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Wheels spin: McLaren 600LT Spider 2019 Review

Wheels Magazine logo Wheels Magazine 12/06/2019 Andy Enright

a car parked on the side of a road © Provided by Bauer Media Pty Ltd

What’s in the garage?

Lurking behind the roller door this week is McLaren’s 600LT Spider. What can I say? Not all work assignments are created equal. You probably know the 600LT already.

It’s the most track-focused of McLaren’s entry-level line, the Sports Series, and presents itself as a natural rival to mid-engined track specials like the Lamborghini Huracan Performante and the Ferrari 488 Pista. Or, if you prefer your power coming from a point even further posterior, the Porsche 911 GT3 RS.

Video: First driving impressions of the McLaren 600LT Spider (Roadshow)

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I had the opportunity to drive the 600LT coupe on track at the Hungaroring F1 circuit back in October 2018 and came home telling anybody who’d listen that this was a seriously special car. It’s since scooped a whole slew of industry awards, so it seems that opinion was on the money.

This Spider version features a folding hard top and because the Sports Series is built around a proper carbonfibre tub, body rigidity in this open version is not adversely affected. That’s something you certainly can’t say of a Lamborghini Huracan Performante Spyder or a Ferrari 488 Pista Spider.

Anyway, enough of the preamble, here are our drive impressions and some facts and figures to put what might be Woking’s finest into context. Can the 600LT impress as much on Aussie roads as it does on a smooth F1-sanctioned race track? Keep reading.

a cup of coffee on a table © Provided by Bauer Media Pty Ltd

Spec and compared to rivals

McLaren 600LT Spider

Lamborghini Huracan Performante Spyder

Ferrari 488 Pista Spider

Price

$485,000

$532,635

$645,000

Engine

3.8L twin-turbo V8

5.2L V10

3.9L twin-turbo V8

Output

441kW/600Nm

470kW/600Nm

530kW/770Nm

Transmission

7-spd twin-clutch

7-spd twin-clutch

7-spd twin-clutch

Fuel

Petrol

Petrol

Petrol

Efficiency (combined)

11.7L/100km

14.2L/100km

12.8L/100km

Drivetrain

RWD

AWD

RWD

ANCAP rating

Not tested

Not tested

Not tested

Warranty

3 years/unlimited

2 years/unlimited

3 years/unlimited

Service Interval

12 months/10,000km

12 months/12,000km

12 months/20,000km

Seats

2

2

2

Wheel size

225/35 ZR19 (f)

285/35 ZR20 (r)

245/30 ZR20 (f)

305/30 ZR20 (r)

245/35 ZR20 (f)

305/30 ZR20 (r)

Boot space

202L

160L

230L

Length

4604mm

4506mm

4605mm

Width

2095mm

1924mm

1975mm

Height

1196mm

1180mm

1206mm

Wheelbase

2670mm

2620mm

2650mm

Weight

1404kg

1553kg

1485kg

Towing capacity braked

NA

NA

NA

Front suspension

A-arms

A-arms

A-arms

Rear suspension

Multi-link

Multi-link

Multi-link

Country of origin

UK

Italy

Italy

 

What we reckon

Alex Inwood

Editor

Finally, a McLaren with personality! Modern McLarens have always been searingly rapid and objectively superior to their rivals but they felt like cars designed on a spreadsheet. They were lacking that intangible quality enthusiasts crave, that sense of fun, that element of anthropomorphism which separates the great performance cars from the merely very good. There are no such missing ingredients with the 600LT. The exhausts have a lot to do with this. I was worried they might be a gimmick, but the sheer venom and volume they spew forth, just a metre or so from behind your head, is central to the 600LT’s ability to excite. The real genius, however, is found in the chassis tuning. Throw the 600LT around a circuit and it offers an instant sense of connection; a sense of being supremely talented but also that you, as the driver, are a core component of extracting its best.

Andy Enright

Deputy Editor

Although I’m not sure I’d spec this colour scheme, the McLaren 600LT doesn’t do much wrong. There’s both style and substance here and the whole go, stop and steer of the thing is right at the very top of the class. It’s a car that makes going extremely fast very straightforward without sucking the excitement out of the process in any way. It’s a gem and Woking should be extremely proud. And that surge to the redline? It’s mind blowing.

Ash Westerman

Senior Journalist

This isn’t just one of the most exciting cars I’ve driven in recent years, it’s one of the greats, full stop. The engine may sound a bit nondescript at urban speeds, but get stuck into it and the twin-turbo V8 marries an eye-widening mix of boosty turbo torque with an almost atmo-style appetite for revs that brings with it a hackle-raising soundtrack. The (hydraulic-assist) steering is a constant delight; the overall driver-connection factor sublime. And yes, the LT’s ability to thrill and general sense of occasion is (almost) in keeping with the price tag and hilarity-inducing options list.
 

Review

Power and performance

There are some who feel that the 3.8-litre V8 in the McLaren Sports Series isn’t a particularly charismatic engine. Put them in the 600LT Spider with the roof down and rev the thing to its redline. They’ll then realise that they’re talking complete nonsense. The wail as it approaches 8000rpm is as addictive and frenzied as anything Italian and being able to flip the car’s lid gives you the full surround sound experience of the 600LT’s twin top-exiting exhausts. If you can do that and not crack a smile, you’ve got a heart of coal.

Against the clock, the numbers are just jaw-dropping. It’ll hit 100km/h in 2.9 seconds and keep going through 200km/h in just 8.4. That’s Porsche 911 GT2 RS territory for $150k less. And that’s for a proper carbon-tubbed, doors-go-up, mid-engined supercar.

a bag of luggage © Provided by Bauer Media Pty Ltd The power delivery has a number of distinct phases. At little over idle it does indeed sound a touch industrial. Put a few more revs onto the board and you can start leaning into the elastic torque surge provided by the two Mitsubishi turbochargers. Peak torque arrives at 5500rpm, by which point the exhaust butterflies have opened and the car has started really wailing. The last 2500rpm are where the 600LT uncorks all the operatics from its Ricardo-developed V8.

As good as the engine is, it’s the finessing of the other dynamics that really set the 600LT Spider apart though.

Ride and handling

Whether you choose the coupe or the Spider, the McLaren 600LT enjoys an obvious and immediate advantage over its key competitors. The steering features an old-school hydraulic pump rather than an electric motor assisting it. This results in a more natural feel and also far more detailed road feedback through the rim. It also means that you can’t fit things like semi-autonomous tech, but this is a driver’s car. Who cares?

a car driving on a road © Provided by Bauer Media Pty Ltd McLaren put a lot of work into improving the 600LT’s stability under braking and you can jump hard onto the anchors from high speed without the slightly disconcerting weaving effect that most sports cars will display.

You can even stay on the brakes to the apex of the corner, easing off progressively without the car feeling snappy. A long wheelbase and wide tracks front and rear promote stability, and the McLaren does all of its magic on relatively tiny tyres, for the supercar class at least. Diving into a corner, you’ve got about the same amount of front rubber on the ground as a Civic Type R.

Body control is excellent even under severe provocation. There’s real attention to detail throughout, with a perfectly level pedal set betraying the backwards thinking of many rivals who don’t offer a manual car but still retain the old manual pedal set up with a higher brake pedal for heel and toeing.

a car driving on a road © Provided by Bauer Media Pty Ltd The 600LT Spider never feels a big car. Despite its prodigious performance and relatively wide stance, it shrinks around the driver and instils confidence.

Interior and comfort

The first thing you notice once you’ve clambered in is the steering wheel. There are no buttons, tabs, switches or extraneous controls. It’s also round. Woking clearly values a certain purity when it comes to steering. Everything seems to be wrapped in Alcantara. Our test car had optional sports seats that were a distinctly tight fit if you’re at all acquainted with the finer points of Colonel Sanders’ 99c menu but offered fierce lateral support.

There’s quite a bit of space for two although oddments storage is at a premium. Most refreshingly, taller drivers aren’t at all pinched for headroom in the 600LT, largely due to the fact that the seat is – correctly – mounted low, without a load of electric motors beneath it raising your centre of gravity.

a close up of a car © Provided by Bauer Media Pty Ltd The minor controls can take a bit of getting used to. The handling and powertrain controls look self-explanatory but require the superfluous push of an ‘Active’ button to activate the panel. Likewise the infotainment system is quirky but once you’ve figured it out, it’s not obnoxious.

Getting in and out is a lot easier when you don’t need to lever yourself under a header rail, but the slippery carbon tub can make exits a little undignified. Ride quality is firm but not unbearably so. There’s around 60 litres of space behind the front seats and a decent-size ‘frunk’ that can take a couple of squashy bags, but the 600LT Spider’s throttle pedal is entirely too addictive to make it much of a GT car. You’d forever be searching for the twistiest roads on the map rather than driving to your destination on the major arterials.

Verdict

Although there will be some for whom any mid-engined supercar without an Italianate badge is some sort of pretender, the McLaren 600LT Spider is proof positive that there is another way and the other way is good. It’s dramatic, charismatic, searingly rapid and handles with a purity and transparency that’s class-leading.

Some will grouse that the conveyor belt of new models from McLaren has a detrimental effect on residual values and they’d have a point, but if you buy a supercar merely to speculate, you’re probably not Woking’s target market. The company is proud of the fact that the Sports Series cars get used and rack up far higher average mileages than their Italian counterparts. 

a green car parked on the side of a road © Provided by Bauer Media Pty Ltd The Spider version of the 600LT makes all kinds of sense too. It adds $30k and 50kg to the magnificent coupe, but getting closer to that soundtrack while still retaining the dynamic excellence of the hard top seems a bargain worth making. The way the roofline is sculpted to accommodate the carbonfibre roof panel also makes the Spider arguably better looking.

We don’t award too may no-quibble five-star awards here at Wheels, but the McLaren 600LT Spider is a more than worthy recipient.

Gallery: 2019 McLaren 600LT Spider pricing and specs (Caradvice)

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