This Is McLaren's First Ever Grand Tourer
McLaren is the kind of company that deals in the minutest fractions and details. It’s in their F1 racing DNA to be striving for whatever is lighter, quicker and more efficient. To keep stripping back and moving on.
So when the Woking marque announced that they were launching a Grand Tourer, it raised the question of whether this could really mark something of a new dawn and direction.
Because on paper, GTs are associated with things like comfort, luxury, leather and luggage. All of which would traditionally make the company’s engineering team come out in a cold sweat.
In some ways, it’s a sign of how far the company has come in its short life as a maker of very fast track and road cars?—it was only founded as McLaren Automotive in 2010?—that this move could be seen as a legitimate step towards fully-fledged luxury car brand status.
McLaren customers up to now have tended to be as technically-minded as its products and this car represents a concerted attempt to actively pull in a new and different crowd. To loosen the technical image. To undo a couple of shirt buttons and to add a bit of neckerchief-wearing joie de vivre from the GT’s mid-20th century golden era that Ferrari, Aston Martin and Porsche continue to dine out on.
Of course, this has all been done the McLaren way. It’s longer and wider with the sweeping lines associated with those traditional Grand Tourers but the McLaren design language and aerodynamic principles are still very much in evidence. The decision for the design team was how far to run with it.
“One question we asked was if James Bond was going to own a McLaren what would it look like,” Design Director Rob Melville tells me. “You’ve got the athlete’s physique but with a suit on top. Still a powerful sports car but with a more tailored execution.”
Seeing it in the metal, it still has that extreme McLaren look, just a touch more controlled, a hair less intimidating, a fraction more relaxed.
That tone is carried into the interior too, where the feel is a bit more louche and luxe than any McLaren that’s come before. There’s ambient lighting, polished and brushed finishes, more grain on the leather seats. A new touchscreen console housing most of the car’s controls.
McLaren use the phrase everything for a reason as something of a company mantra. “The natural tendency even inside the company is to think that means nothing that isn’t functional,” says Melville. “When a really good reason is that if it looks right or it makes us smile.” And if it helps create a comfortable cabin you won’t mind hanging around in for long periods of time.
“We’ve added about 100kg purely on cabin refinement which would have been unheard of on other models on the range,” he adds. The luggage collaboration with Superfabric makes use of an ultra durable, high tech material developed in partnership with NASA no less.
“The character of this car means you can have these flourishes and they still serve a purpose,” Melville adds.
To be considered a usable and best in class grand tourer, increasing luggage and storage space was also a must. Another first for the McLaren to do list.
In comes a brand new purpose-built carbon platform which not only helps make the GT lighter than many of its competitors but which, along with some neat tweaks like lower engine height and repositioned exhaust allows for an expanded luggage bay that can now accommodate such accoutrements as a golf bag, or skis and a helmet, plus a decent slot for luggage.
The final part of the McLaren GT brief? To achieve a smoother and quieter ride for everyday and long-distance driving. While retaining the extreme performance that got McLaren here in the first place.
And it’s here where the GT excels. A 620PS 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 is the brand new powerbase. A new Proactive Damping Control suspension system puts the ride and braking and steering levels set for more practical, everyday environemnets.
This is far from an everyday car though. To drive it over a long and unseasonably wet day in the famous twisty mountain passes north of Nice was to realise that none of these changes come at great cost to that urgent, precise and often astonishing agility you associate with this brand.
Internally, McLaren has the evidence to show why this GT represents a major shift in their product line-up. Externally, it might seem like a more subtle?—but damn impressive?—first toe in a new market.
Could it also mark the first sign, as some have ventured, that McLaren could one day diversify into that place where almost every other car company has ventured?—the SUV? On this evidence alone that looks outlandish. This a company of tiny margins after all.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.uk.
* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.