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Review: The 2020 McLaren 600LT Spider is a hardcore supercar

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Key Points
  • This is the track-focused version of McLaren's entry-level supercar
  • "Entry-level" doesn't mean cheap, though, as the 600LT starts well north of $200,000 and can be optioned past $300,000
  • It's not cheap, comfortable, or quiet, but it's one of the most incredible and exciting supercars ever built. 
The 2020 McLaren 600LT Spider
Mack Hogan | CNBC

McLaren has spent the last decade so rapidly disrupting the supercar market that it's hard to keep track of the English company's various models. A loose rule of thumb: bigger numbers mean more power, LT means a "long-tail" track special, and Spiders are convertibles.

This $339,250 600LT tester, then, is the hardcore, hot version of the company's "entry-level" 570S. And while it isn't at the top of the McLaren totem pole, the 600LT is will leave almost everything out there for dead on a race track. It's not for quite the world-bender that the 720S is, but it's also not for the faint of heart. The 600LT's raw performance will light your nerves on fire.

The 2020 McLaren 600LT Spider
Mack Hogan | CNBC

The good

Every modern McLaren features a turbocharged V-8, with broadly similar architecture to the one in the 600LT. Yes, even the $1 million hybrid hypercars like the P1 and Speedtail. So to get it at the, comparatively, approachable starting price of $256,500, it's a certifiable bargain.

In this application, the 3.8-liter motor makes 592 horsepower. That may sound tame compared to the 710-horsepower 720S, but at these stratospheric power outputs, the limiting factor of a car's off-the-line acceleration isn't power. It's grip, which is why none of these rear-wheel-drive cars can send full torque to the wheels without erupting into a cloud of smoke. Instead, McLaren's sophisticated launch and traction control systems provide a massive wallop of power at any speed without spinning you off the road.

The 2020 McLaren 600LT Spider
Mack Hogan | CNBC

And even on slightly-less-sticky tires due to cold weather, the 600LT has enough power and grip to nauseate a passenger. Zero to 60 happens in under 3 seconds, zero to jail in under 5. Top speed is 201, braking is painful. The power is relentless, the dual-clutch transmissions snapping off too quickly to give you even a microsecond of relief. Come with a strong stomach and full commitment, the 600LT won't accept anything less.

Chunky front tires and the mid-engine layout also ensure impossibly quick steering. Point where you want to go and hold on, the 600LT will deliver come hell, high water, or deeply inappropriate speeds. The whole time, its steering wheel is telegraphing the front tires' every move. If you get yourself into trouble, don't pretend the predictable and stable 600LT didn't warn you.

The 2020 McLaren 600LT Spider
Mack Hogan | CNBC

Plus, you shouldn't. Among the company's many strong suits that stem from its racing heritage, McLaren's stability and traction control systems are some of the best in the world. If you haven't driven a modern supercar, you may think that sounds boring. But in the world of 3-second sprints to 60 and 600-horsepower outputs, these systems are the key to amateur drivers being able to explore the car's performance without ending up backwards in a ditch. The McLaren will let you have your fun with every system enabled, but even on 40-degree roads it kept the car pointed in the right direction.

Because of this, the 600LT offers the kind of accessible, time-warping performance that cost $1 million dollars five years ago and didn't exist anywhere five years before that. It'd be hard to believe if we hadn't driven the 720S first, which manages to be almost incomprehensibly perfect.

The 2020 McLaren 600LT Spider
Mack Hogan | CNBC

But there's one area where the 600LT beats out even its bigger brother. Instead of routing exhaust out of the back, the 600LT sends its fire and fury straight up through a set of top-mounted pipes. It's a more efficient way to route exhaust gases, but it also solves one of our only complaints with the 720S. While that car's sound didn't impress us, the 600LT Spider bellows directly behind your years, creating a startling roar any time you find yourself in a tunnel or under a bridge.

They also look incredible, as does the rest of the 600LT. It's not the standout of the McLaren lineup, but even in supercar-laden Manhattan the carbon-clad 600LT turns heads.

The bad

If turning heads is priority number one, though, this isn't the car for you. Anyone looking to pose with a butterfly-winged supercar for Instagram would be better served with a brightly-colored 570S or 720S. While some companies oversell their "track-focused" models to drive up transaction prices, McLaren isn't fooling around. This car is stiff, stripped, and designed for people who actually want to let it breathe on a race track.

The 2020 McLaren 600LT Spider
Mack Hogan | CNBC

If you're not one of those people, you'll be better served by one of the standard-issue McLarens. Even on fast, empty backroads, you're not approaching the pace or abuse that'll separate this from its cheaper 570S sibling. And since our optioned tester passed the 720S' starting price, it's worth considering upgrading to that car. It's faster, nicer inside, and has trick suspension that won't beat you up if you need to drive an hour outside of the city to find a good road.

The 600LT, on the other hand, has no qualms about beating on you. A three-hour session leaving New York traffic, blasting down desolated two-lane roads, and cruising through a mountain assaulted every sense. The noise, stiffness, and raw speed amped up the fun but left us drained. We missed the ride quality of the 720S, which was just as competent in corners but erased bumps.

It also was quieter (though not quiet) in cruising, unlike the high-strung 600LT. Plus, it came with comfortable sports seats, rather than the carbon buckets in the 600LT. All of this, though, is a long way of saying that this car is built for a purpose. This is your weekend driver or track car, not your everyday cruiser. No poseurs need apply.

The 2020 McLaren 600LT Spider
Mack Hogan | CNBC

How we'd option it

Supercars offer endless cosmetic customization and tons of optional upgrades, so we're only going to tell you a few of the must-have options. First is the $1,610 indispensable front axle lift system, which helps the 600LT clear speed bumps and semi-steep slopes. You never realize how many steep drives there are until you drive a supercar without a nose lift.

If you do plan to track it, we'd also say the McLaren Track Telemetry pack is worth $1,660. It'll record your laps on a built-in camera and provide tons of lap time data that'll help you get faster over time. Finally, we think the $4,410 Bowers & Wilkins stereo is a good way to tune out the road noise.

The 2020 McLaren 600LT Spider
Mack Hogan | CNBC

Final thoughts

Nobody in the world needs a car this fast. It's amazing that you can buy one without a permit. It's so breathtakingly quick, so unbelievably sharp, and so stimulating that it actually tires you out. As a performance car, it is without compromise.

In daily life, it's very compromised. The trunk is small, the cabin is sparse, the ride is harsh, and the engine is loud. But those concessions mean that McClaren can sell the same wild recipe for less than ever before. It's not perfect, but it's exactly as special and insane as a true supercar should be. If you want a track-focused car where the only limiting factor is your driving ability, the 600LT is about as good as it gets.

The 2020 McLaren 600LT Spider
Mack Hogan | CNBC

Ratings:

Exterior: 4.5

Interior: 2.0

Driving Experience: 4.5

Value: 3

Overall: 3.5

Price as tested: $339,250