Motormouth is in Arizona test driving the new 2019 McLaren 600LT Spider – let’s hope you too have a race track handy…`
Not since Nasa has any organisation reached such levels of technical brilliance in a decade as McLaren. The American space agency was formed in 1958 and put Neil Armstrong on the Moon in 1968. Okay, so McLaren hasn’t quite put its models on a lunar landscape, but since its second coming of 2011, when it became a permanent fixture in the road-car world, the Woking-based manufacturer has magicked nothing short of motoring miracles for such a comparatively fledgling contender.
That laser-accurate competence has, in the past, sometimes concurrently led to accusations of their million-dirham-plus creations lacking a little in the charisma stakes – although last year’s flamboyant Senna did its best to blast apart such assumptions.
Now, though, you can get a new dose of magnetism-immersed Mac with extra topless thrills: embargoes dictate that we can’t tell you about the beautiful 720S Spider quite yet; the car we are raving about here is the 600LT’s convertible incarnation. The clincher? A top-exit dual exhaust that ups the spaceship factor and makes grown men who should know better get enthusiastic about embellishments that take them back to the barefaced energy of their youth trailing round motor shows in the pre-internet era (hi there).
Sales might be down a tad in McLaren’s chosen regional designation of the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, but the sixth and seventh Spiders in the range are due to make up 50 per cent of the company’s 2019 production. And with 100 per cent electrification coming by the middle of the next decade, the days of petrol-powered V8s that make glorious noises like the 600LT are certainly numbered. EVs are coming, then; SUVs, however, McLaren is at pains to point out, are not.
Fire-spewing exhausts aside, there are many factors that make its full driver-focused intentions clearer than the cloudless skies around Phoenix, Arizona, where we’ve come to test out the fifth McLaren longtail (the F1 GTR Longtail, 675LT and Spider, and the 600LT coupe are the predecessors in question, since you didn’t ask).
Minimised weight and increased power are the most obvious pointers. A prominent display of 100 kilograms of hot sauce on a trolley at our base for the week, the Four Seasons Scottsdale, demonstrates the former stat – that’s the total shed from the 570S Spider, from which the 600LT Spider is derived.
McLaren went deep to achieve this: beyond a lightweight retractable hardtop, which operates in 15 seconds at up to 40km/h, and super-lightweight seats, attention to detail such as titanium wheel bolts (a 420-gram saving) aids its diet plan. A whole 23 per cent of the car is new versus the 570S Spider, although there is no chassis strengthening from that forebear.
Lowered suspension, a new front splitter and side skirts, an extended rear diffuser and a fixed rear wing help the 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8’s progress – and really rather rapid progress it is, too: 0-100km/h in 2.9 seconds and a top speed of 324km/h (and only 9km/h slower with the top off). Headline figures of 600 horsepower and 620Nm are unchanged from the coupe, as is its 100kg of downforce.
A morning drive out of Scottsdale shows the 600LT Spider to be a hoot, but our destination, Arizona Motorsports Park, is certainly not accidental, because this is an outright track animal. Indeed, the only things faster than the Mac in these parts are the booming fighter jets almost constantly landing at the Luke Air Force Base next door to the circuit.
The revolving electronic dash screen is a hugely satisfying innovation: the full monty gives you all the info you need on the highways, while its track-focused minimal flip side displays all you need to know while attempting lap records: revs and speed.
Boy, does it go round corners – at the entirely flat Motorsports Park, the 600LT Spider’s balance is almost alien in its brilliance. There’s true witchcraft at work, although while it boasts a Senna-inspired brake booster, a little more encouraging bite from the left pedal wouldn’t go amiss when hurtling round at top whack, even if the numbers (100-to-0km/h in 32 metres) suggest otherwise. The only other moan is that McLaren steering wheels, carbon fibre or otherwise, don’t quite match the rest of the cabin’s premium air.
Much of the charm of the 600LT Spider is its unrepentantly impractical attitude: a stiff ride and even stiffer seats will leave your back in bits after a day behind the wheel; with the top removed, the seven-inch infotainment screen is more or less illegible should any sunlight shine in its vague direction; the tight cabin makes your passenger something of a close-quarters side airbag.
Production of the 600LT Spider starts in March – and given the rapidity with which previous Spider longtails have sold out versus coupe sales, you might want to get busy with your bank account. You won’t regret it. Those exhausts alone make it worthwhile with the top off.
2019 McLaren 600LT Spider
3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 | seven-speed sequential shift transmission, rear-wheel drive | 600hp and 620Nm of torque | zero to 100km/h in 2.9 seconds | AED966,702