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2019 McLaren 600LT Review: A Driver’s Car, Not a Supercar


June 13, 2019 Cars By Photo by Will Sabel Courtney
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The McLaren 600LT is not a supercar.

Sure, it might seem like one at first glance: It’s low-slung and mean-looking, with a potent engine mounted between the driver and the rear axle and doors that swing up instead of opening out. But the old axiom about books and covers and judgment applies here as well as ever.

Supercars, you see, are an automaker’s most extreme vehicles; they’re the flagships, the technological leaders, the fastest and most expensive and most superlativiest cars. The 600LT, though, is a member of the company’s Sport Series family — the cheapest, least powerful cars in the McLaren showroom. Granted, that’s like saying an NBA player has the worst vertical leap at the Slam Dunk Contest, but the point still stands: It’s not a supercar.

What the 600LT is, however, is a driver’s car. A vehicle made with the goal of satisfying the cravings of true wheelmen and wheelwomen, people who list “driving” as a hobby on their dating profiles and stretch their dollars to buy better rides rather than save up for weddings or retirement. People, quite possibly, like you.

The Good: Making a fast car isn’t hard to do, if you’re an automaker; there’s almost always more power to be found if you’re willing to spend a little time and a little money. Making a car that’s fun…well, that’s another story. Especially if it’s also fast, counterintuitively; when a car is designed to excel at high speeds, it can be tough to make sure it’s involving at lower ones. But McLaren made it happen with the 600LT, delivering a car that’s as enjoyable at five over the speed limit as it is at 100 over.

Who It’s For: Those whose concept of an ideal weekend involves several hours in a car, tackling curve after curve of winding asphalt, and value that above pretty much else in an automotive purchase. And, of course, have the money to drop on one.

Watch Out For: Much like arch-competitor Porsche, the options can add up quickly — especially if you start getting frisky with the pen when it’s over the section of the order sheet dedicated to McLaren Special Operations, the carmaker’s in-house customizing group. “MSO Defined” exterior carbon fiber add-ons alone added nearly $27,000 to my tester’s $306,440 price.

Something else to watch out for: speed bumps, dips, ramps, and every other sudden change in angle in the asphalt ahead, as that very expensive carbon fiber front splitter will scrape on most of them if you aren’t ready to raise the nose with the hydraulic lifter at every opportunity. (Pro tip from having driven a few exitic cars: If there’s any question in your mind about if you should use the lifter…use the lifter.)

Alternatives: Porsche 911 GT2 RS ($293,200), Ferrari 488 GTB ($256,550), Aston Martin Vantage AMR ($184,995), Mercedes-AMG GT R Pro ($TBA)

Review: The first hint of the 600LT’s driver-centric soul comes the moment you first turn the steering wheel. The power steering system designed to help you push those big 10-spoke wheels around is an old-school hydraulic rack, not one that uses an electric motor like most new cars today. In part because of that, and in part because of all the hard work done by the wizards at Woking, the steering is as close as you can come to ideal in a car made in 2019. It’s heavy with purpose, yet so sharp by today’s standards, like those katanas that can bisect a piece of silk dropped on them from above. It’s instant, natural, the alcantara-covered wheel quickly merging with your arms. It’s a revelation, especially after the likes of the BMW i8 or the Toyota Supra and their numb, electrically-boosted helms.

In spite of the intensity about which it performs its missions, the 600LT works fairly well as a daily driver, too. Those comparatively-concise proportions that make it easy to place on narrow back roads also work to its advantage in traffic, enabling it to slip between cars more easily than Super Duty-wide supercars. (On the off chance you find yourself street-parking your quarter-million-dollar sports car, you’ll find they help with parallel parking, too.)

More impressively, though, it never feels like too much car for the mission, the way the speed machines farther up the performance ladder can. It never feels like it’s too much for the road; it’s never too wide, never too powerful. Like other truly great driver’s cars — stretching from the Mazda MX-5 Miata to the Porsche Boxster to even the Lamborghini Huracan Performante — you never feel like you have to push it deep beyond the legal limits to have fun.

The power isn’t absurd, and neither is the way it’s delivered. You definitely know when the boost comes on; floor it below 2,000 rpm in seventh gear, and velocity increases as slowly as in a straining Hyundai Elantra. Once the snails are hot and the revs climbing the torque curve, though, watch out; it builds speed the way meteors do as they enter earth’s gravity well, all the way up to the 8,500 rpm redline. Be glad that it forces you to keep it on boil, though; it makes it all the easier to drive responsibly when you’re not seeking to tempt Johnny Law.

That said…it’s still every bit worth it to find a chance to uncork the Macca. The numbers speak for themselves: 0 to 62 miles per hour in 2.9 seconds, 0-124 mph in 8.2, the quarter-mile in 10.4, a top speed of 204 mph. What the numbers won’t tell you is just how enjoyable it is to feel that in person — to feel the urgency in every darting motion left or right, to feel the steering, the seat, the air itself crackle with kinetic energy as it howls past pedestrian cars the way other cars howl past pedestrians.  Every car can accelerate, turn, and brake; that’s their job. The McLaren is one of those rare examples where you can tell it really, really enjoys its work.

Granted, the 600LT driving experience isn’t without its issues. The pedal controlling the carbon-ceramic brakes is remarkably sensitive, but only after you nudge down through the first half-inch of travel, where pretty much nothing happens. This half-inch of dead pedal also happens to be right about as deep as your foot wants to travel when holding the car at a stop, so if you’re not paying attention, it’s easy to suddenly find the carbon-fiber prow of your pricey car inching towards the fellow ahead of you — who presumably has no idea you’re there, as the low-slung Macca’s roofline sits at or below the belt line of the average new crossover. And for a car this wild-looking and powerful, the sounds coming out of the engine compartment are a bit of a letdown. There’s rage in the engine’s cry as you wind it up, but it’s not enthralling or dramatic — it’s just raw fury.

The bigger issues lie with more mundane things. The wisecracks about British cars and their electronics fermented into cliche decades before your humble author was born, let alone the 600LT, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t truth to them. The stereo, at one point, began oscillating back and forth between two channels for no apparent reason. Another time, it refused to play whatsoever. The music streaming off my phone through the USB cable and Bluetooth occasionally mystified it; it would refuse to restart after pausing, or respond with a lag time practically measured in minutes. Even when the portrait-oriented Iris infotainment system was working correctly, picking through it for the desired effect can be a challenge; the user interface can seem at times as though it were designed by an alien species whose brains evolved to handle the logic of a world where cause and effect lacked the close correlation they do on Earth. 

Those issues, though, are minor criticisms for a sports car. More troubling was the sonar-based parking sensor system’s decision to repeatedly throw a code while creeping through Manhattan. More than once, it started screaming as though it were surrounded by invisible cars instead of empty air, as though the hours of dealing with New York drivers had given it a case of PTSD. And speaking of parking issues, McLaren’s decision to move the rear view camera’s display from the infotainment screen to the instrument panel does makes for a bigger, clearer image, but it also makes it harder to use; the thick carbon fiber spokes of the steering wheel block the feed the moment you start dialing in lock, defeating the purpose of the damn thing.

Still, there’s plenty to like in the McLaren’s stripped-down, Alcantara-lined cabin. The racing seats (sourced from the P1, which is a supercar) may look intimidating, but they’re surprisingly comfortable, with more than enough leg room for even lanky limbs to stretch out between their high sills. The controls all fall nicely to hand, and visibility is more than satisfactory. (So long as you’re not looking backwards, at least.) Amd for a track attacker, there’s a shocking amount of spare room; the frunk ate up a large roll-aboard suitcase with room to spare, and the parcel shelf behind the seats is big enough to take a couple good-sized backpacks without impugning on what little rear visibility there is.

Better yet, walking to or from that interior gives you a chance to soak up the 600LT’s complex-yet-compelling design. Whereas other Sport Series Maccas can seem a little snubby, those extra millimeters of ass give the car a more balanced look; that the rear end’s proportions happen to call up memories of the McLaren F1 is no doubt intentional, and greatly appreciated. Like with the 720S, color choice is key; luckily, the flat gray color McLaren calls “Chicane Effect” that was on my tester is a perfect match for the shape, especially framed against the black accents and wheels. (You can’t tell in the pics, but there’s actually a hint of ruby shine in the paint that only comes out when the sun hits it.)

Verdict:  Honestly, would you really want to drive a supercar with any regularity? Supercars are so fast that using them on public roads is too easy, to the point that there’s often little fun in it — like LeBron James playing against a ninth-grader. The 600LT, on the other hand, still feels relatable. It’s the Captain America to the Senna’s Thor — unmistakably exceptional, yet still close enough to normal that you don’t feel alienated by it. It may not be cheap, but unlike some flash-in-the-pan automobiles with rising doors and mid-mounted engines, you never get the sense that the money was spent on anything other than the mission of building a car that’s dynamite to drive. And if I had the money, it’s the McLaren I’d be most likely to park in my garage.

 

2019 McLaren 600LT Coupe Specs

Powertrain: 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-8, seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, rear-wheel-drive
Power: 592 horsepower, 457 pound-feet of torque
0-60 MPH: 2.9 seconds
Top Speed: 204 mph
EPA Fuel Economy: 15 mpg city, 23 mpg highway

McLaren provided this product for review.

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