Currently reading: The ultimate tourer test? 24 hours in a McLaren GT
This might just be the longest day of our associate editor's life

In a career that’s hardly over-burdened with brilliant decisions, this is definitely one of my poorer ones.

It’s 3.45am, I’m wide awake, my right bum cheek is so numb that it feels like I’ve had a local anaesthetic, my legs are bent at an awkward angle and there’s a piece of seat digging into my ribs. I’m trying to sleep in our McLaren GT and it’s not going well.

But before we go any further, I should answer the question my six-year-old incredulously posed when he was told that his halfwit of a father was going to sleep in the car: “Why?”

There is a semi-sensible reasoning behind my pain. McLaren says this is the tourer of its range, the car that’s most usable on a day-to-day basis – the everyday supercar, basically. So what better way to test that than by literally spending 24 hours in it?

The rules of the game are simple. We’re going to start in Lincolnshire and head across to North Wales, over a mixture of major and minor roads. I’m only allowed out to fuel the car or use the toilet. Save for a heart attack, there are no other valid reasons for getting out. Photographer Max Edleston is on hand to fetch all my food and will be my batman (if only every McLaren came with one).

One final thought, and it’s a crucial one: I’m hoping that by combining excellent touring qualities with McLaren’s well-known handling, the GT will actually be able to do the Jekyll and Hyde thing well.

I get in and buckle up at noon: 24 hours, here I come. My first task is to head up the A1 before I bear left across the A52 towards Derbyshire and the Cat and Fiddle road. Famous as a superb stretch of asphalt back in the day, threading its way over the Peak District, it’s not quite the destination it once was, due to more traffic and average speed cameras. But hopefully the views will be amazing and the lower speeds will allow me to test one of my theories about the GT: that you don’t need mind-bending speeds to enjoy it.

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The weather isn’t great – all flat grey clouds and damp air – but luckily the temperature has bumped up slightly from the previous week, so my night in the car doesn’t hold quite so many trepidations.

I’m following Edleston at this point, mainly because his sat-nav is working while I can’t get either the McLaren’s or my phone’s Google Maps to work. It does strike me as daft that a £163,000 supercar lacks Apple CarPlay, but that’s the case. Still, I’m comfortable so far, and the GT is coping well with the 70mph dual-carriageway pace. The lack of a bulkhead between the cabin and the parcel shelf does create a bit of boom, but it’s not sufficient to bother the radio or phone calls. 

The first bit of bum ache sets in at 2pm. It’s time to try to stretch my left leg.

We’re surrounded by the grey stone of Derbyshire as we thread through Cromford. The mist is hanging across the tops of valleys, with the trees looking damp and miserable, but the pop of our Belize Blue Elite paint stands out against the backdrop. Thankfully, there are no caravans, as we’re out of tourist season, but there’s plenty of traffic as Britain starts to ease out of Covid.

You can tell how cold it has been here recently by the light dusting of crushed salt on the roadsides. The GT is on summer tyres, so I have to be careful with the accelerator (the road temperature can’t be more than 7 or 8deg C), but it’s not threatening when I breathe on the throttle. I’m not saying I wouldn’t be more relaxed in a four-wheel-drive Bentley Continental GT, but the McLaren isn’t terrifying. You just have to know how to treat it.

But as we climb, the weather gets worse. So much for our plan of gorgeous views: the Cat and Fiddle is shrouded in so much mist that we almost sail clean past it. This pub (England’s second highest) first opened in 1813 but sadly closed in 2015. Fortunately, though, a distillery has taken it on and tarted up the interior, so it’s now a boutique whisky/gin establishment. Edleston tells me that it’s incredibly smart and comfortable, and he has a lovely refreshing (non-alcoholic) drink, watching me through the window.

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Given the weather, there’s not much point hanging around, so we fire off towards the A55 and North Wales. But the reason for coming to the Cat and Fiddle road stands, because the GT does do the whole low-speed-but-still-exciting thing well. Porsche 911s used to be great atthis, and some of them still are, but on our ever more congested roads, the way a car performs at 40-60mph is crucial. If it’s (relatively) thrilling at those speeds, you have something that will satisfy you without having to resort to track days.

The hydraulically assisted power steering is one of the key factors in the GT. Most rivals have ditched this set-up, chasing ever more marginal economy gains from an electrically assisted helm, but McLaren has been resolute – an admirable quality. And you really can tell. Threading theGT over a pretty grim A537, with the mist restricting the speed well below the 50mph limit, it’s still an enjoyable experience. I don’t feel the need to be doing 200mph to feel alive.

That said, as we approach our overnight stop in North Wales, there are a couple of tunnels, and I can’t help running the revs from 2000rpm and up. It’s no Ferrari wail, but the GT’s V8 bark is still pretty effective at waking me up.

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We get to the Premier Inn outside Llandudno at 6pm, and Edleston checks in to his warm, double-bedded room (git). We need to do a few more shots before he grabs some shut-eye, and he insists on seeing whether or not I fit across the parcel shelf. Apparently, it will be a good spotfor some stargazing and maybe even a bed option.

The theory is good. I measured myself before we set off and just about squeezed in, but threading myself through the aperture between the seats isn’t an easy job. Camels and needles spring to mind, but eventually I’m there and we even manage to close the bootlid, albeit with a nervous moment as it starts to bear down on my knees.

Supper time at the hotel comes at 8pm, and with it a dilemma: is gravy with a steak and ale pie a bad idea? Edleston very kindly heads back out to bring me my food and… holy hell, how hot is this? Never mind spilling gravy on the leather seat; I’m more worried about the potential third- degree burns from a pie that’s on a thermal runaway trajectory.

Anyway, Edleston waves cheerily and heads off inside again. I never once imagined myself looking longingly at a Brewers Fayre pub. I settle down to do some work and also eye up the passenger seat warily, because that’s going to be my bed for the night. A lorry pulls in and sprays grit all around the car park. A chilly night beckons. This doesn’t bode well.

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I turn in at 10pm and actually find it surprisingly easy to fall asleep. Then I wake up. Dare I look at my watch to see how long there is left? It’s 2am. Weirdly, it’s not actually that cold in the GT. To be fair, I’ve come expecting the worst. There’s a sleeping bag pulled tight over my shoulders, a woollen blanket over the top and a hoodie to keep in heat. With all that, it’s surprisingly cosy, although very fugged up. God knows what the CO2-to-oxygen ratio is.

Another human being! Max brings me breakfast at 7am but wisely avoids breathing in as I crack open the GT’s door. After a nutritious breakfast of bacon sandwich and Coco Pops (no spilt milk, thankfully), we head out to Marine Drive, a spectacular series of switchbacks up on the coast. But our real destination is to come: the old A5 between Bethesda and Capel Curig.

This is Wales as you imagine it: committed sheep chewing on damp grass, roads with enough moisture on top to keep anyone honest and the odd cyclist or walker doing exercisey things, for once making me jealous with their stretched-out legs and upright posture. As we exit Bethesda, I can finally open the GT up a bit.

There’s not a vast amount of traffic around, so it’s okay to slow down and then accelerate as the road sinews through valleys. With all the GT’s settings set to maximum (handling and transmission), suddenly the sports car element comes to the fore, with a more aggressive exhaust note and whip-crack gearchanges.

Hard on the brakes as we approach a right-hander, a lovely parp from the exhaust as each lower gear kicks in. The engine’s note doesn’t have as many changes in tone as some, but the purity of the delivery appeals.

The turn-in is what really stands out, with the sort of bite at the front that you just don’t get from a classic GT. It allows for an enjoyable series of long sweepers that line Lake Ogwen, knowing that the car is constantly updating me with feedback, even if I’m starting to feel the discomfort from 23 hours inside. We’re heading towards a lookout for Snowdon, where an exit stage right beckons.

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I’m really sore by 11am. The pain in my lower back is getting worse and I can’t stretch my legs out to ease it.  But then, suddenly, the sun peaks through the cloud draping the tops of the mountains.

We’re onto the home stretch and I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so excited to reach a countryside car park. The GT is really coming into its own now, slicing across the hills but with enough body roll to keep things interesting.

This isn’t a super-stiff sports car but one that has some vertical movement and rotation around its hips – surprising character traits for something theoretically capable of 203mph. It’s all linked back to the excellent steering. I’m not doing silly speeds over any of these roads, yet it’s an exciting place to be: a GT-slash-sports car that works in 2022.

It’s finally noon, and I celebrate 276 miles with a (cramp-afflicted) star jump. We’re done.

With stretched legs and the pain of last night rapidly receding, it’s home time across some amazing roads and with a frankly brilliant sports car beneath me. Is it an amazing GT? Not really. I often found myself dreaming of a Conti while locked inside. But has it done what we needed it to do – offer enough touring capability blended with cat-like reactions – to make 24 hours in it exciting? Oh, yes. The last blast across those Welsh roads is definitely a pinch-me moment. But next time, I think the Premier Inn option will get ticked.

Cost analysis

For all the (pseudo) science behind our McLaren GT experiment, were there any sound economic reasons for doing the test as well? Here’s a comparison with a Volkswagen Golf GTI making the same trip.

  McLaren GT VW Golf GTI
Fuel £140.42 £77.20
Hotel £0 £50
Tyre wear* £43.29 £19.24
Total £183.71 £146.44

*Assumed 10,000 miles from a set

How McLaren could improve in the bedroom

Let the interior light run off battery power alone for longer. I felt very guilty idling the V8 in quiet car parks.

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Remove a bit of side bolstering from the seats. They’re shockingly painful when jabbed into an armpit.

Make the rear hatch glass less reflective. It’s amazing how much restrictive glare a pillow, sleeping bag and teddy bear can give off.

Unusual vehicles you should actually sleep in

WINNEBAGO JOURNEY 40P - The top-cat ‘C’ Winnie is a 40ft-long monster with separate bathrooms and sleeping capacity for four. A 50in TV means evenings spent in Premier Inn car parks would be less monotonous, while a 454-litre diesel tank would mean fewer fuel stops.

TORSUS TERRASTORM - More bus than camper but with seating for 21, the Torsus has more than enough room to stretch out if you’re flying solo. Based on a Volkswagen Crafter 4Motion van chassis, it has 250mm of ground clearance and rally-bred suspension, so even Wales’s cattle grids won’t upset it.

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RIVIAN R1T - Like the McLaren, this electric pick- up truck has a disappointing lack of bathroom facilities. But it does have an in-built slide-out kitchen, so a hot meal is never far away, and third-party companies have already made tents that fit on the flat load bed.

VW GRAND CALIFORNIA - With a lineage stretching back to the air-cooled ‘Splittie’, the Grand California takes the van-based-motorhome formula to the max. With an on-board toilet and shower, you don’t even have to get out of it for a bathroom break.

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