Car Reviews First Drives

2019 McLaren 600LT First Drive

The not so serious problem with constant evolution

The not so serious problem with constant evolution

McLaren has a problem. The upstart supercar maker from Woking keeps applying everything learned from the last car to the new one. That may not sound like a bad thing, but what if the new car slots in well below the last one in terms of prestige and price? Case in point: The million-dollar, 904-hp Ultimate Series hybrid hypercar McLaren P1 lapped what was then known as Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in 1:30.78. The 60 percent less expensive, 711-hp Super Series 720S lapped the newly named WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in 1:29.78. On street tires. That’s nearly a second quicker, with about $600,000 USD in your back pocket. This leads us to McLaren’s latest track day joybuzzer, the 600LT, and to the brand’s current arrow in its Ultimate Series quiver, the Senna. Let’s start first with the little guy.

The McLaren 600LT is the fourth car in the automaker’s Longtail series. The first was the legendary F1 Longtail, which is currently valued at about $16 million USD. The next two were each limited to 500 units, the 675LT and the 675LT Spyder, though calling those two distinct vehicles is something of a stretch. Also, yes, there will be a 600LT Spyder. The 675LTs were a big jump in performance over the 650S, and they filled out McLaren’s Super Series portfolio quite well. The 600LT accomplishes the same thing for the Sports Series, joining the 570S coupe and Spyder, as well as the 570GT (plus the entry-level 540C, which isn’t sold in the North America).

What exactly is a Longtail McLaren? Well, the cars are in fact longer. In the case of the 600LT, the car measures 2.6 inches more nose to tail than the 570S. Speaking generally, however, McLaren says “LTness” is defined by minimized weight, optimized aerodynamics, more power, track-focused dynamics, increased driver engagement, and a lower-volume production run.

Focusing on that last point, the 600LT isn’t limited to a specific number of units like the 675LT was. The number built will be based on a combination of customer demand and assembly line capacity. Although McLaren declined to share a specific number, the automaker says the first year’s worth of 600LTs have been sold. Want one? Get your order in ASAFP.

The jump in performance between the 570S and 600LT is quite large, more akin to going from the Lamborghini Huracan to the Performante than, say, the Porsche 911 to the Carrera S. McLaren said that the 600LT was benchmarked against the rapid but squirrely 675LT, and although they neglected to mention the result of said comparison, I have no doubt that the 600LT is the better car. Both in terms of the driving experience and (probably) lap times. Power is—of course—up, rising from 562 hp in the 570S to a healthier 592 hp. Torque output of the terribly named M838TE 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-8 is 457 lb-ft, rising from 443. Both the engine and seven-speed dual-clutch transmission are attached to the vehicle by stiffer mounts. McLaren claims that 23 percent of the parts on the 600LT are new, most notably the excellent-looking and ferocious-sounding top-mounted exhausts, which remind me of the Porsche 918 Spyder. That’s a great thing.

Weight is down, by a significant amount. McLaren claims 100 kilograms even, meaning the 600LT should be 220 pounds (100 kg) lighter than the 570S. The splitter, sills, diffuser, and rear wing are all made from carbon fiber and coincidentally produce that same 220 pounds (100 kg) of downforce at 155 mph (250 km/h). The aluminum control arms—snatched from the 720S—help save weight, as do the forged aluminum wheels. Things then get a little confusing in terms of absolute weight numbers because McLaren’s in-house tuning arm, MSO, offers two packages to further lighten the 600LT, Club Sport and Club Sport Pro. For instance, you can opt for a carbon-fiber roof, or you can get either Club Sport packs and the roof comes standard. Expect actual weights to be all over the map. According to our scales, the 570S weighs 3,188 pounds (1,446 kg). If the 600LT really is down 100 kilos, that’s 2,968 pounds (1,346 kg). Extremely light by 2018 standards but not without precedent, however, as the 675LT clocked in at 2,993 pounds (1,358 kg).

Learning a new track well enough to start evaluating a car is tricky. For me it was lap 13 of the Hungaroring, the satisfyingly complex F1 circuit located in the suburbs of Budapest, when things began to click. I’d done five laps in a 570S, both to learn the track and also to establish a baseline against which to evaluate the new car. Then came six laps in the 600LT, with a McLaren instructor barking in my ear—which confirmed that the theory and practice of trail-braking are kept in distinct locations in my brain.

After lunch and a relaxing walk around the Hungaroring itself, something else clicked. I could sense the superior threshold braking in the 600LT compared to its stablemate. McLaren took lessons learned (and a brake booster borrowed) from its Senna hypercar and imbued the 600LT with some utterly fantastic binders. Not just in terms of stopping power—there’s plenty of that—but in terms of balance, precision, and adjustability. Oh yeah, confidence, too. For instance, at the end of the big straight, I was easily traveling 150 mph (240 km/h) in the 570S. However, slowing down for Turn 1—a second-gear corner—requires a big pedal input. In the softer, heavier, less brakey 570S, the car slows down fine, but it also squirms around a fair amount. The 600LT? Not even a little. The new car brakes hard, stable, and true. The ABS software has been retuned, too. If, as the old chestnut goes, a car is only as good as its brakes, the 600LT is excellent.

Looking beyond stopping, the newest baby Mac is pretty damn good. Steering is precise and intuitive, and because it’s still hydraulic, it feels especially lovely. Back when the Super Series cars consisted of the 650S, we strongly felt that removing that car’s hydraulic suspension and replacing it all with fixed dampers made the 570S a much better driving car. So much so that we named the latter our 2016 Best Driver’s Car. The 600LT starts there and jumps way up. The damping is better, the turn-in is sharper, high-speed stability is rock solid—this is a serious driver’s machine.

But besides the $30,000 USD price of the snorkel (and $242,500 USD starting price of the car), power is the one area where the 600LT doesn’t deliver. I know, I know—I’m super spoiled. But, as our own Chris Walton has so presciently said, “700 horsepower is the new 500 hp.” And the 600LT produces fewer than 600 ponies. Is it all in my head? Possibly, as the thing’s weight-to-power ratio is quite great (just over 5 pounds (2 kg) per horsey). However, its power-to-dollar ratio ain’t all that, and no matter what McLaren says, I refuse to believe that most 600LT owners will primarily use it on the track. I’m basing this off the large number of my Porsche 911 GT3–owning buddies who routinely cite insurance reasons as their excuse for never, ever letting their cars touch a racing surface.

Now, if Macca’s claims are to be believed, 60 mph will arrive in 2.8 seconds and the quarter mile in 10.4. I have no reason to doubt any of those numbers, but during the course of my 12 laps, the 600LT never felt especially quick. Perhaps I’m just used to how the 720S gets things done? Or perhaps that’s how almost all cars no matter the power feel on the straight parts of tracks.

When you get right down to it, the 600LT is basically a Senna minus 197 horsepower and the kooky-looking but deadly-effective aerodynamics. I may have even heard a McLaren employee (or three) state that the 600LT is actually better to drive than the Senna, even though of course the Senna would decimate its little sibling on any track, anywhere. Like I said, McLaren has a problem on its hands. The company’s boffins keep surpassing the previous car with the current one. That’s a good problem to have.