McLaren is one of the most storied names in racing, but the company's still a relative upstart in series production vehicles. While it made the record-setting F1 hypercar in the 1990s and worked with Mercedes on the SLR McLaren, the company didn't get serious about supercars until it launched the MP-12C in 2011.
Through a stream of constantly updated models, McLaren has kept its lineup fresh with supercars designed to take on Ferrari and Lamborghini. With stunning looks, insane performance and world-beating driving dynamics, the 720S is a good example of why the British supercar company's sales keep going up.
McLaren has three tiers of vehicles: the sports series, super series and ultimate series. The 720S — and the drop-top 720S Spider we tested — slot into the mid-tier super series. Don't let that positioning fool you: the 720S will run with anything costing less than a million dollars. While there's an ultimate series above it for limited-production hypercars like the McLaren Senna and Speedtail, the 720S is about as fast as series-production vehicles get.
And while the price is midrange for McLaren, the 720S Spider is far from cheap. It starts at $315,000, but the extra options with our tester pushed that to $411,300. And while there's never a practical reason to spend that much on a car, McLaren certainly offers you a lot for your money.
First, you get style and exclusivity. The 720S is a new direction for McLaren, a doubling down of the alien spaceship aesthetic. Especially in a vibrant color like our Belize Blue tester, the 720S' flowing body lines and aggressive build make the car look polished, modern and athletic. And while McLaren's production car business is growing, the company sold only 4,806 units worldwide last year.
So, with alien looks and a high degree of exclusivity, the 720S Spider gets tons of attention wherever you go. If you want to be noticed, the 720S — especially in Spider form — is about as cool as cars get.
Of course, it'll be hard to focus on how it looks once you put your foot down. The McLaren 720S is scary fast. It warps your perception of space. Winding roads that appear to stretch out for miles suddenly blur past your windows while the 4.0-liter V-8 screams toward redline.
That engine produces 710 horsepower, an utterly absurd amount of force with which to propel 2,937 pounds of carbon fiber and fury. Power goes to the rear wheels only through a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission that shifts so quickly that it'd be barely noticeable without the accompanying change in engine volume.
The 720S also has massive, sticky tires and one of the most sophisticated suspension systems on any car in the world. Combined with a lot of downforce that adds grip at speed, the 720S is so much more predictable and planted than any 710-horsepower, rear-wheel-drive car has any right to be.
Normally, a light-weight car with this much power would struggle to get off the line without exploding in a cloud of tire smoke. But thanks to McLaren's launch control and stability control systems, the 720S sprints to 60 in 2.8 seconds.
To be clear, due in large part because it's so light and not all-wheel drive, the 720S Spider is not the quickest vehicle to 60 for the price. But once you get moving, it accelerates with a ferocity that is genuinely hard to comprehend. Even at highway speeds, it pulls so hard and so fast that you're deep in the "going to jail" section of the speedometer if you floor it for more than a second.
And the handling, my God, the handling. When you go into corners, there's a natural reaction in your brain that sets off alarm bells and screams "slow down or you're going to die." When you get that feeling in the 720S Spider, speed up and it'll still fly through the corner without any squirminess or unpredictability. If you do reach the limits of adhesion, McLaren's Formula One know-how means that the company's road cars have some of the best performance traction and stability control systems in the world.
After 30 minutes of hard driving with a friend in the passenger seat, I pulled over, killed the radio, and just sat in silence for a minute. Both of us were out of breath after experiencing the insane cornering and acceleration of the 720S over and over and over again. I've never had a more exhilarating drive.
On the ride home, the 720S Spider is a surprisingly compliant cruiser. The trick hydraulic suspension soaks up bumps in comfort mode, while a fantastic stereo system and a gorgeous cabin make the 720S spider even more livable. And while there's no trunk out back, the front truck is shockingly deep and easily big enough for some carry-on luggage.
If you're ready to spend $315,000+ on a vehicle, it's hard to fault the 720S. The infotainment is unsurprisingly not the best in the business, but every other typical supercar compromise has been ironed out, from the nose lift system to clear speed bumps to the ice-cold air conditioning.
However, you do have to accept that the 720S — while comfortable by supercar standards — is still a carbon-tubbed performance machine, which makes it stiff. And even with the top up, you can't ignore that you're just a few feet from a gigantic V-8 making a lot of noise.
Finally, our tester had a small plastic cover for the power top mechanism fall off. We'd imagine that's why, when we encountered a storm, water leaked into the cabin near where the plastic piece had been put back on. Because this car had been constantly cycling between members of the press for weeks, a small issue like this doesn't strike us as huge, but it's a useful reminder that supercars can still be temperamental.
McLaren does not publicly list its option prices and, because this is a supercar, there are lots of cosmetic options that ultimately come down to taste. That being said, there are a few things we'd recommend.
First, the roof can be optioned to be electrochromatic dimming glass. That means that on sunny days it is mostly translucent, but pressing a button turns it transparent. It's a cool party trick and definitely enhances the experience on days when you have to keep the top up.
The Bowers & Wilkins 12-speaker audio system is also a must-have, as is the optional 360-degree camera that makes maneuvering your $315,000 supercar less stressful.
The McLaren 720S Spider will change your understanding of the word "fast." It's loud, gorgeous and violently quick. But while many cars will beat you over the head with raw speed and fall apart in hard driving, the 720S gets better and better the more you push it.
There's no avoiding that $411,300 or even $315,000 is a lot of money, but with performance that's on par with some million-dollar hypercars, the 720S Spider strikes as a bargain. Between the looks, the magic suspension and the raw speed, it's truly unlike anything else on the road.
Driving Experience: 5
Price as tested: $411,300
*Ratings out of 5.