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McLaren GT delivers out-of-this-world style and performance

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I thought a spaceship landed in my driveway last week, but it was a 2020 McLaren GT. That’s better. I have a license to operate one of those.

Low, wide and ridiculously graceful, the GT is McLaren’s “practical” car, a European-style GT in the sense that it can carry a couple off to a weekend getaway at speed, but also in comfort and style. It’s longer than McLaren’s other street cars, designed to be a daily driver — if your daily drive is from your Swiss chalet to a bank in Zurich where they know your number, not your name. GTs traditionally seat four, but there’s no rule that says they must.

McLaren’s other cars are likely to spend at least some time on the track, according to company data. The GT is for more relaxed pursuits.

2020 McLaren GT (Photo: Mark Phelan/Detroit Free Press)

But still, high-speed pursuits. The GT’s 612-horsepower twin-turbo V8 takes the two-seater from zero to 60 mph in 3.1 seconds, and on to a top speed of 203 mph.

So you can imagine my dismay when the engine sputtered and my car topped out at 20 mph when I put my foot down to slice across four lanes to a turnaround. I limped to a parking space, the medieval concept of purgatory come to life: Heaven so near, but denied to me.

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Those 10th-century theologians really knew how to torture a guy. Had I broken somebody else’s quarter-million dollar toy? That’d land me on the rack, for sure. I lit a mental candle to whoever the patron saint of late braking is, studied the controls and spotted a glowing green “20” on the dash. Ah-ha! Familiarizing myself with the McLaren’s controls — simple enough, but unlike what mass manufacturers have generally settled on — I’d inadvertently activated the speed limiter.

When all else fails, hit “reset.” I shut off the car, opened the silky smooth scissors door skyward, stepped out and locked the GT.

Driving impressions

Driving the McLaren GT slowly is almost an insult to the car’s capabilities. Do you invite Usain Bolt over for a leisurely stroll on the beach?

The two-seater comes to life when the V8 revs freely and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission zips smoothly through the gears. The Formula 1-style carbon ceramic brakes are easy to modulate, but they seem to be waiting for you to stamp on them at the last moment before apexing a curve, heating them cherry red.

The GT was ready for all that when I restarted, the 20-mph electronically controlled limit erased from both our memory banks.

A highway entrance ramp appeared in front of me, I hit the gas and an idiot grin was plastered to my face for the rest of the day as the car seemed simultaneously to hug the road and prepare for takeoff. Who needed to arrive? Give me a tree-lined road in the lake country and let the journey continue.

More than most cars, the handful of exotics McLaren builds can legitimately claim to be derived from racing technology, using many of the same technologies that go into the company’s Formula 1 cars.  Despite that, the GT is easy to drive and comfortable —except getting in and out, when the car’s low, wide sills, and a door structure that’s slightly higher than the lowest seating position, makes an elegant arrival or getaway challenging.  

Once you’re inside, the controls are easy to use, once you get used to McLaren’s unique logic.

Snug and luxurious

Every inch was covered in navy or oyster shell leather (Deep Ink and Porcelain in your order book). The seats hugged my body without feeling constricting.

My car’s optional carbon ceramic brakes delivered monstrous stopping power but were less touchy and easier to modulate than what’s on some mass market midsize sedans.

The transmission is quick and precise, unobtrusive unless you select the performance mode, hammer it and use the paddle shifters aggressively.

The GT’s double wishbone suspension and adaptive shocks provide a comfortable ride but can be stiffened for maximum performance. Despite its low ride, the GT has enough ground clearance to handle standard speed bumps and driveway entrances — “allowing the new GT to cope with the most aggressive traffic calming measures” in McLaren’s words — without scraping its carbon fiber bodywork. A hydraulic lift raises the nose for obstacles that appear more challenging.

The GT’s body and most of its structure are carbon fiber. The suspension and front and rear crash structures are aluminum. The result is a curb weight of just 3,384 pounds. Putting the engine behind the passenger compartment and over the rear wheels leads to a 42.5 front/57.5 rear weight distribution that helps the light car transfer its massive power to the road without spinning its wheels. The unusually light nose and short distance from driver to front wheels also contribute to exceptionally quick and precise steering.

The GT earns its “weekend getaway” stripes with a pair of luggage compartments: 14.8 cubic feet behind the seats — and above the rear-mounted engine, and 5.3 cubic feet — room for weekend bags for two if you travel light — in the nose. Rumor has it McLaren sends a repo man if the owner calls the front compartment a “frunk,” but I wouldn’t know. I don’t use that kind of language.

How much?

The McLaren GT’s base price is $210,000. That’s just the starting point, though.

Options on my GT included Ludus Blue paint. The paint’s name, “Ludus,” is Greek for “a playful kind of love,” according to internet dictionaries that variously describe it as flirting and having fun. Money may not buy love, but the paint’s $7,500 option price seems well worth it. My test vehicle stickered at  $259,930.

Other options on it included:

  • Carbon ceramic brakes
  • Electrochromic glass roof
  • Polished brake calipers with silver McLaren logo
  • 15-spoke forged gloss black wheels
  • Sports exhaust
  • Power hatchback
  • 1,200-watt 12-speaker Bowers & Wilkins audio
  • Leather-wrapped interior

2020 McLaren GT at a glance

Base price: $210,000

As tested: $259.930 (excluding destination charges)

Rear-wheel drive two-seat grand tourer

On sale now

Engine: 4.0L twin-turbo V8

Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic

Power, 615 hp @ 6,500 rpm; 465 pound-feet of torque @ 5,500-6,500 rpm

Estimated EPA fuel economy:15 mpg city/ 22 highway/18 combined.

Wheelbase: 105.3  inches

Length: 184.4  inches 

Width, mirrors folded: 80.5  inches

Height: 47.8 inches

Luggage space: 20.1 cubic feet (14.8 rear/5.3 front)

Curb weight: 3,384 pounds

Weight to power ratio: 5.5 pounds per horsepower

Weight distribution: 42.5/57.5 front/rear

Assembled in Woking, England

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