Another rather predictable McLaren. Which might seem to be damning it with faint praise at the very outset, but this is McLaren consolidating its position and plugging yet another niche – possibly the last actually – in its Sports Series line-up. Remember last year’s 600LT? Well, this is the roadster version. It used to be considered sacrilege to do an inevitably heavier drop-top version of a hard core supercar, but McLaren’s last attempt at a roofless LT, the 675LT Spider, proved otherwise rather magnificently.
Everything that was done to transform hard top 570S into the 600LT has been carried out again. Inevitably it’s heavier – but only to the tune of 48kg thanks to the stiffness of the Monocell II tub negating the need for additional bracing. Despite all the electric folding hardtop gubbins, this convertible is 50kg lighter than a 570S coupe, 100kg lighter than the 570S Spider it’s most closely related to.
Provided, that is, you tick all the right boxes. The top exit exhausts (a 12.6kg saving), lightweight suspension components (down 10.2kg), new forged wheels with Trofeo tyres (a 17kg saving) and one-piece carbon seats from the P1 (-21.0kg) all come as standard, but if you really care about skinniness you’ll have the Clubsport Pack (5.6kg saved by fitting the Senna’s even lighter seats, titanium wheel bolts and extra bits of carbon). And you’ll do without air con (saving 12.6kg) and the sound system (another 3.3kg).
Depends how much hardship you’re prepared to tolerate in your £201,500 track toy. But when weight saving extends to the wiring harness (-4.0kg), windscreen (-3.5kg) and now absent glovebox (-1.0kg) you can’t say McLaren isn’t serious about reducing weight. 80kg lighter than any rival is the claim. About the only weight added is the new fixed rear wing – and that’s only added 3.5kg including the pylons and fixings.
That’s quite enough about weight. Various bits are borrowed from the Super Series 720S: brake calipers and discs, front and rear aluminium double wishbones and suspension uprights, stiffer, thicker roll bars and toe links and a more efficient water pump. The adaptive dampers are carried over from the 570S but recalibrated, the suspension geometry is changed and the ride height dropped 8mm.
The 3.8-litre twin turbo V8’s extra 30bhp (now 592bhp/620Nm ft at 5,500-6,500rpm) comes at least in part from the upward facing exhausts – a metre shorter and with less back pressure. Meanwhile the twin clutch SSG seven-speed transmission has a few tricks up its sleeve: ignition cut in Sport mode for faster shifts, Inertia Push in Track mode that uses the flywheel’s kinetic energy to pulse the torque as the next gear is engaged. Plus there’s launch control and – yep – the 600LT’s burnout mode makes a reappearance. And most importantly of all, justifying the £16,000 price rise over the coupe, there’s the folding hard top, which can be used at up to 40kph and takes 15 seconds to perform its back deck acrobatics.
McLaren made great claim for the noise of the 600LT coupe, and how much better it sounded thanks to the top exit exhausts. It wasn’t really all that. This, however, is. And it’s all thanks to a neat little trick – the glass rear window can be operated independently of the roof. To get the best from the 600LT you want to keep the roof up to minimise wind noise, but lower the back glass. It’s the single best thing about the Spider, the one chief reason for having one over a coupe.
Not just the volume, but the clarity and hardness of the note. This is important, because the sharpness of the sound partners the dynamics very accurately. The ignition cut gearchanges crack home, the engine rasps in your lughole, the steering dances, the brakes bite – there’s a sense of cohesion to every bit of the car.
Is it as agile as the coupe? I drove them on different circuits thousands of miles apart at different times of year, so it’s hard to be emphatic, but I do think you can detect the extra weight. I’m not sure the Spider is quite as dazzlingly accurate – but then I’m not sure I’ve driven any other supercar that braked and turned in as well as the 600LT did at Clermont Ferrand for our 2018 Performance Car of the Year test. It was mind-blowing.
The Spider, in January, on a drying track in Arizona, isn’t quite as invigorating. Let’s blame track temperature. I’d never call it fuzzy or vague, though. In fact I can’t recall driving any other hardcore super-convertible that gets itself around a circuit with quite the same focus and aggression. The lower, stiffer suspension prevents almost all dive under braking – certainly it never feels like the rear is getting light (the new wing helping here, able to deliver 60kg of downforce to the rear axle at 250kph), and the Spider’s ability to brake and turn in while maintaining its balance is uncanny.
There’s so much feel coming back through the steering (hydraulically assisted, not electric) that you know exactly where you are with available grip, and there’s none of the distortion you get in some convertibles where chassis and steering column can both shudder – and at slightly different frequencies – if you run over a kerb. Have everything ramped up in Track mode and the massive hit of torque you get in second or third when exiting is enough to make up for the momentary delay before it arrives.
Unless the track you’re on is super-smooth you’ll be better off leaving the suspension in Sport mode. Track is noticeably harder, delivering even more feedback, but makes the car feel almost hyperactive. In Sport you can carve smoother lines.
Either way, this is a super-roadster that has an appetite for track work that has to be experienced to be believed. It’s tight, almost ridiculously nimble, has ridiculous braking power from the standard carbon ceramics (200kph to 0 in 121 metres is only five metres more than the P1, and astonishing considering that although it wears Trofeo R tyres, the fronts are only 225-section) and is both braver than the driver, and has more endurance.
Some numbers. Top speed is 201mph. Roof down it’ll still do 315kph. 0-100kph in 2.9secs is a match for the 600LT coupe, while 200kph in 8.4secs lags by 0.2secs. McLaren’s launch control is arguably the best out there for its effectiveness at getting a rear-drive car off the line.
Now, road use. There is naturally more vibration and harshness, a slight buzz through the chassis that jars a fraction if you’re just cruising around with the roof down (there are no carpets, saving over 7kg). The ride is firm and expansion joints slap through the chassis. The brakes, so unfadingly mighty on the circuit now lack sufficient bite at the top end. You need more pressure for them than you expect, which can initially mean you give yourself a panicky moment or two when stopping behind other cars at traffic lights. The Trofeo R tyres had me nervous initially, but they deliver more grip on wet roads than you’d ever expect. Until you hit standing water. Then you’re very glad that you remembered to re-engage the ESP when you left the track.
The 600LT Spider is not an easy-going roadster. Sure, the throttle is beautifully calibrated at low speeds, it’ll self-shuffle up through the gears, the roof works silently, and the ride quality, while positive and intolerant of expansion joints, rounds the edges off bumps brilliantly. The quality of the damping is so good that you find yourself thinking about it more than is strictly necessary, taking pleasure in it the same way you do the steering feel. But all the time it drives with a steeliness that lets you know that crawling around Knightsbridge or Monaco is not what it’s about.
On the inside
Lots of Alcantara in here – dash top, steering wheel, seats and so on. No carpets either. And if you upgrade to the Senna’s seats you need to prepare for the inevitable bruising that comes from clambering in and out over the solid carbon shells. The 600LT might be a roadster, but it’s not a car for cruising around with your elbow out the window – not least because the window-line is so high.
But the driving position? That’s just perfect. It’s the kind of car you drop into, grab the steering wheel, wriggle yourself comfortable, sigh contentedly and just want to get going in. There’s not much to distract you. As mentioned earlier the glovebox has gone, there’s no ambient lighting or needlessly complex screen displays, and McLaren’s infotainment is relatively rudimentary – although at least stable in the car we drove.
You might, if you were foolish, have decided you can do without the aircon and sat nav/tunes. Don’t do it to yourself. Believing this will make it more collectable and therefore valuable when you come to sell it is not going to make you want to drive it while you own it.
The roof operates at the press of a single button, and if you have it up you get to use the 52-litre area underneath as additional storage to complement the 150-litre front boot.
As we said at the start, it’s tempting to see the 600LT Spider as just another box-ticking exercise within McLaren’s massive Track25 business plan (18 new cars to be launched by 2025). But then you drive it, and you realise that there’s more to this LT than just the fact it’s a faster, harder Sports Series model. It delivers such compelling handling accuracy, tactility and sharpness that it’s something else entirely – another roadster in the mould of the 675LT Spider that gives away so little ability to its hard-top sibling that all sneering comments about roadsters not being for serious drivers can be ignored.
Yes, refinement has been compromised, no you shouldn’t take that to extremes by doing away with the aircon. Yes, it’s a convertible, but it’s at its best with the roof up, rear window lowered. For the noise, which is markedly better here than in any other Sports Series McLaren. But when all’s said and done, it’s just awesome to drive – another Long Tail that deserves its place on McLaren’s model roster on talent alone.