Review: The $360,000 McLaren 720S Spider isn't just an incredible car - it makes you feel like a kid again

·9 min read
The McLaren 720S Spider under a dark awning.
The McLaren 720S Spider. Alanis King
  • The McLaren 720S Spider is the drop-top version of McLaren's 720S supercar, which debuted in 2017.

  • It has two seats, a 710-horsepower V8, and a $9,100 roof that can tint and un-tint on command.

  • The 720S Spider starts at $315,000, but our loaner climbed to $359,820. Naturally, it was very good.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

The thing about $300,000 supercars is that unless you drive them all the time, it's hard to separate fact from fable.

To most, a McLaren 720S Spider is a concept: a thing that exists in someone's reality but not their own, rarely and fleetingly crossing into their plane of existence when it happens to share a road with the normies. Conceptualization leads to abstraction, making the 720S less of a car and more of an earthbound spaceship (which, to be fair, it is).

But actually stepping into one of those supercars melts the abstraction away. Suddenly, the 720S is a real, physical being whose steering wheel is in your hands. It's no longer a fable, it's a fact - and the fact is that it's everything you dreamed it would be.

The McLaren 720S Spider interior.
The McLaren 720S Spider. Alanis King

McLaren, a British carmaker known for its deep motorsport history and iconic McLaren F1 supercar from the 1990s, debuted the 720S in March 2017 with a starting price of $284,745. A Spider version came in December 2018, allowing buyers to retract the roof for $315,000 and up.

The 720S was "the dawn of a new era" for the company, McLaren said, with swoopy styling and gaping black holes for eyes that show a slit of white when the lights blink on. It debuted as a successor for the McLaren 650S supercar and similarly derives its model name from its power figure: 720 PS, or 710 horsepower.

The McLaren 720S Spider under a dark awning.
The McLaren 720S Spider. Alanis King

That comes from a 4.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V8 engine, which sends power to the car's rear wheels through a seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission - a type of fast-shifting automatic with two clutches but no physical clutch pedal like you'd see in a car with a traditional manual transmission.

Altogether, McLaren claims the car has a 0-to-60-mph time of 2.8 seconds and a top speed of 212 mph. (With the roof lowered in the Spider, you can only hit 202 mph. We're not sure why you would try.)

The McLaren 720S Spider wheel and orange brake caliper.
The McLaren 720S Spider. Alanis King

Nearly three years after its debut, the 2021 McLaren 720S Spider still starts at $315,000. But there's a lot of room to grow that number.

The loaner we drove recently climbed all the way to $359,820 courtesy of a few options: $1,720 orange brake calipers, a $5,940 sport exhaust, a $2,350 coat of Silica White paint, a $4,420 upgraded, 12-speaker audio system, and optional 10-spoke wheels for $3,850, among other things. On the outside, the Silica White paint and black accents felt rather modest for a supercar.

The McLaren 720S Spider under a dark awning.
The McLaren 720S Spider. Alanis King

The reality of a $360,000 McLaren 720S Spider doesn't quite hit you until you're sitting behind the wheel, windshield facing your home that costs a fraction of what the car does (in my case). It ceases to be a car that exists somewhere and becomes a car that's right in front of you, dihedral doors pointed toward the sky and long, swooping side vents breathing the same air as you.

That's when you begin to learn that the 720S has two distinct modes: babying it around and letting it rip.

The McLaren 720S Spider hood logo.
The McLaren 720S Spider. Alanis King

In the city, I preferred driving around with the top off so I could lean my head out of the window to look over my shoulder. The 720S Spider's thick rear pillars made it impossible to check anything other than the mirror otherwise, and the car didn't provide me with a turn-signal alert when someone was in the lane next to me.

It was a process, but you know what they say: Trust the process, even if it's tedious.

The 720S's four inches of ground clearance also turn navigating any bump or dip in the road into a medical procedure: anticipate the elevation change, activate the nose-lift function, then creep toward your destination with breath held and jaw clenched. Only after you've successfully traversed the terrain can you put the nose back down and breathe again.

There's a kind of hilarity to how fragile such capable cars can feel when they face otherwise normal road obstacles - here's this McLaren 720S, equal parts king of the road and the road's biggest celebrity, creeping into a parking lot because there's a little dip. The same car that ripped past you at the stoplight (as you took photos of it from out of your window) needs a little extra time on other challenges, so please, be patient.

The McLaren 720S Spider interior.
The McLaren 720S Spider. Alanis King

But king of the road the 720S is, even if it needs a little babying sometimes.

It's loud. It's fast. Its cockpit envelopes you without suffocating you. It handles so well on winding roads that it's almost tame, acting more like the smoothest, most infallible rollercoaster you can imagine than any kind of car with a human behind the wheel. You couldn't get it out of sorts on the road if you tried.

The McLaren 720S Spider rear logo.
The McLaren 720S Spider. Alanis King

Its side vents channel so much air through the car that sticking your hand down in them feels like putting it in a river current. Its dual-clutch transmission shifts through each gear with such vivid aggression that you'll wonder how the car is moving without your foot on a clutch pedal and hand on a shifter.

"Does it sound as cool in automatic mode as it does when you're using the paddle shifters?" multiple people asked upon hearing the car's rapid, feral downshifts even in the calmest scenarios, like neighborhoods and city streets.

"That isn't me shifting," I'd tell them. "That's the car."

The McLaren 720S Spider interior.
The McLaren 720S Spider. Alanis King

"I can't believe I'm personifying a car," my aunt said when she heard me rip past once. "But it almost sounds sad when you have to let off the gas, as if it just really wants to keep going."

That's because the 720S can do everything you ask of it and far more, and it wants you - and everyone else - to know that.

In small-town Texas, most people experience some sort of disbelief about the 720S - usually that it's next to them on the road in the first place. They'll scream at you as they drive by, wave in parking lots, rip out their phone to take photos.

Sometimes, a driver behind you at a stoplight will nudge their passenger, mouthing to them to look the car up and see what it is. The passenger will, they'll both nod, then they'll snap a picture before the light turns green.

Guys in Ford Mustangs will turn into male peacocks to show you how loud and fast their car is at stoplights, as if it matters at all to you, a McLaren 720S driver. You'll cackle in response.

The McLaren 720S Spider interior.
The McLaren 720S Spider. Alanis King

No matter where you are or what time of day it is, you're acutely aware that everyone is staring at you and you'll probably end up in photos online or group chats. One person told me his friend saw me driving the car, and without knowing he knew me, sent him a photo of it on the highway.

"Yeah, that's my friend driving," he responded. He was proud to say it.

The McLaren 720S Spider interior.
The McLaren 720S Spider. Alanis King

People lit up when they saw the 720S, and they especially lit up when they got a chance to talk to me about it. They gasped when I showed them how its optional $9,100 electrochromic roof could tint itself blue and un-tint itself with the push of a button, or how its display screen could tuck itself down into the dashboard to remove distractions for Serious Racetrack Driving. Suddenly, everyone's a kid again - just instead of staring at the McLaren on their wall posters, they're staring at the one right in front of them.

It was funny how such an expensive machine - one that makes most people hyperaware they can't afford it, because that's the whole point - could become such a magnet for joy. But it was powerful to be that magnet.

Not everything about the 720S is perfect. Its doors don't waste any time after a wash getting caked in grime due to the vents down the side of the car, and the interior controls are a learning curve. I couldn't tell the difference between 65 and 74 degrees on the climate control because both were cold, and starting the car at 8 a.m. or 10 p.m. made me clench my jaw for the sake of the neighbors.

Then again, if you buy this car, you probably don't have neighbors - at least, not nearby.

The McLaren 720S Spider interior.
The McLaren 720S Spider. Alanis King

But in a supercar like this one, minor flaws don't matter. What matters is that all at once, you're a star. The one everyone's looking at. You're the ruler of the streets, whether that be driving through town or sharing the winding rural roads everyone likes to visit on Saturdays with a train of Corvettes.

That's the reality of the 720S, and it's pretty much everything you dreamed it would be - just with $360,000 worth of responsibility in your hands. If you can handle (and afford) that, you might as well make those dreams come true.

♦♦♦

The McLaren 720S Spider interior.
The McLaren 720S Spider. Alanis King
The McLaren 720S Spider side logo.
The McLaren 720S Spider. Alanis King
The McLaren 720S Spider interior.
The McLaren 720S Spider. Alanis King
The McLaren 720S Spider interior.
The McLaren 720S Spider. Alanis King
The McLaren 720S Spider interior.
The McLaren 720S Spider. Alanis King
The McLaren 720S Spider interior.
The McLaren 720S Spider. Alanis King
The McLaren 720S Spider interior.
The McLaren 720S Spider. Alanis King
The McLaren 720S Spider's interior nose-lift button.
The McLaren 720S Spider. Alanis King
The McLaren 720S Spider under a dark awning.
The McLaren 720S Spider. Alanis King

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