Longtail FTW

Thoughts While Driving the New McLaren 600LT Spider


February 20, 2019 Cars By
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McLaren can’t build a bad supercar. That’s not a problem for us proletariat who don’t own a McLaren, but it may present an issue for those who do. Imagine you’re filthy rich and you want the ultimate, best and every other adjective for “apex” supercar from the Woking, England, manufacturer. You part with more than a million dollars and take ownership of the P1 hypercar and you deservedly feel like a king.

A few years later, out comes the Senna and, damn it, it’s slightly better than your P1. It’s so effing perfect that Formula 1 champ Nico Rosberg declares it the only road car he’s driven that comes close to feeling like an F1 car. Clearly, you now must buy a Senna, so you do. Then the 600LT emerges as part of the Sports Series, and because it’s brilliant fun to playfully rip around the track, you’re going to need one of those, too. McLaren’s inability to produce a crummy car is costing you a lot of money, but, hey, at least your garage is freaking beautiful, right?

That garage will need one more parking space. McLaren’s gone and chopped the roof off the 600LT, and because you want to feel the wind tearing out your hair during a track day, you’ll also have to get one of those 600LT Spiders. As previously mentioned, I can’t afford a McLaren 600LT Spider, and cursing that very fact was the first thought I had while testing the beast in Arizona earlier this month. Here, the rest of the musings that pop into your head as you barrel along serene desert roadways and on a closed track.

“Longtail, FTW.”
The “LT” stands for “Longtail,” or an elongated chassis. McLaren’s first foray into a longer wheelbase was the F1 GTR Longtail, back in 1997, which competed in things like the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Oversimplified, take a regular chassis—the jumpoff for the 600LT was the 570S—and stretch it both front and rear, shave out some weight, tweak the aerodynamics, ratchet up the power and you’ve got one helluva monster on a race track. Shorter chassis can go light and feel squirrely under hard charges through a corner on a track, but the 600LT rotates itself through a hairpin as gracefully as a ballerina pirouetting. It’s effortless to get the weight transfer to zip you around and fire you out of the turn at pupil-dilating speed.

“Brake steer should be standard on all supercars.”
Here’s a fun bar fact that’ll make you sound very smarts: in the 1997 Formula 1 season, a photographer spotted a second brake pedal in the McLaren MP4/12 race car. It emerged that pedal was for brake-steer and, when engaged by the driver, it clamped down on the inside rear wheel during a turn to offset understeer. It was outlawed by F1 officials at the end of that season, but it’s back in the 600LT and the Spider. What that brake vectoring does is help the car absolutely tear through corners at high speeds. A little trail braking into a turn, and the front end tucks in, grabs hold of the line and stays there until you unwind the wheel again.

“Brakes are somewhat optional on the road.”
While on the track you definitely need deep dives into the brakes—which feature a Senna-inspired booster, and carbon-fiber discs and flyweight calipers borrowed from the 720S—on long stretches of desert roads with gentle corners, you needn’t tap the left pedal. A light lift right before the turn in and the 600LT cuts around at speeds well above the marked limits, without a hint of squeal from the bespoke Pirelli P-Zero Trofeo R wheels. McLaren proudly notes those shoes help increase the cornering speeds over the 675LT Spider.

“THIS IS BEAUTIFULLY LOUD.”
In a bid to shave weight, McLaren eschewed piping the exhaust down through the rear diffuser, instead opting for a top-mounted exhaust. That means you get a larger rear diffuser, the whole car is a few kilograms lighter, and it’s louder. Absurdly louder. And since it’s a Spider, it’s nearly deafening, in the best way possible. The pops on the overruns sound like gunfire back there, and each time you ask for a satisfyingly chunky downshift, you never tire of the accompanying aural symphony. The crescendo as you run through the top of the rev range is the best growl and howl that mid-mounted 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-8 can produce.

“It’ll fat-shame Lamborghini and Ferrari.”
If specced with the optimal lightweight package, the 600LT Spider weighs a mere 2,859 pounds. Compared to its competition, it’s a featherweight. The Lamborghini Huracan Performante Spyder tips the scales at 3,322 pounds, while the Ferrari 488 Spider clocks in at 3,130 pounds.

“Without the wind, you’d never know this was a Spider.”
Typically cutting the top off a supercar makes it substantially less rigid, and thus less stable when on track. But credit McLaren’s wise engineering for track time feeling indistinguishable between the coupe and convertible. The core of the chassis is the carbon-fiber MonoCell, which gives a solid base, and the rest of the great feeling comes from the aero bits, which keep you glued. The Spider has the same 220-pounds of downforce (at 155 mph) as the Coupe. That’s a properly impressive feat.

“Jesus, this is fast.”
Because of all the weight reduction, even with the top down, it’s got performance nearly identical to its hard-topped brother. The same engine, good for 592-horsepower and 457 lb-ft of torque, propel both the Coupe and the Spider from zero to 60 in 2.9 seconds. (The aforementioned Lambo requires 3.1 seconds, while the 488 Spider needs 3.0.) And while you lose 0.1 of a second in the sprint from zero to 124 mph, it still happens in a blistering 8.4 seconds. You, uh, won’t notice that minuscule lag.

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