2020 McLaren 720S Spider “Long-Term” Test: 1,500 Miles’ Worth of the Supercar Life
“Why do I feel like Angus is having a much different experience than I am?” I said this aloud to myself on a hot Los Angeles afternoon as I idled a certified pre-owned (CPO) 2020 McLaren 720S Spider in a McDonald’s drive-thru lane. Meanwhile across the pond, Angus MacKenzie, MotorTrend‘s former editor-in-chief turned international bureau boss, spent his summer months home in the U.K. in possession of a similarly CPOed McLaren GT. He would along the way take in a road trip through the Scottish Highlands, and here I was in the middle of tracking down Happy Meal toys promoting a critically panned movie starring L.A. ‘s self-anointed basketball king. (Blame the 6-year-old for this mission.)
I pictured MacKenzie’s window down and his trademark mane fluttering in the salty breeze, hammer to the anvil in his GT past fairytale Scottish castles, his soothing Australian accent calling out historical landmarks. I could hear a bagpipe legato lulling me into stasis …
“HEY, SWEETIE, CAN I HAVE SOME MONEY? C’MON!” came the slurred words, accompanied by light jostling of the 720’s rear. Snapped back to full consciousness, I looked to the driver-side mirror and absorbed the reflection of a middle-aged, scantily clad, sunbaked (and just plain baked) woman doing a zombie-dust impression of a pole dance against the back bumper. This wasn’t quite what I had in mind when McLaren offered an extended stint in its mega-fast hardtop convertible. Sigh.
Possession Is Nine-Tenths of the Law
The parameters for this “long-term” loan of the 2020 McLaren 720S Spider were three months or a mileage allotment of 1,500, as McLaren endeavored to align the time/mileage equation with that of its typical U.S. lease customers. Those folks usually lease a car for three years with a 5,000-mile limit, so 1,500 miles approximates a year’s worth of ownership drive time.
I arrived at O’Gara Beverly Hills, McLaren’s nearest-to-me dealer, where sales ace and affable car guy Barrett Mitchell awaited with a winning personality and a brief tour of the smallish but swanky store. He didn’t flinch when I wanted to sit in the Marlboro-liveried, Ayrton Senna-branded Senna GTR parked inside the showroom, or when I popped off its removable steering wheel for a closer look (just to play with, really) because racing-style removable steering wheels are cool. What I anticipated would be a relatively brief exchange of pleasantries preceding handover of the 720S Spider turned into an hourlong jovial bull session on cars, motorsports, and the automotive life in general.
It was all a nice deviation from some dealers’ standard playbook ceremony of handing someone the keys to a car that costs well into six figures. No Champagne was uncorked, and the Macca wasn’t arranged predictably in the middle of the room under a cover for a dramatic auto-show-style reveal. Not that anyone minds such a presentation, but good old, genuine car enthusiast conversation goes further than pomp and circumstance when it comes to getting you amped about celebrating your new acquisition, and about driving it.
We eventually meandered to the little back lot, and there she was, ready to rock. Practically glowing in metallic Belize Blue paint described best as vibrant, look-at-me-at-all-times turquoise (a $5,270 extra), the 2020 McLaren 720S Spider was specced nicely with a carbon-fiber overdose, 10-spoke forged wheels ($3,850), the sport exhaust ($5,940), and McLaren’s electrochromic transparent roof panel option that changes its percentage of sun-shielding tint at the press of a button ($9,100!). Total cost when new: $375,020. With 2,209 miles on the ticker, McLaren said it would have priced the car between $345,000 and $350,000 had I arrived on this day to purchase it for real. So ballpark the depreciation at about $12.70 per mile, give or take.
Mitchell gave me the standard functional rundown, which I embraced as my 97th career opportunity to disparage the location and design of McLaren’s power seat switches. The controls are mounted on the seat’s front-bottom inboard side, meaning you must wedge your hand between the center console and seat to access them. This ill-conceived placement prevents you from looking at what your fingers are doing as you adjust, and with more than one switch for the various settings, finding your preferred driving position is akin to a demented game of Russian roulette whose rules are written in Braille. A proper and comfortable position finally achieved, I saved it to the seat memory and swore a blood oath to never again touch any of these controls.
Life Is a Highway
The reality of how quickly you can obliterate 1,500 miles in a modern megacar hits home when you’ve driven a whole five blocks away from the dealership. Between a packed work schedule, mileage-eating MotorTrend photo shoots of the 720S Spider, and a personal philosophy of exercising abundant caution while living through the pandemic in Southern California, I discarded thoughts of track days and overnight road trips. Instead, I vowed to remain calm and not bother worrying about pseudo at-the-limit driving antics or seeking opportunities to reach the highest possible speeds, instead using the McLaren as a, gasp, “regular” car. Grocery runs, post office drops, hardware store trips (for small items), takeout-dinner pickups, you name it—just grab the Spider’s key and go. I felt guilty initially, like I was cheating the car, until I realized I was having more fun than anyone ever should at performing routine and mundane errands. But it wasn’t necessarily due to the reasons I might’ve expected.
Here’s the thing about the McLaren 720 in general: It’s received plenty of praise since it hit the market in 2017, and it also has plenty of quirks (more on that later). But as one fellow MT editor commented to me after he assumed control of the car for a couple of days (and after I reminded him to be careful due to just how devastatingly quick and fast it is, as we already knew from previous tests): “People today adore the 720S, but I reckon history will make it a legend. I floored the Spider for the first time while in mid-conversation with a friend in the passenger seat, and he remained giggling breathlessly for minutes after. It’s borderline oppressively quick. I mean, it’s So. Freaking. Quick. Full throttle in its most aggressive powertrain setting narrows your field of vision like some corny B-movie special effect. That’s to say nothing of the drama erupting out back as those wheels try to manage the power; there’s so much skate and scuttle, it’s almost as dramatic as the forward momentum. Seriously, this is one of the GOAT modern supercars, even if it’s not yet acknowledged.”
Can You Live With It?
The above-described wild character notwithstanding, the answer is, yes, you can live with the 720S, and relatively easily. Even with the skin-melting performance—you never get over the audacious straight-line speed, no matter who you are—the McLaren delivers comfort and at least a little utility when you want it to. More than a minute has passed since supercars across the board automatically carried compromises in the name of performance, or at least massive compromises that severely limited their daily drivability, usability, and comfort. Still, the 720 reminds you that the days of exotic cars past are mostly long gone.
I didn’t think twice about or find a challenge in loading the Spider with a week’s supply of food from Trader Joe’s, for example, or delivering a pile of packages to UPS, or going anywhere I needed to. (Note: The standard front-end lift system is a godsend if you care at all about preserving the condition of the front splitter, especially in a place like L.A. that features steep driveways and significant road dips and heaves everywhere you look.) Granted, the grocery runs could at best accommodate a week’s or so supply of food for one, not for an entire family, so you need to make a couple of trips to the store if your cupboards are bare and you’ve literally blown your household’s full transportation budget on your McLaren and have nothing else to drive.
Perhaps, maybe, possibly there is one diehard McLaren owner on Earth who fits that description. Let’s keep it real, though: No one playing with a full deck buys a car like this and sweats the storage capacity, and they probably don’t sweat the overall 12.2-mpg figure we recorded for the duration of the loan. (Blame the low number on a lack of highway driving and an unwavering desire to accelerate briskly as often as possible; the EPA rates the 2020 McLaren 720S Spider at 15/22/18 mpg city/highway/combined.) Prospective customers more likely will wonder about the ride quality. No problem there; with the excellent adaptable suspension and the powertrain dialed to Comfort and my right foot under control, there were plenty of little moments when I nearly forgot just how much inferno-generating capability I had at my disposal.
Reminders Per Minute
I never forgot for more than a moment or three, though, thanks to onlookers’ reactions to the 720S Spider. Perhaps it’s the exterior’s spaceship-meets-Tremors-Graboid styling, but it became obvious when speaking to people that the unmissable paintwork was responsible for a good helping of the attention. Whatever the various reasons, the outpouring of enthusiasm for this car is what made even a trip for a rapid COVID test something to look forward to. We drive and test a lot of cars here at MT, but there’s a hell of a lot more to an automotive experience than raw numbers, and I struggled to recall the last time I drove a car that generated this much commotion on practically every outing; perhaps it was a Lamborghini Murciélago more than a decade ago that matched it for sheer streetside shock value. The Spider surprisingly even seemed to catch more eyeballs than the McLaren Senna we drove all over L.A. a year prior, or at least more consistently positive reactions.
Do the Right Thing
With all the attention the 720 commands, you have two choices: Act like an arrogant SOB and feed into the expensive-car-owner stereotype (which does no one or the automotive hobby any favors), or own the fact you can potentially bring a ray of joy—however large or small, for however fleeting of a moment—to someone else’s day. I’m not prone to large helpings of schmaltz, but in an overly stressed-out world, I experienced a remarkable phenomenon repeatedly with this car: Oddly, the decadent Spider made me feel more normal than anything else had in quite some time.
The only downside to going with this flow is, you must be patient. One early-in-the-loan Trader Joe’s run took 30 minutes longer than anticipated because of the rapid-fire questions and comments that strafed me the moment I climbed out of the car. More than a few other interactions and comments stood out during the 1,500 miles, including:
- Loading bags into the Spider in a Ralph’s grocery store parking lot, a man wheeling his own cart paused as he passed by and said, “My son is going to wonder why you’re putting your groceries into his car.” This led to a conversation about today’s kids and their automotive interests, passions, and aspirations. It seems reports of automotive enthusiasm no longer being a thing among teenagers might be exaggerated.
- Another day, same store lot: A first-gen Honda S2000 pulled in and parked nearby. Cue a good discussion with its owner about the S2000’s history and merits.
- While fueling at my local Shell pump, a couple of technicians operating the station’s smog check bay couldn’t hear enough about the McLaren’s specs and performance. I then received an impromptu lecture about the California Highway Patrol, the dangers of speeding, and speculation as to how to best enjoy the 720S without suffering a dark fate.
- Stopped at a red light, a woman I estimated to be in her 60s or early 70s and driving an older Honda CR-V motioned to me to lower the window. When I obliged, she asked as many questions as she could for 30 seconds, capping it with, “I love the color!” as the light turned green.
I could go on. Point is, the 720S Spider was as much a social conduit—a positive social conduit—as it was a tool for adrenaline-pumping, balls-out canyon drives, and I don’t know where to begin when it comes to assigning a value to such an indefinable trait. I’m still scratching my head about that one, but it’s definitely a real thing you can’t ignore.
Is It Reliable?
It’s no secret McLarens have a reputation for having quirks and issues, and this 2020 720S Spider was no different. It never outright failed during my watch, but several things annoyed me constantly:
- Park the car to get out, and the side windows necessarily drop a couple of inches to clear the roof when the scissor doors open upward. But about every fifth time I got out and closed the door, the window failed to close itself. This necessitated getting back in the car, switching on the ignition, and executing the entire process again. (Warranty repair. )
- At some point during the loan, the dashboard developed a significant rattle. (Warranty repair. )
- One day as I admired the car while it was parked in my driveway, I noticed the passenger-side door didn’t sit flush with the rear quarter panel, an issue that had zero effect on driving and usability but quite another on perceived quality of assembly. (Warranty repair. )
- From time to time, the car sounded a chime to alert me that the passenger seat belt wasn’t fastened. Thing was, no passenger was aboard, nor were there any items other than my wallet and phone resting in the seat. I’m painfully aware my wallet is nowhere near heavy enough to trip the safety warning. (Warranty repair. )
In the End
The Certified Pre-Owned 2020 McLaren 720S Spider, after three months and 1,500 miles, proved itself as more than a rolling statement of wealth or a self-indulgent rich boy’s toy. Its high price and searing performance automatically make it both of those things, for sure, but the 720S also rewards you beyond those skin-deep superficial supercar tropes if you let it do so. Back in that McDonald’s drive-thru lane, the restaurant’s workers had shooed away the pirouetting stage dancer, and as I rolled to the pickup window, a 20-something employee began to hand me my drink, then recoiled.
“Wait a minute!” he said as he pulled the cup back inside the restaurant. “Let me wipe this off for you; I don’t want it to drip on anything in your car.” When I said this might be the best fast food service I’ve ever received, he laughed and replied excitedly, “Which way are you going when you pull out?! Man, you gotta turn right onto the road out of here so I can see and hear this thing go by. Stand on it, man!”
As I prepared to exit onto the main road, my apartment within sight one block to the left, I laughed, flicked the right-hand turn signal, waited for traffic to clear, and smashed the throttle. The last peripheral glimpse I had of McDonald’s that day was of a fist pumped through the drive-thru window. I laughed harder, and in that moment another realization crystalized: Scottish castles and bagpipes, fantastic as they are, had absolutely nothing on this experience.
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