First Drive

2017 McLaren 570GT First Drive

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The late, great LJK Setright used to rail at engineers who thought that "if you can't measure it, it doesn't exist." There's an element of that in McLaren's starter Sports Series, particularly the 570S, where spectacular performance doesn't quite fill the soul. What McLaren has so far failed to understand is that at this level ($198,950 before state and federal taxes) its products need to appeal to more than just number-obsessed track junkies. While incisive turn-in, roll-free handling ,and jet-fighter fast tick some boxes, others such as space and grace are left resolutely unticked.

GT derives from The Grand Tour, a 17th-century European rite-of-passage cultural tour undertaken by well-heeled young blades anxious to see and hear the great works of art and music for themselves; food, wine, and other earthly pleasures might also have been involved. And while the name has been lifted by Clarkson, Hammond, and May for their forthcoming Amazon car show, true petrol heads will more properly associate Grand Tour with the Italian Gran Turismo, a car capable of high-speed, cross-continental peregrination in style, with space for expensive luggage.

Whoops, did I mention Italy? Not something done lightly in the presence of McLaren, which has a culture of omertá when it comes to rivals: Ferrari, Lamborghini, and even Audi and Porsche. McLaren Cars might be passionate and fired with the winning spirit of its racing founder Bruce McLaren, the mercurial and talented Kiwi who died in a testing accident at Goodwood 46 years ago, but its clinical approach to the business of making cars leaves some cold.

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The new 570GT aims to change all that. It's basically a 570S with a glass rear hatchback that opens toward the according sidewalk for right- and left-hand-drive depending on the country of sale. Unlike the S owner cramming luggage behind the seats, the GT owner elegantly posts weekend bags into the leather-floored trunk. Actually the width of the rear fender means they'll likely be dragging them across the all-aluminum bodywork. At least McLaren offers a vinyl-coating service to protect the paint.

Another advantage of space is a welcome simplicity to the coachwork. The GT transformation declutters chief designer Rob Melville's basically sound proportions, and they breathe a little better as a result. The hatchback gives an additional 7.8 cubic feet to add to the 5.3 cubic feet under the trunk lid, which added together is more room than in a Ford Focus.

A panoramic sunroof is standard and gives the cabin a lovely airy feel, though the reflections from the front and rear screens are poor. Counterintuitively, the GT has worse rear views than the S model. Also standard are soft-close doors, powered steering column adjustment, and interior trim extended into the hatchback. The US market also gets a rear-view camera and nose lift so you can get the car into Sunset Boulevard garages without removing the bumper. There are some spectacularly pricey options, including carbon-fiber trim packs ($3,850 and $10,440 respectively), sports carbon-fiber seats ($6,080), forged lightweight wheels (from $3,200), and a terrific Bowers & Wilkins audio system ($2,240).

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The suspension is softened compared to the 570S's. Front spring rates are reduced by 15 percent and rears by 10 percent, with damping force also reduced to give a slightly more compliant ride quality. The steering ratio is two percent slower and the deletion of the flying buttresses means an eight percent reduction in downforce. Steel brakes replace the 570S model's standard carbon-ceramics, although to prevent the embarrassing splash of cars falling into the Atlantic off the launch venue on the island of Tenerife, all the test cars were fitted with the $8,850 optional brake upgrade.

Unchanged is the Sports Series carbon-fiber tub and the mid-mounted, Ricardo-designed-and-built M838TE, a 3.8-liter, 90-degree, quad-cam, dry-sump, twin-turbo V8 that makes 562 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque. Also unchanged is the seven-speed, twin-clutch transmission driving the rear wheels. The 570GT borrows the quieter exhaust system from the 540C and specially developed Pirelli P Zero tires. The latter feature their own internal noise cancelling system made of polyurethane sponge stuck to the inner liner of the tire, which absorbs up to three decibels of cabin noise. Since the engine sounds like a vacuum cleaner eating string, the quieter interior is no hardship.

The altered bodywork, sunroof, and sundry other items add over 80 pounds to the dry weight, up from the S model's 2,894 pounds to 2,976. (Like with Italian cars, dry weight is largely theoretical. We estimate the actual curb weight closer to 3,300 pounds.) There's also a small reduction in acceleration from the 570S model's 0-62 mph in 3.2 seconds to 3.4, and the 0–124 mph time from 9.5 to 9.8 seconds. Top speed, largely down to aerodynamics, is the same at 204 mph. City/Highway fuel economy is 16/23 mpg.

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McLaren's driver interface appears to have been invented by The Nutty Professor, which is fine once you know it but requires learning. First-timers get to sort out a parking brake on the door side, center-console buttons for Neutral, Drive, and Reverse, and the steering-column gear-change paddles that won't select neutral when both are pulled together (a common convention).

Cabin ingress isn't easy in spite of the scissor doors. Even the most athletic tend to plop down into the seats, and climbing in while wearing a skirt is particularly risky. At least the GT has some hard wearing surfaces where your feet scrape over the side sill. The inside door release buttons aren't easy to find and getting out requires a sort of funky-chicken elbow push, but the hydraulic struts ease the strain of pushing the doors open.

For those up to six feet tall, the cabin provides (just) enough head- and legroom. Fit and finish is exemplary, the instrument cluster is simple and clear. It's a design that is pleasing to the eye and touch, although there's very little storage space around the passengers. Not so great is the standard seat comfort, so despite the GT name we recommend the optional racing seats. Cabin ventilation is also lacking, and heat radiation through the windows and sunroof leaves the air conditioning struggling.

The softer suspension specs seem like a minor alteration, but they add up make to a significant difference. Most noticeable is the 570GT's behavior on broken road surfaces, when wheels traverse small bumps with more composure and less clattering than in the S model. The 570GT also deals better with staggered shallow depressions at speed, where the S and some rivals can feel a bit frightening.

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Drawbacks to the 570GT include a lack of feedback in the steering system when the suspension is in Normal mode and a bit more body roll when turning into corners. Click the driveline and suspension up into Sport or Track mode and that inertness disappears. The steering is also noticeably slower than that on the S and on hairpins you'll find your hands crossed. Yet somehow this all makes the GT more rewarding to drive. Body reactions feel more intuitive and inform you of the car's attitude. The GT flows between turns and rewards smooth driving in a way the S struggles to match. And the GT feels less frantic at speed, even if it's marginally slower around a track.

Engine response is exactly like in the S models: little off-boost urge and quite laggy, but very powerful when revved past 3,000 rpm. Porsche's 911 Turbo uses super-expensive variable-geometry turbochargers to add flexibility, and Audi's R8 and Lamborghini's Huracán are naturally aspirated with instant throttle reaction. But if you boot it, the McLaren V8 is pleasingly reactive, and the seven-speed transmission changes quickly through the well-spaced ratios. Of course the 570GT isn't as quick as the 675LT, but that car makes you feel that you might as well cut up your driving license with scissors. For the road the GT is more than fast enough – rewarding and exhilarating. It's just a pity the engine sounds so flat.

After its monkish approach to developing the first of the Super Series, McLaren has learned and reacted with the GT. Even if both S and GT were developed alongside each other, as a road car to live with and to drive places the GT is a far better proposition. And while it's difficult to place it in the long and noble lineage of actual gran turismo cars, you can always pop some Wagner onto the Bowers & Wilkins stereo and make your own Grand Tour.

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