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Engine options, speed, acceleration and refinement

There’s much debate at the moment about what constitutes a supercar, what is a hypercar and what exactly a supersports car is.

The differences in terms of bald speed are pretty clear: hypercars (Bugatti Veyron Super Sport, McLaren P1, Porsche 918 Spyder) need about 10 seconds for a standing quarter mile; ‘modern’ mid-engined supercars (488 GTB, Lamborghini Huracán) typically need about 11 seconds and supersports cars (Porsche 911 Turbo, Nissan GT-R, Jaguar F-Type SVR) tend to need about 12 seconds.

The 720S won’t quite take shallower corners flat out, but it barely needs more than a nose-settling feather of the accelerator

The 570S, of course, took an axe to that logic with its supercar-level acceleration for supersports car outlay. And the 720S does precisely the same thing, just a rung farther up the performance ladder.

It’s as if redefining established performance benchmarks has become a minimum requirement of any new McLaren.

The 720S’s 10.4sec standing-quarter pace is much closer to that of a P1 (10.2sec) than that of its direct Ferrari rival, the 488 GTB (10.9sec).

With two passengers on board, a full tank of fuel and averaged over two directions, it also recorded a 2.9sec 0-60mph and an equally staggering 5.6sec 0-100mph showing.

Upshot? The 720S could give that Ferrari a head start of almost three seconds – allowing the 488 to have hit 60mph before the 720S had even moved – and still beat the Italian to 170mph. And then go on to hit 190mph within a standing mile, less than a second slower than a P1 would have, and also allow a little room for braking. ‘Fast’ hardly does the car justice.

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The McLaren’s stroked-out engine cylinders remain markedly oversquare in terms of design, and the car’s power delivery feels like that’s the case.

It’s far from inflexible, but you do need 4000rpm on the tacho before the car really takes off. When it does, it feels sensationally rapid – unexpectedly seamless and smooth but no less dramatic for it, and building savagely as the revs rise towards 8000rpm and beyond.

The seven-speed gearbox can shift a little bit softly at low revs but is never anything less than superbly quick at high revs when Track mode is selected on the active dynamics panel. And when left in D, the transmission’s control logic would seem to have been improved so that, in Sport mode, it can now seemingly predict when you’re about to overtake on country roads, dropping two or even three gears the instant you begin to dig into the accelerator.

We’ll record only a couple of notes of disappointment. Firstly, that six years after the launch of the MP4-12C, Woking still hasn’t made something that sounds like a bona fide supercar. The 720S’s engine has more rasp, whoosh and fizz about it than that of a 650S, but it’s still a bit ‘angry Terminator’. There’s nothing rich, mellifluous or soulful here.

And secondly, that the carbon-ceramic brakes don’t have better initial bite or all-round pedal feel. On both of those relatively minor considerations, this car could perhaps have done more. On the major one with which this section is concerned, it’s simply phenomenal.