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This is the first of McLaren’s new generation of cars — and what a way to begin it is

Sequels don’t come much bigger than this.

Whispers within the walls of McLaren Automotive’s Woking headquarters suggest the new 720Sa replacement for the 650S – is considered by many to be the most important car in its maker’s modern history.

It’s not just air ducts concealed in the car’s flanks; the door handles are tucked away there as well. They’re proper handles now, completing the move from sliders to orthodoxy

In succeeding the 650S, it becomes the first car to replace a model in McLaren’s line-up and it’s the first of 15 new-generation models promised by CEO Mike Flewitt by 2022.

Therefore, with bold sales targets and a new £50 million UK chassis factory recently unveiled to help realise McLaren’s ambitions, there is a huge weight of expectation on the 720S.

The mid-engined, rear-wheel-drive supercar – codenamed P14 – was actually conceived alongside the development of the 650S and promises to encapsulate the very best elements from McLaren’s illustrious line-up: the usability of the 570GT, the thrills of the 675LT and, perhaps, the pace of the P1 hypercar.

The 650S – itself a glorious mutation of (but not a replacement for) the admirable but imperfect MP4-12C – has been comprehensively reworked, including a complete rethink of the structure of the car, to create the 720S.

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The new carbonfibre chassis, dubbed Monocage II, now incorporates an upper structure and chassis surround, making the car stronger and lighter than the 650S, and aerodynamic efficiency is double that of its predecessor.

The revised suspension – Proactive Chassis Control II – gets improved sensors and a more conventional set-up with a hydraulically connected damper system that means there’s no need for anti-roll bars. It should also offer some sideways thrills, thanks to the debut of McLaren’s Variable Drift Control.

As for the engine, the 3.8-litre lump from the 650S is now a 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8, made from a host of new components and producing 710bhp (720PS, geddit?) and 568lb ft of torque.

In this modern era of breathtaking supercars, the 720S is priced against the ferociously entertaining and currently class-leading Ferrari 488 GTB.

However, its performance figures suggest that it should compete in another price bracket entirely. No directly comparable track time figures have been officially released, but there’s every chance that all of these upgrades could make the 650S’s successor as quick as a McLaren P1.

Can this £200,000 supercar really eclipse the astonishing performance figures that we registered for a £900,000 hypercar?

This is our chance to find out.

McLaren 720S First drives