Featured: Getting Acquainted With The Modern Supercar By Way Of McLaren And Mulholland

Getting Acquainted With The Modern Supercar By Way Of McLaren And Mulholland

By Alex Sobran
October 20, 2018

McLaren is kind of a perpetual oddball when it comes to road cars. They shifted the sense of what could be achieved with a license plate on the back when they built the beloved F1 with Gordon Murray; nearly a decade afterwards he led a collaboration with Mercedes-Benz on a bizarre-looking supercharged anteater called the SLR; then the road car department in Woking went more or less dormant until the MP4-12C revived the line in 2011. Since then the options have bloomed to include hypercars, homages, track specials, and perhaps most importantly, entry-level supercars—one of those automotive oxymorons that everyone seems to agree is acceptable.

Electing a slightly more professional tone, McLaren calls such cars members of the brand’s “Sports Series,” but haven’t we already reached a point of progress where words like “sport” and “super” have long since lost their original connotations and are more or less meaningless today? Case in point: supercars used to be horrendously impractical things that behaved like temperamental divas and the realm of sub-five-second sprints to 60 came at the expense of just about everything else. Today you can buy a car that will mind its manners in a supermarket parking lot as easily as it pulls to 200MPH down an empty Autobahn.

Working at Petrolicious affords me test drives in pinch-me cars from time to time, but I’m not used to the new stuff, wherein you press the accelerator and your head makes an audible dent in the leather, wherein you lift a stalk on the same car’s steering wheel in order to navigate speed bumps like Grandma’s sedan. Before spending a brief weekend with the McLaren 570GT I would have described it as an impractical look-at-me-mobile for people who can’t drive stick but like to make a lot of noise, but now I feel stupid. Surely there are a few owners out there who fit the description, but the car is more than just a Lambo fighter relying on F1 provenance, more than something to show off with at the valet.

For starters, the performance capabilities of this thing are beyond my abilities of description barring some platitude about it being faster than nearly anybody would want it to be in nearly every situation, but what I can say unequivocally is that it’s pretty damn easy to drive. Not just easy to drive quickly—it is—but easy to drive in general. I’ve sat in cars with four doors with less visibility out of the rear-view mirrors, and even the gnarliest scabs of LA asphalt couldn’t get the McLaren to issue squeak or rattle #1. Your butt’s adjacent to the road, you’re sitting in a carbon fiber monocoque, the McLaren will weave through traffic like an erratic minnow if you ask it to, but take a pothole on the chin and you’d swear you were in something much softer than a car with butterfly doors and 562 horsepower between its axles.

Not as a gag but as an actual errand, I took it to the grocery store with no issues whatsoever. There’s no jolting around as you look for a parking spot in first gear, the visibility leaves no more blindspots than is to be expected in these days of A-to-C pillar airbags, and if you’re asking for more storage space you won’t find it without giving up the exotic bodywork. In the same parking lot I had someone ask me if it was a Koenigsegg Regera: when’s the last time someone mistook an R8 or a hot 911 for something that wild? For all its scoops and angles and slices though, the 570GT looks so much more wholesome than the angry, uber-aggressive styling that’s taken hold at so many other supercar manufacturers after someone in the marketing department looked a fighter jet. It’s obviously not as undercover as a Porsche Turbo, but it proves you can design an arresting shape without making it look like something a reality TV star would get a DUI in.

Especially so in black, the 570GT slips itself just enough under the radar to attract the kind of attention you want in a car like this—excited kids, thumbs up from people in cool cars, not gold diggers and the local gas station vape teens.

The car was lent to me by McLaren Beverly Hills, and their owner, O’Gara Coach, asked me to bring it to their regularly-hosted Sunday supercar gathering called Sunset GT. A show crammed full of Aventadors and whatnot isn’t our typical cup of tea at Petrolicious, but in the spirit of trying to bring myself up to speed on the current state of the supercar, it seemed like a good place to take stock. The heavy hitters were pretty much all there—LaFerrari, One:1, 918, P1, Chiron, pick one—but aside from those the cars that were best-received were part of the an older generation, like the white on white Testarossa that drew a walking crowd from the street all the way to its parking spot.

It makes you think: what does it share with today’s top-rung road cars? Can cars that have long since “solved” the problems of the Testarossas and Countaches of the past ever attain that kind of reverence when they age? It’s hard to say: the look of modern supercars is certainly not moderate, but there are just so damn many of them being made that the spotlight barely has time to warm up before its swung in a new direction. The Aston Martin-Red Bull Valkyrie is slated to be an astonishingly fast machine, but by the time it’s ready to do anything besides pose for a press release will anyone care anymore?

And what does this have to do with the 570GT? The experience I had was memorable (it’s not everyday, even in this job, that you get the chance to drive supercars on Mulholland), but what makes it so special is the exact opposite of what made its predecessors so impactful. Those cars are known as more or less wholly impractical toys. The 570GT will eat those cars for breakfast, and it can do it every day of the week, literally. Does history remember the hard-working students who lead practical if successful lives, or do they remember the Richard Bransons instead? Does a car need to be a bit weird and pointless to be considered super? It seems like the answer has been “no” for some time now, and the McLaren 570GT is only proving the point.

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Fat Clyde
Fat Clyde
4 years ago

@dus10r I would be inclined to keep the super reliable, phenomenal handling Lotus It must be my age but McClaren, Bugatti etc seem over engineered and that is most likely the reason for their unreliability issues. I am in the keep it simple yet effective clan. Lotus, TVR (I know), even Porsche would be my preferred modes of sporty fun. Perhaps a top end Alfa Quadrifoglio ?

5 years ago

I currently drive a Lotus Evora S. Have been looking for a replacement or the “next” car.
The little Lotus probably has the best steering in the business and the chassis is phenomenal. No body roll and unreal handling, but eats up bumps and crap pavement like a luxury sedan. But I have the urge again for more power. So what to get? The only car that is Lotus like in steering and handling but also has gobs of power is the Mclaren. I LOVE the Mclaren. But spend anytime at all on a Mclaren forum and you soon form the opinion that its a car you own only if you live next door to the Mclaren dealership. I don’t live next door. I live 4 hours away. So whatever I own needs to be reliable and Mclaren are a lot of things but reliable isnt an option you can get unfortunately. And I own a LOTUS! (which has been super reliable as a daily driver for 4 years by the way). I really was hoping to read good things about Mclarens but the concensus is you either get one that is good or one that is quirky, The good ones seem to belong to maybe 1 out of 10 owners and even they have had stupid quirks. So I just cant stomach spending that much cash on a car that has a very high potential of being a complete pain in the butt to own. Just get on a Mac forum and start reading. Electrical gremlins up the yazoo, leaky transmissions that require complete replacement or the “quick fix” which is to just plug the hole, scary. Paint that is bubbling, engine replacements, hydraulic suspension failures (why the super series have such amazing rides), etc etc… tons and tons of annoying quirks. And dont believe them when they say “yea but the newer cars are more reliable” tell that to a friend of mine who’s 720 broke down a day after he bought it.
So Mclaren makes a great performing vehicle, if you can keep it running. So sad…

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