Friday, September 20, 2019

McLAREN GT - JUST FOR STARTERS


The humble Hyundai i30 and marvellous McLaren GT have something in common. Both are starter cars in their respective showrooms.

But things are a little different when you drill into just one detail. The starting price for the i30 is $20,990 drive-away, no-more-to-pay, and the GT opens at, ahem, $399,950. Before any fees or taxes.

So the pair are related, but only very, very distantly.

The people who are likely to buy them are literally worlds apart, as I’m reminded when the helicopter lifts off from Nice airport to shuttle me to the global press preview of the GT at a palatial private home that sometimes takes guests. This is one of those times, and the Squirrel drops us gently onto the grass at a glorious estate which is just down the bay from one of the palaces that Roman Abramovich sometimes calls home.

The welcome could not be warmer for the handful of Aussie journalists at the event, as the newly-installed global head of public relations at McLaren Cars is Piers Scott (right).

He is a talented and ambitious New Zealander who worked for a time as PR chief at BMW Australia, before moving on to BMW in Britain and now McLaren.

It’s obvious from the first handshake that Piers is unchanged, right down to his personal belief that shirts should always be casually open-necked and - if possible - opened to at least the third button . . .
But I’m getting off track.


The all-new GT looks lovely as it sits outside in the golden sunset, although perhaps not a match for the priceless modern art that has been lavished through the house by its real owners.

But, for now, McLaren is the host and this is highly enjoyable.

As we shift into work, the details of the new car come into focus. It’s the start of a new group of less-sporty cars from McLaren, although the basics of its carbon-fibre chassis and twin-turbocharged V8 engine are much the same.


We’re talking about 450 kiloWatts in 1530 kilograms, 0-100km/h in 3.2 seconds and a top speed of 326km/h.

Less sporty obviously depends on where you’re sitting, but remember that McLaren also builds the Senna.

In the case of the GT, the idea was to create a car which was less about track time records and more about long-distance journeys. For two.

There are no back seats. Not even a hide-y-hole for luggage or a briefcase behind the seats.

But the trunk space in the nose is generous and McLaren has re-jigged the back of the car to create a hatch-back space that is long and deep enough for golf clubs or skis or whatever.

It’s even comprehensively insulated against the heat from the engine below.

McLaren says the idea was to make the car more user friendly and more accessible.

Bottom line? It’s intended as a daily driver. Something that might seduce a buyer out of a Porsche or a Bentley.

It could eventually account for 20-25 per cent of sales as McLaren aims to grow to 5000 cars a year.

So, how does it drive? I thought you would never ask.

It’s quick at first, fast when you trigger the right switches on the right road in the right mindset, beautifully built and surprisingly relaxed.

Some of my colleagues say the GT is too soft. Not sharp enough on corner turn-in, not cracking hard enough on exits, not as rewarding as they want.
Me? I’m older and softer. Not in the way I’m marking the car, but in what I want and need and expect from a car called a GT.

I think the GT needs a bigger infotainment display screen, I still struggle with pedals which are not set-up for left-foot braking - in a world where almost everyone now drives an automatic - and I think it only just clears the bar for luggage space.

But the suspension is sublime, as I remember from the original McLaren MP4/12C, the car sits comfortably at any speed I choose, and it is a no-stress supercar.

Oh, and I must mention again that McLaren makes the best steering wheels in the world. The shape is perfect for me, steering weight is just-so, and not over-cluttered with buttons or knobs for people who think they're racing F1.

After wandering up to a lunch stop at one of the world’s most exclusive golf courses, where my old photographer mate Stan Papior from Autocar magazine is now plying is freelance trade by making me look good, I’m ready to trip the switches for a serious sprint.

The McLaren GT is as fast as I want to go on a public road, rocketing past slow-moving local traffic, hustling through sweepers and punching through hairpins.

Ok, so there is a touch of turbo lag, a little power understeer, and the exhaust is nowhere close to the aural brilliance of a Ferrari, but the GT does what I want, when I want, the way I want.

After a relaxing luxury lunch I slide into the passenger seat beside old-mate Toby Hagon and he chauffeurs me back to Nice airport as we share - on the iPad I’m holding - the excitement and enjoyment of the Italian Grand Prix. Ferrari wins, but we cheer for Leclerc anyway.

At the end of a long day, as we waft up to Nice's private jet terminal, I’m reminded that McLaren wanted to create a daily driver that is ideal for long-distance trips on roads that challenge and reward.

From where I’ve been sitting, McLaren has hit the bulls-eye.


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