Everything. All the time.

Is there such a thing as engineered exhilaration? If so, the 720S represents McLaren’s lightning in the bottle.

So, this is the start of everything new. McLaren 2.0 begins with this very car.

Well, technically McLaren 2.0 probably started with its predecessor, the 650S.  But then, that car was an evolution of the MP4-12C, which in turn was something of a new start also.

But the 720S is something else again. It has a new heart, a new skeleton, a new brain. It’s also the launch point for a whole host of promised new and updated models McLaren CEO Mike Flewitt wants in the market by 2022.

Things are looking positive in Woking. With the new 720S as a first example out the gate, that positivity is certainly justified.

You might be forgiven for thinking the McLaren 720S (or any modern McLaren for that matter) looks like it does because that’s what schoolboys draw when they draw a supercar, so those are the proportions that it needs to adhere to.

The theory is a great one – and might be somewhat true of other supercar brands – but it doesn’t apply to McLaren. The 720S looks like it does because it represents the absolute zenith of engineering efficiency under the skin.

As far as McLaren’s Super Series cars are concerned anyway (there are three levels of performance within the range: Sports, Super and Ultimate, where the forthcoming Senna hypercar exists), this is at once the slipperiest and the most glued-down car that McLaren makes. And that’s all down to physics rather than what looks good on a poster.

Case-in-point; the dynamic attributes of the 720S’s chassis control system, which lets the driver vary the car between a pure road and pure track set-up, were developed across a five-year PhD study at the University of Cambridge.

That’s not to say it’s all science; it’s designed to be an exhilarating sports car at the end of the day. But that exhilaration has been thoroughly mapped out. Planned from the get-go. And isn’t it great that the need for maximum ability from an aerodynamic point-of-view engenders such a stunning silhouette?

At first glance the exterior styling looks busy. But look closer and it actually reveals itself as very simple, following the contours of idealised airflow.

The teardrop shape to the cabin, the deep channels that stretch from either side of the front bootlid right around to the centre of the car at the rear, the ducts at the leading edge of those awesomely theatrical dihedral doors which mitigate the need for large air ducts to puncture the rear wheel arches as used to be the case: it’s all designed to ensure the 720S punches through the atmosphere ahead at pace with maximum grace.

Quietly, McLaren has gotten on with designing an all new carbon-fibre tub which also incorporates the spine of the roof in between the door apertures and extends over the engine. It’s called – rather dramatically – a Monocage II cell and, actually, it does act like a protectant cage around the occupants. It helps with body rigidity and also reduces weight, replacing steel as it does for more carbon-fibre.

Despite encompassing more ‘stuff’, the 720S is the lightest Super Series car McLaren has ever made, weighing 18kg less than the 650S.

Another benefit of the new structure is that the McLaren doesn’t conform to supercar clichés when vision behind the vehicle is concerned. There’s much more to the glasshouse than it might seem when standing outside the car, with good line-of-sight for lane changing, and a brighter cabin too.

The Monocage II architecture also means those twin-hinged doors (perfectly weighted and never a chore to push up or pull down) pivot from further towards the centre of the car; no more skull-threatening overhang above when getting in or out of this McLaren.

Inside the cabin, there’s a trick fold-down digital display that sits ahead of the driver; it can flip up to reveal all the instrumentation and data you’d normally expect to see, or at the touch of a button, flips down so the driver is essentially looking at the top-end of the unit.

In this mode – designed for use on the track – just the essentials are relayed.

Other diverting features include the cascading transmission buttons, which are angled towards the driver. A large touchscreen sits in the centre console; another new aspect of the 720S is the infotainment system, called MIS, which is a big improvement on the previous IRIS system.

The steering wheel remains free of clutter. Keeping the controls straightforward, switching between driving modes is utterly logical; different suspension settings or levels of traction can be selected with tactile switches, rather than scrolling through sub-menus as some cars would have you do. There’s a ‘comfort’ mode now, which is perfectly agreeable for public roads. Although you’ll go straight to ‘Sport’. Because… well, McLaren.

Outside of the chassis, the single biggest new aspect of the 720S is the new engine. Code-named M840T, the mid-mounted 4.0-litre twin turbo V8 builds on the 3.8-litre unit the 650S carried, pushing power up to 529kW (720PS, hence the model designation) and 770Nm of torque.

Because almost every single component of the 720S has been touched in some way, the car also features new suspension incorporating a hydraulically-connected damper system which does away with anti-roll bars. The car remains flat and unflustered, even on serrated backroads, even when the colossal power available from the V8 at 3000rpm and above might have you come into a corner with more of a head of steam than is ideal.

There’s so much feedback from the hydraulic steering set-up (that bit hasn’t changed from the previous car) and so much kick-in-the-guts acceleration here; the engineering gives way to exhilaration pretty rapidly.

Like the best of these types of cars, it can cosset you or shout in your face; whichever demeanour you wish it to adopt is totally up to you.

But that’s what accomplished engineering can do. And it’s still worth putting on a poster.

Words: Cameron Officer

Pictures: Lee Howell

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