It is well that the 720S’s appearance has changed markedly from the previous generation of Super Series cars – the middle grade of McLaren’s three-tier line-up – because the established ingredients of McLaren’s principal model (the mid-mounted turbocharged V8, the carbonfibre tub, the elaborate active suspension, the dihedral doors) have all been extensively redeveloped but not fundamentally altered.
Its latest styling, though – part aerodynamic due diligence and part schoolboy fantasy – is unmistakably and triumphantly different.
Of course, this being McLaren, many of the changes are either the result of engineering modifications beneath or else intended to service them.
Hence the apparent disappearance of the side air intakes, made redundant by the new ducts in the doors that now channel a cooling breeze into the 720S’s radiators.
Then there’s that teardrop of a glasshouse, its spider-web-thin pillars indebted to the next generation of the Monocell carbonfibre tub.
Extending the tub to include roof elements is arguably at the heart of the 720S’s overhaul. Now aptly dubbed Monocage II, the new structure not only delivers a predictably strong passenger cellbut also lessens the amount of steel used in the car’s construction – reducing weight by 18kg and lowering the centre of gravity by 3 percent.
In the chassis, alongside the introduction of more castor angle at the front and toe at the rear to enhance high-speed stability, efforts to re-engineer both the suspension uprights and the double wishbones have meant shedding 16kg in unsprung mass.
The changes help to make the 720S the lightest Super Series car yet, with a dry weight of 1283kg. Brimmed with fluids, it was measured by us at 1420kg. That’s 135kg lighter than the 488 GTB we tested last year.
The McLaren is significantly more powerful than its Ferrari rival, too. Compared with the previous 3.8-litre V8, Woking claims 40 percent of the latest engine is new, including lighter pistons and connecting rods, the turbochargers and intercoolers, and a stiffer crankshaft.
The slight increase in capacity to 4.0 litres is the result of a 3.6mm increase in piston stroke. The result is 710bhp at 8200rpm and 500bhp per tonne. Peak torque is only marginally superior to the Ferrari’s, at 568lb ft, although 400lb ft per tonne is also a noticeable improvement on Maranello’s figures.
As before, the power arrives at the rear wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. Also carried over, albeit in a revised format, is the chassis control system, which removes the need for anti-roll bars by hydraulically interlinking the dampers.
The bulk of the revisions are located in the control strategy, where the algorithms assessing the input of 12 additional sensors are the product of research carried out at Cambridge University and render both analysis and reaction to wheel motion within two milliseconds.
Engineering into infinitesimal margins is McLaren’s race-bred speciality, but the manufacturer has its microscope fixed on the fun, too: Variable Drift Control, a component of the stability systemnot entirely dissimilar to Ferrari’s Side Slip Control 2, now features for the first time.