot Payne on December 30, 2020

Coming out of M1 Concourse’s Turn 6 Hairpin onto the back straight, the McLaren GT’s twin-turbos hiss like a lit fuse. The mid-engine supercar explodes with astonishing speed down the 1,500-foot back straight, hitting 130 mph before massive, 14.4-inch front brake rotors bring it back to earth. Its carbon-fiber tub rotates effortlessly into Turn 7. Flat as a board. Begging me for more throttle up the hill into Turn 8.

The GT tops the Christmas wish list I sent to Santa.

Grand Touring cars like the McLaren are all the rage these days, from the Corvette C8 to the all-new Porsche 911 and Mercedes AMG GT. They are hellions in tuxedos. Felt hammers that can destroy a club test track by day, then take your date to the theater at night.

Side air openings feed oil coolers for the hungry, mid-engine V-8 in the 2020 McLaren GT.

With its $213,000 GT, McLaren has joined the party. Replacing the 570 as the Brit brand’s “entry-level” sports car, the GT is intended as a more sedate daily driver compared to the $300,000, 710-horse 720S rocketship or the insane, race-car-in-production-clothing, $1 million Senna. The GT certainly looks the part with more conservative styling, comfy seats and loads of cargo room that rivals the Porsche or Corvette.

Indeed, the GT has gained the moniker “the McLaren Corvette” for its strikingly similar styling around the fascia and side flanks.

I had the good fortune to test the Corvette and Porsche this year, too, and it’s fascinating how different their personalities are even as they exhibit jaw-dropping performance on the limit. They each know their place on the shelf, with McLaren separating itself as the exotic of the bunch by bringing mid-engine, Formula One technology to the supercar market.

Sure, you can afford three Corvettes for the price of one McLaren GT, but the Big Mac is the best toy under the tree for GT performance.

As my test around M1’s club course suggests, the GT is not that much different than the 720S I tested there two years ago. Same fundamentals.

The GT is carved from the familiar, firm carbon-fiber backbone in the outgoing 570 and 720 (a new carbon chassis is due soon for a hybrid that will split the GT and 720 in McLarens’ lineup). Behind the driver’s head sits the same nuclear reactor that powers the 720.

The 2020 McLaren GT has the biggest frunk in the supercar segment — it can swallow a full-size bag or lots of Snapple.

Down 100 horsepower to the 720S at 612 ponies, the twin-turbo, 4.0-liter V-8 is the best engine I’ve driven. Its torque curve is relentless, its lung capacity seemingly limitless as it rockets past 100 mph. Consider the Corvette’s more pedestrian, push-rod, 6.2-liter V-8.

According to our pals at Car and Driver, both cars hit 60 mph in the same 2.8 seconds. Then the Englishman leaves the Yank behind.

The GT covers the quarter-mile in 10.7 seconds at 133 mph — half-a-second and 10 mph ahead of the ’Vette. The McLaren reaches 150 mph a yawning 5 seconds quicker. Holy Donner and Blitzen.

Of course, that’s why you belong to clubs like Pontiac’s M1 or Monticello in New York or VIR north of Raleigh/Durham. So that you can push the envelope of production cars with racing capabilities.

The magic of the McLaren GT and its Grand Touring peers is that you can also enjoy the drive there and back.

The rear of the 2020 McLaren GT lacks the more insectoid look of the ferocious 720 McLaren. The GT aims for amore conservative appearance to appeal to a less track-focused driver.

I was impressed by the McLaren’s bandwidth despite some obvious oversights.

Most obvious is a lack of available convenience features like Apple CarPlay/Android Auto apps and blind-spot assist — features customers take for granted on $30,000 cars today. They seem an odd oversight given the GT’s promise as a daily driver.

That said, no supercar I’ve tested can compete with the Corvette C8’s interior amenities. That may surprise since it’s the cheapest of the breed at just $60,000 — but the Chevy has the advantage of General Motors’ huge electronics toolbox, meaning it can grab a rear camera here (shared with Cadillac) or a 4G Wi-Fi system there (shared with GM’s other brands).

McLarens’ interior focus is on its unique attributes: beauty and speed.

Carbon-fiber tubs are inherently difficult for ingress given their high sills. But the McLaren enriches the experience every time with crowd-pleasing scissor doors — people really do say “oooh” and “ahhh” — that glide up and down effortlessly.

Space pod. Raise the scissor doors, and the 2020 McLaren GT driver's seat awaits.

Once inside, my 6-foot-5 frame fit easily with plenty of head and knee room. Only the footwell was tight for my size-15 boots. Plenty of glass — including a full panoramic roof offering nice visibility for a mid-engine car. The knee room is aided by a floating center console screen as opposed to the typical high console spine. The console is then given over entirely to performance.

North of the simple push-button shifter are two electronic knobs that hold the keys to the GT’s enormous performance potential. They are activated by, well, an ACTIVATE button. One knob controls the suspension. The other the drivetrain.

Each has three settings: Comfort, Sport and Track.

Each ratchets up the performance: Smooth, Fun and Bonkers.

I had so much fun playing with all the mode combinations — and their effect on the GT’s road character and soundtrack — that I never fiddled with the infotainment system. The car is entertainment enough. There’s even a Launch Control button should you feel the need to test that 2.8 second, 0-60 claim.

Doppelgangers. The 2020 McLaren GT starts at $213,000, the 2020 Corvette C8 at $60,000. The two cars share some design cues — especially in front.

Exiting stoplights is like transitioning to light speed in Hans Solo’s Millennium Falcon. Straightaways are gulped. Turns carved.

But for more utilitarian chores, the GT’s cargo space was more than adequate. The rear hatch easily swallowed two tennis bags (or a golf bag). The frunk (front trunk) is the biggest I’ve seen (bigger than even a Mustang Mach-E), swallowing a full-size suitcase for airport runs — not just a carry-on like the Porsche and ’Vette.

“I want to see the engine,” said a supercar collector friend. But like Porsche, McLaren is modest about peekaboo engine displays. The GT will get plenty of looks, but Christmas shoppers with more dramatic tastes will want the insectoid, winged 720S.

Still, drama can wear thin. A racing friend recently unwrapped a winged Porsche GT3, the brand’s most capable track car. After a year of spine-rattling commutes, he traded it for a Targa.

So have the elves crank out a McLaren GT for me, Santa. A gift for my senses — but not at the expense of my backside.

The 2020 McLaren GT features crowd-pleasing scissor doors.

2021 McLaren GT

Vehicle type: Rear-wheel-drive, two-passenger sports car

Price: $213,195, including $3,195 destination charge

Powerplant: 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V-8

Power: 612 horsepower, 465 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 2.8 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed, 203 mph

Weight: 3,384 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA — 18 mpg city/22 highway/18 combined

Report card

Highs: Useful cargo space; turbo V-8 from the gods

Lows: Cramped footwell; more standard tech features, please

Overall: 4 stars

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