First Drive: McLaren’s GT offers a new approach to the traditional grand tourer

What is it?

When you think of McLaren, what comes to mind? Most likely it’ll be a razor-edged supercar, be-winged and bellowing, all low-flying splitters and carbon-backed bucket seats. For the most part that’s true, but to tap into the lucrative grand tourer segment, the Woking-based firm has introduced this – the GT.

The GT's ride height can be adjusted inside the car
(McLaren)

It’s designed to be a car which offers all of the thrills of a McLaren, but with the comfortable, continent-crossing abilities that you’d want from a GT. Has it nailed both aspects and can it make a dent against established rivals in the class? We’ve headed to the south of France to find out.

What’s new?

Traditionally, McLaren cars sit in three main categories – Sports, Super and Ultimate. The GT sits in none of those, instead residing in a new category out to one side which, handily, is called ‘GT’. Despite sitting out on a limb, the GT uses the same basic components as the other cars in the range.

The GT remains as capable in the bends as it does on the straights
(McLaren)

However, some subtle changes have been made to make the GT more comfortable. The ride height can be increased to match that of a Mercedes C Class in order to get over bigger speedbumps while the glass has been thickened to improve in-cabin refinement, too.

What’s under the bonnet?

Mounted in the middle of the GT is McLaren’s tried-and-tested 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine, which here produces 612bhp and 630Nm of torque. It’s driven to the wheels through a seven-speed gearbox, which incorporates a launch control function for seamless standing starts. The GT’s performance stats make for impressive reading; 0 to 60mph takes 3.1 seconds, and flat-out it’ll crack 203mph. The GT certainly ticks the right boxes when it comes to performance, then.

Economy-wise, McLaren says that the GT will return 23.7mpg combined, while emissions sit at 270g/km under the latest WLTP tests. And when it comes to range – a key factor in grand tourers – McLaren says that the GT will manage 414 miles between trips to the pump, but this is under the older, less stringent NEDC tests.

What’s it like to drive?

Thumb the large, red starter button in the centre of the cockpit and the 4.0-litre V8 grumbles into life behind you and, initially at least, things are impressively simple. Around town, the automatic gearbox shifts smoothly, and the engine is barely audible as it ticks over.

The GT uses a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8
(McLaren)

Gather some pace – which is easy to do in the GT – and the car is just as easy to drive. The steering has a decent amount of weight to it and taking manual control of the gearbox results in crisp, seamless shifts. The traction control systems aren’t too intrusive either, though in fully-on modes can be a little over-eager to disengage the power. We’d just like it to sound a little more exciting; the exhaust note feels a bit flat at times and at higher speeds seems to blend into the background.

McLaren GT Global Test Drive – St Tropez – Sept 2019Copyright FreeRef: McLaren-GT-GlobalTestDrive-0035.JPG

The only real drawback is that, when travelling at speed, the GT just isn’t as cossetting as rival grand tourers. The ride is good, but it doesn’t feel vastly improved over a regular McLaren such as the 720S, for instance. Likewise, the engine noise isn’t too intrusive, but the cabin refinement is impeded by a fair amount of road noise.

How does it look?

Long, imposing and impossibly sleek, the McLaren GT is a car which turns heads wherever it goes. It’s a long car, that’s for sure, rocking in at nearly 4.7m in length – that’s just less than 300mm longer than a Ford Focus, for instance, and longer than any Sports or Super series McLaren. The tapered rear end evokes the look of the upcoming Speedtail hypercar, too.

Around the back of the car, things are equally as sharp. The look is far less in-your-face than other cars in the McLaren range, that’s for sure, but it mirrors the under-the-radar, subtle approach usually taken with long-distance grand tourers.

What’s it like inside?

Open up the scissor doors, slide into the cabin and you’re met with a driver-focused seating position. In truth, we’d like the seat to go a little lower – but everything is logically placed around you, and there’s tons of adjustment in the steering wheel too. The whole forward area is kept impressively clutter-free too, with all of the main controls accessed via the central touchscreen which dominates the middle of the cabin.

The GT's cabin is brilliantly uncluttered
(McLaren)

But McLaren has made a big deal of storage space with the GT, it being a grand tourer after all. At the rear, there’s 420 litres of space, and because it’s over the engine McLaren has lined the area with mark-resistant material, so either golf bags or skis – both of which the firm says will happily fit in the load area – won’t cause too much damage. It’s helped by a further 150 litres located in the nose. All in, there’s 570 litres to play with. In terms of outright capacity, it trumps both the Bentley Continental GT and the Aston Martin DB11 AMR by some margin, but it’s a far less usable space because of its raked shape.

What’s the spec like?

The main infotainment offering in the GT comes courtesy of an all-new touchscreen setup which is a huge step up for McLaren. Clear, crisp and responsive, it’s a genuinely impressive unit to interact with and makes accessing key features such as navigation or heating and ventilation controls far easier than on previous McLaren models.

The main driving modes and controls are located on the central tunnel
(McLaren)

Our car came in Luxe specification – a step up over the regular car – and this adds electronically controlled seats with heating, as well as a function which automatically moves the seats to their rearmost position when parked, making exiting the vehicle easier. The trim also includes a piano black finish for the infotainment screen surround, along with chrome highlights which combine with interior lighting to give the cabin a more spaceship-like feeling.

Verdict

To understand the McLaren GT, it’s best to think about what a grand tourer is. Fast, for sure, and that’s an area the GT has licked. It’s also got to be capable of taking suitcases and bags and, again, this is something the McLaren GT does well. A decent range is required too – if you don’t want your cross-country jaunt interrupted by too many fuel stops, that is – but here the GT falters; though the firm claimed 414 miles, our cars were reading just 300km (185 miles) after a fill-up, and after a brisk jaunt on the Route Napoleon our GT was left with just 80km (50 miles). Not great for grand touring, then.

In the end the GT feels a little muddled. It’s not as sharp as other McLarens in the range but only feels slightly more comfortable out and about than cars like the road-orientated 570S – and in out-and-out cross-country sumptuousness, it’s trumped by rivals. It’s not to say that the GT is a bad car as a whole – far from it – it just feels like McLaren introduced it because it felt it needed to, rather than because it wanted to.

  • Model: McLaren GT
  • Price: £163,000
  • Engine: 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8
  • Power: 612bhp
  • Torque (Nm): 630
  • Max speed (mph): 203
  • 0-60mph: 3.1 seconds
  • MPG: 23.7mpg
  • Emissions (g/km): 270
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