It’s taken a surprisingly long time for McLaren to launch a grand tourer. That’s what I’m thinking as I guide its new, big-booted two seater along the packed roads of the French Riviera.
The British sports car brand has unleashed all manner of fire-breathing speedsters since McLaren Automotive was founded back in 2010 — most of them absorbed with being the raciest and best-handling cars in their respective segments.
But a practical supercar that comfortably wafts through busy streets and tackles long cruises with a soothing ride, all while packing lots of luggage? That just wasn’t in McLaren’s DNA, old sport. Until now.
As I manoeuvre the car at walk-dog pace through Cannes, the easygoing nature of the McLaren GT becomes immediately apparent. This is no snorting, firm-riding beast chomping at the bit to stretch its legs on an open road.
In these tight urban confines it feels almost as benign and commute-friendly as a Mercedes C-Class. Suspension that soaks up bumps without dislodging the Ray-Bans on your face. A progressive throttle that doesn’t make the car leap forward like a startled cat at every prod of your foot. Enough ground clearance to tackle speed bumps and steeply angled driveways without scraping the belly. And comfy nappa-leather bucket seats that are more softly padded than McLaren’s more hardcore sports cars.
Ok, the brakes are too sharp for town driving — one blot in the GT’s boulevard-cruising repertoire. And it also takes a little skill to alight and disembark gracefully; it’s a low-slung car with a wide sill and miniskirts aren’t advised.
But otherwise it’s a car you could drive to the shops every day, and it’ll swallow plenty of retail therapy. There’s a 150-litre frunk (front-mounted trunk) in the nose and a further 420 litres of space under the rear glass cover that can take a pair of golf bags — or even a bicycle.
But enough of the plodding, practical stuff; it’s time to see whether this baby flies. I exit the city confines and head for the countryside, where long straights and twisty mountain passes beckon. McLaren reckons the GT will cross continents in serene comfort, all while retaining the brand’s DNA of lightweight build and driver engagement. I want to see if that’s just PR hype.
At last, an open stretch of road. I hammer the pedal and the 4-litre twin turbo V8 bursts into life in a scenery-blurring rush. All earlier serenity is forgotten as the pounding g-forces remind me there’s 456kW and 630Nm behind my back. McLaren’s claim of a 0-100km/h sprint in just 3.2 seconds seems very plausible, as does the 326km/h top speed — although these public roads aren’t the place to test the latter.
What this open-road jaunt does reveal is the GT’s rapid and comfortable continent-crossing nature. The yielding suspension is remarkable, and I’m left thinking that a supercar has no business riding this soothingly over bumps and ripples.
PUSH IT REAL GOOD
Until this point I have left the car in its comfort engine and suspension modes, but as the road begins to hug mountainous contours I select the sportier settings. These stiffen the dampers and quicken the drivetrain response, turning the car from a plush tourer to a corner-carver at the flick of a switch.
Any fears that this more touring-oriented McLaren might falter in the corners evaporate as the car hustles through turns with crisp mid-engined agility, made all the more nimble by a lightweight carbon-fibre body. Very entertaining and relatively safe too, as tail waywardness in the rear-wheel-drive car is well managed by electronics that intervene without being over-assertive.
The steering’s not as pin sharp as McLaren’s sportier models but it’s more than responsive enough to get the senses buzzing.
It’s not an angry sports car. The emotion is blunted by an engine sound that’s more soft rock than heavy metal, but this isn’t inappropriate in a grand tourer, as a noisy drone can become tiresome on long journeys.
And so it goes for a few hundred kilometres through southern France: a mix of slow-plodding through villages, chasing the horizon on long stretches, and racing the heart rate on twisty mountain passes.
Here’s the clincher: I arrive at the end of the journey feeling fresh, with none of the body fatigue that I’d usually feel after a long spell in a hardcore sports car.
Except for those oversensitive brakes in slow driving, the GT is everything a grand tourer should be: fast, comfortable, and playful when you want it to be.
Local McLaren importer, Johannesburg-based Daytona, will launch the GT in SA near the end of the year, priced at R3,950,000.
• From the November edition of Wanted 2019.