DRIVEN. McLaren 675LT

February 15, 2016

McLaren’s ‘Longtail’ name hasn’t been seen since the F1 GTR LT bowed out of competition in 1997. Nearly two decades later, we find out whether the LT is a genuine ‘everyday P1’ or just a slightly faster 650S.

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EnginePowerTorque0-100kphTop speedWeightPrice
V8, twin-turbo, 3799cc666bhp @ 7100rpm700Nm (516lb ft) @ 5500-6500rpm2.9secs330kph1230kg (541bhp/ton)$393,500

The quality of the footage is grainy, and the white-shuddering crackle at the bottom of the screen indicative of its late-90s heritage. It’s not the VHS quality that strikes me first though, nor is it the incomprehensible commentary. It’s the noise, the shrill whine of nearly 30 GT cars screaming their way down to Eau Rouge, at a time when the legendary corner was taken flat only by the most insanely talented, or stupefyingly brave. The nose of the lead Mercedes CLK-GTR twitches over the kerbing, and the second-placed McLaren F1 GTR ‘Longtail’ is still – somehow – nailed to its exhaust, the long-run down to Les Combes not quite enough to get the overtake done. Behind, two day-glow yellow wing mirrors and a matching set of red signify the CLK sandwich the F1 GTR finds itself in, a lone Porsche 911 GT1 clinging to the tail of the lead pack before making its move later in the race.

This being Spa-Francorchamps, conditions worsen quickly, the sound of 600bhp-ish powerplants soon doing battle with the pitter-patter of raindrops off the camera lens. The laps tick by, the lead CLK edging away and the Longtail now under attack from the pursuing Mercedes, the latter making a late dive into La Source, the F1 cutting back to the inside on the corner exit and its rear wheels sluicing sideways as its driver gets back on the power. Once again, the dice through Eau Rouge and down the Kemmel Straight continues, the Mercedes once again coming out on top. Another crackle of the VHS quality.

It’s only a few more laps before the lead Mercedes, despite an admirable save from its pilot, sails sideways into the gravel, caught out by the slippery conditions. Later on, the second thumps its way over the kerbing, rattling the bodywork as it does so and leaving a heady trail of aluminium in its wake, a lengthy pitstop now inevitable. All the while, the V12 roar of the F1 GTR Longtail soars through the treetops above Spa, a pantheon of ‘BMW Motorsport’-clad mechanics leaning over the pitwall to celebrate their fourth win in five starts in the LT’s debut season. Victory in Mugello would follow, but it would be another 17 years before the ‘LT’ name returned to prominence.

It’s these grainy images and these iconic racing battle cries that keep coming back to me as the sun begins to creep over the nearby mountain range. We’ve been here for an hour already waiting for this moment, photographer Arun adamant that the lack of sleep, breakfast and conceivable warmth will pay off in the end. I’ve no doubt, for this is not our first time on this stretch of mountain road (it’s not even our first time this week, woefully poor timing stopping us from comparing our McLaren today with the Lamborghini Aventador SV Roadster you can read about HERE). For me though, the draw of driving a ‘Longtail’ is almost painful. I really want to see how this thing will handle.

The latest addition to McLaren’s Super Series, the 675LT marks the first time in nearly two decades that the ‘LT’ name last appeared on a road going McLaren (courtesy of the three homologated F1 GT models safely locked away in private collections). And while it’s tempting to consider this ‘just a slightly faster 650S’, it could hardly be less so. Indeed, the 675LT has already been marketed as – deep breath – the ‘lightest, most powerful, fastest and most track-focused, yet road legal, model in the McLaren Super Series’. And as ever with Woking, the devil is in the details.

“It would be another 17 years before the ‘LT’ name returned to prominence.”

The 3.8-litre twin-turbocharged V8 is a McLaren stalwart, and produces ‘just’ 25bhp more than the 650S at a Satanic 666bhp and 516lb ft of torque. Beneath the figures though lies increased usage of carbon fibre and revised bodywork – including a new front splitter and ‘Longtail’ extended airbrake – as part of an obsessive weight saving regime undertaken on the 675LT. The new 10-spoke alloys, the lightest ever offered by McLaren, save 800g, and even the windscreen glass is 0.5mm thinner to shave those vital micro-grams.

As such, while 0-100kph in the LT is just 0.1 seconds quicker at 2.9secs compared with the 650S, it’s when the 675 stretches its legs that it really starts getting down to business. From standstill to 200kph takes less than eight seconds (half a second quicker than the 650S), while particular attention has made paid to the suspension geometry – derived from the P1, just FYI – the aerodynamic efficiency of the bodywork, and rigidity of the chassis to make cornering prowess in the 675LT as formidable as possible. Springs front and rear have been stiffened – 27 and 63 percent respectively – while super sticky Pirelli P-Zero Trofeo R ensure yet further levels of grip. To all intents and purposes, the 675LT is an everyday P1 for a quarter of the price, an intriguing prospect at just over $393K. And before you ask, yes, all 500 editions have been sold.

The sun is creeping gingerly over the outcrop, flares dancing off the full-menace Storm Grey paintwork, the shutter speed on the camera working overtime to capture the moment. And those powerful bodylines. It’s not a striking difference to 650S base – Woking has little interest in flash – but the 675LT nevertheless emits a strong presence with its new F1-style nose endplates, carbon fibre detailing, and newly designed front splitter. All, naturally, built for purpose, the striking look purely coincidental after gawd knows how long in the wind tunnel. The clock ticks just-after-sun-up, and with his money shots in the bag, Arun waves me the all clear.  Time to depart. The sombre silence of just a few seconds earlier is ripped asunder as the roar of the V8 penetrates when I push the starter button.

There’s a sense of relief as I peel back one of the dihedral doors, slide beneath the trailing edge and position myself in the awaiting carbon fibre-shelled bucket seat. I had worried that the interior, one of the finest the motoring world has to offer in my opinion, would also have gone under the surgeon’s lightweight knife, and I’m relieved to see this isn’t the case. The alcantara upholstery remains as does McLaren’s revised infotainment system, the overall civility consequently unchanged: during the run back to headquarters in Normal mode, engine roar is ample but not deafening, the ride quality supercar stiff but not unduly so, and the supportive nature of the seats impressively comfortable for a $393K P1. In an effort to emphasise its ‘track-focused’ nature, air conditioning has been given the boot, though fortunately remains on our test model as an optional extra. Perhaps – PERHAPS – the comfort is not quite up there with the 650S, but given the performance capabilities of the 675LT, it’s a superb balance.

As I peel onto our test route, both the drivetrain and handling are already in Sport mode: there’s only a few hours before traffic begins to amp up on the mountain and I’ve no interest in messing around during my first run. Such is the level of finesse McLaren ladles into its products, it’s tempting to jump straight in at the hairy-chested Track end. Common sense prevails though, and it’s not like McLaren’s Sport mode has ever been less than scintillating. It’s a worthy starting point.

“I peel back one of the dihedral doors, slide beneath the trailing edge. The sombre silence of just a few seconds earlier is ripped asunder by the roar of the McLaren V8.”

Acceleration is as you would expect from Woking, namely ceaseless.  Typically McLaren,  the acceleration is both visceral in its sharpness yet boasts an underlying civility: the revs tick by with almost metronomic precision  on the run to a heady redline, but there’s no brusque sense of violence or lingering fury from the V8. There’s progressive –  seemingly endless – pull, but one conveyed with the agility of a surgeon’s knife rather than a savage blow from a balled-up fist. It’s this refined delivery that, after only a few corners, means my confidence in the 675LT is already stoked, ditto the immediacy of the seven-speed automatic. We’ve had little criticism of McLaren’s SSG dual clutch system in the past, but even this has been optimised for more efficient and, most importantly, quicker shift times. It does not disappoint.

So yes, fast. Most definitely fast. But faster than the 650S? Quite honestly, no. The sensation of speed is just as innate in the 675 as its Super Series sibling and the sheer might of that gutsy twin-turbo V8 just as effective on the sprint. Hauling less weight probably makes a difference if you concentrate particularly hard, but right here and now, it’s difficult to judge. But then, as McLaren explained, with the 675LT, it’s not just about the top speed. It’s how the 675LT handles the corners of the mountain road that stretches before us that will be its true mettle.

It’s ironic that my first experience with the steering is not a particularly encouraging one: the guys have just spotted another potential ‘money shot’ location, and I’m asked to swing the car around before the light disappears completely. Pull off to the side of the road, select first gear, left hand down, full lock…

How to put this delicately: the turning circle in the 675LT is rotten, an offshoot of the new steering rack. The result is decidedly quicker steering rates but ultimately damaging the ability to turn the car on a die as you could with the 12C. A simple u-turn – in fact all of them – now becomes a quick-as-I-can three-point turn, making me very grateful that the visibility both front and rear is as good as it is.

With the shots in the bag after another 15 minutes waiting for the sun to rise, and with another fiddly three-point turn completed, I set off again towards the twisting mountain stretches, the poke from the V8 once again insistent rather than visceral. Truth be told, I feel a little put out by the turning circle debacle, concerned now that what I believed could be the 675LT’s banner feature – the handling – could in fact prove its biggest weakness.

But then, lest we forget, form follows function, and I’m barely through the first couple of corners before I’m cursing my own skepticism.

It’s perfect. There’s really no other word for it. Into the tighter corners, the steering is beautifully weighted, textured feedback and an abundance of grip from the front wheels pivoting the front end almost alarmingly quickly: it’s been rumoured the 675LT could even outmanoeuvre the P1, but we’ll wait for the twin test before confirming this.

To sharpen response at the helm paves the way for more electronic assistance and a slow decline in engagement as a result, but somehow Woking has got the balance spot on: far from being Ferrari-quick, the 675LT’s steering feels alert lock-to-lock, allowing me to fully exploit the levels of grip those Trofeo R tyres have to offer. Beneath the bodywork, revised suspension geometry and the stiffer springs allow me to keep the McLaren on a knife edge through some of the faster turns, the speeds we reach much higher than even I imagined possible (a comment on my own limits rather than the car’s, I can assure you). Throwing out the anchors sees that massive Longtail Airbrake rise up and blot out the rear windscreen, the stopping power barely credible. It’s far from ‘off and on’ though, the travel in the pedal and the feel for the discs more than enough to find the sweet spot.

“I won’t bore you with summing up the pros and cons since, quite frankly, one far outweighs the others.”

From a purely visual perspective, there’s little to choose between them, ditto when the loud pedal is given a kick. It’s through the corners though that the 675LT truly comes alive and shows itself to be a much greater animal. Somehow the already stellar handling and balance of the 650S is improved upon in the 675LT, eliciting more grip, more confidence, more enthusiasm to lean on the front end and exploit the formidable talent lingering beneath. And I’m staggered. I have considerable respect for the 650S: that McLaren can produce a ‘track-focused’ model without tearing the essential character out of its Sport Series contender is a testament to Woking’s attention to detail.

I won’t bore you with summing up the pros and cons of the 675LT for quite frankly, as you’ve probably guessed, one far outweighs the others, while the 650S offers a slightly more civilised day-to-day package, the 675 is certainly no stripped out track weapon either: look past the turning circle, and there’s little you couldn’t use quite comfortably on the commute. Factor in the driving dynamics – namely gutsy acceleration, superb handling, perfect balance and enviable engagement – and it’s a crying shame that only 500 examples of this bon a fide ‘everyday P1’ will hit the streets. What better way for the Longtail to return from retirement after nearly two decades on the shelf?


*Images courtesy of Arun M Nair and Awesome Group


Technical specifications

Engine V8, twin-turbo, 3799cc

Power 666bhp @ 7100rpm

Torque 700Nm (516lb ft) @ 5500-6500rpm

Transmission Seven-speed SSG automatic, rear-wheel drive

Front suspension Double wishbones, coil springs, adaptive dampers, roll control

Rear suspension Double wishbones, coil springs, adaptive dampers, roll control

Brakes Carbon ceramic, 394mm (front), 380mm (rear)

Wheels 8.5 x 19in (front), 11 x 20in (rear)

Tyres 235/35 ZR19 (front), 305/30 ZR20 (rear)

Weight (dry) 1230kg

Power-to-weight 541bhp/ton

0-100kph 2.9secs

Top speed 330kph

Basic price $393,500