If you maintain above 84 mph with the top down, you will stay dry in a massive downpour. McLaren loves numbers, but for some reason, the automaker does not publish this figure in its exhaustive press kit. It should. If you’re in a 720S, Coupe or Spider, there are very few roads—outside of dense, urban areas—where maintaining such a speed will be an issue physically, if not legally or morally. Compared to the speed you’re most likely doing in dry weather, an 84 moving average should be no biggie. And even if you do have to slow down, you’ll stay dry at about 75 too; the rear bulkhead will be a different story. If that doesn’t sit with you, the electrochromic power retractable glass roof is like everything else McLaren makes: fast. It goes up or down in 11 seconds at up to 30 mph, the fastest power convertible top I’ve heard of.
The McLaren 720S is, to get to the chorus, one of the most extraordinary vehicles ever put into production, at any price. Not simply because of its staggering performance—it's recorded 0-60 runs in the low two-second range, nine-second quarter miles, and 175 mph half-mile trap speeds, without the benefit of all-wheel-drive—but also because of McLaren’s totally unique set of priorities in the space. Priorities which get accentuated when the roof is removed.
Developed mostly alongside the 720S Coupe, the Spider version was paused during the Coupe’s final development, and picked up again last year. It shares most of the 720S Coupe’s "Monocage II" carbon chassis with aluminum front and rear structures, but unlike the coupe, this "Monocage II-S" version has no central T-top mounting point for the doors (and therefore new dihedral door hinges). McLaren added virtually invisible, but mathematically significant reinforcement to the carbon B-pillar for rollover protection, shown off in clear coated finish in my Belize Blue tester. The geometric roof mechanism is fantastically simple, electric, rather than hydraulic (prospective second-owners, rejoice!), and beautiful to watch operate. When the roof is raised, its nook in the engine bay improves trunk space by 50 percent, added to a cargo hold that's already plentiful for a car of this class. Though a $10,000 option, how can you not want an electrochromic glass roof that goes from clear to dark limo tint at the touch of a button? It’s a wonderful party trick, functional from a security and UV standpoint, and costs nothing in headroom.
Curb weight, being sort of McLaren’s thing, is an appropriately class-leading 3236 lbs, 108 lbs heavier than the 720S coupe but 88 lbs lighter than the roofless 650S. And when you consider the fact that the M840T twin-turbo V-8 powering the 720S has consistently put down more than McLaren’s claimed 710 horsepower on chassis dynos, you start to understand those acceleration figures.
When I mentioned McLaren’s unique set of priorities earlier, I was referring primarily to two things: interior space and visibility. The 720S Spider is a class leader for both. As a 6’3”, 260-lb driver with back and knee issues, I am unequivocally an expert in these areas. The 720S Coupe is the most comfortable supercar on sale, the easiest to get in and out of, and the easiest to drive in city traffic because it has the best visibility and ride. Many cars boast that tall people can fit, but that doesn’t mean tall people can see. Too frequently, “Gurney bubble” roof designs mean constant neck pain when trying to peer below the windshield header, placed right at eye level. McLaren moved the header 80mm forward for the 720S Spider, which, combined with a low seat, means this driver can sit straight up and look straight out—something that sounds simple, but that I almost never experience.
Though the backup camera remains comically terrible (it’s literally a horizontal screen within a vertical screen), the Spider version actually improves on the coupe’s visibility with a lower rear deck and those absolutely beautiful glass flying buttresses.
These tinted, glazed wings offer an example (alongside the Senna's double-windowed doors) of McLaren’s "why not?" development process. If engineers can’t think of a good reason not to make the buttresses clear, then they should be clear. It works: the field of view out the back is 12 percent better than in the 650S Spider.
The biggest compliment I can give any convertible is to say it drives and feels exactly like the coupe; this one does. There is no perceptible loss of chassis rigidity, no change in ride, and while I didn’t have access to a race track or telemetry equipment, from what I gather, there's virtually no change in handling or braking either. According to McLaren, up to 124 mph, the Spider even accelerates as rapidly as the coupe, with 0-60 and 0-124 mph times identical for both cars. Though a “super tester” with the finest senses (or a VBOX) may come up with a few percentage points either way, the cars drive the same—which is to say, perfectly, and unlike any other car on the road. They whack a few mph off the top end when you've got the top lowered, so you can only do 202 with the wind in your hair. With the roof raised, McLaren says it’s good for 212.
The 720S is unique in that to drive one is to live in a world with less resistance. It’s not just that it’s as powerful as some dragsters, or that the 568 lb-ft of torque aren’t interrupted when you pull the shift paddle. It’s that you can actually feel the lack of air resistance, the lack of rolling resistance—it’s close to what I’d imagine driving in a vacuum feels like. There are other fast cars out there, but none have the effortlessness about them that the 720S does. That extends to the engine itself, which feels superbly tight and precise but free to spool up, like a slot car motor with fresh graphite, and the electro-hydraulic steering, which always seems to find the right heft.
It takes more than high power and low weight to achieve this feeling; otherwise all race cars would be there, and they aren’t. Double-wishbone suspension geometry combines with adaptive dampers and the Proactive Chassis Control II cross-linking system, which adjusts based on road conditions and driver inputs. You can maximize the sensation by setting the chassis knob to Normal and the powertrain knob to Track. In this mode, all the road information you need to go very, very fast gets sent to your hands, and everything unnecessary gets filtered out. The car retains its steering feel, and yet glides over bumps in a way I’ve only felt from, swear to God, Rolls Royces. In a more practical sense, it’s what separates the “Super Series” cars from McLaren's entry-level “Sports Series” cars.
Of course, all this comes at an extraordinary cost. Though the 720S Spider “starts” at $306,000 (which, believe it or not, sounds like a value) I’m driving the “Luxury” version, with upgraded interior materials and visual touches and a base price of $317,000. But then there’s the options, and, are you sitting down? Here’s some highlights:
- Belize Blue Paint: $5500
- Lightweight Forged Wheels: $4100
- 360 Degree Park Assist: $6100 (!!)
- Glossy Clear Carbon Fiber Diffuser: $7595
- Exterior Carbon Fiber Pack 1 & 2: $19,500
- Interior Carbon Fiber Pack 1 & 2: $5920
- Sports Exhaust: $6300
All-in-all there were $98,000 in options in my test vehicle, raising its MSRP to $415,000 tax, a number as jaw dropping as the 720’s performance. And if that number doesn’t scare you, by all means, dive in, and sprinkle a few MSO goodies on top. At the very least you can justify the expense if you use it every day, which is totally doable. I drove it in standing water and a hail storm. The rooster tails were epic.
Ultimately, time will tell if McLaren has finally gotten out of being its own worst enemy. Complexity of repair, and the push for volume, mean the automaker's cars are easy to come by but hard to fix. The 720S certainly feels like the most “complete” car ever to come out of Woking, a shining example of how far the company’s come in just eight years. But this is a seriously complicated vehicle that, if McLaren achieves its claimed goal of 18 new cars by 2025, will depreciate significantly. The best and worst thing about McLaren is that it is open for business. Pretty much anyone who wants and can afford a McLaren can get one. While that’s a welcome alternative to Ferrari's (and now Porsche’s) gatekeeping process, it really affects depreciation: three-year-old 650S Spiders are listed by the dozen on eBay for half their MSRP, and with the obvious exception of the F1, McLaren doesn’t have road cars old enough to develop nostalgia or appreciate just yet.
But to dwell on collector value is to diminish the extraordinary work of McLaren’s engineers here. The 720S is fast enough to terrify any passenger, docile enough to commute to work or run errands in, and comfortably (no pun intended) the most spacious mid-engined supercar on the market.
“Success,” as regards the Spider version, meant making lots of changes in order to make it feel like as few changes as possible were made. Sounds counterproductive, but it works—sort of like going faster in a downpour in order to stay dry.