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The 720S was peerless when it arrived, but does its successor still excite like little else?

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Six years have passed since the McLaren 720S arrived – a supercar whose engineers were, at the time, quite open regarding their anxiety over its eventual replacement.

In fairness, they had reason to be. In the 720S, those engineers created an exceedingly light, monumentally potent supercar with class-defying road manners. Talk about a hard act to follow.

Today, we know that the full-bore replacement for the 720S will involve a hybridised V8 powertrain, due to come onstream in a few years’ time. The car to house it is currently being masterminded by new McLaren CEO Michael Leiters (formerly of Ferrari), with fresh styling overseen by Tobias Sühlmann, who is tucking his feet back under his desk in Woking after a short spell at Bentley.

As the successor to the 720S, it will exist as a big brother to the hybridised-V6 Artura and will ring the retirement bell for a model that brought hypercar performance to the supercar realm, putting in quite a shift as goes McLaren’s desire to be a rival to Ferrari.

In fact, in terms of performance at this price point, the Italians have only just outdone the 720S, requiring an 819bhp plug-in hybrid powertrain in the far heavier Ferrari 296 GTB to do so. But the extraordinary 720S isn’t finished just yet, and before its true successor arrives, it has evolved into this, the £244,815 McLaren 750S.

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DESIGN & STYLING

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mclaren 750s review 2023 02 panning

It’s a new name that, in reality, denotes rather a light facelift. Just how light becomes clear when we first clap eyes on the 750S in the pit lane at Estoril, where the car is being launched (and with 533bhp per tonne, the scope of an ex-Formula 1 circuit is warranted).

Compared with the 720S, the ‘eye socket’ orifices for the headlights have been closed up a touch and the body-coloured bumper is more expansive, being lower-reaching and looking altogether more slippery. Along the flanks, the intakes at the base of the door apertures are marginally broader.

The Spider gets an electrochromic roof panel that has two levels of transparency, one of which is clear. You can also drop the rear glass screen into the firewall on the Spider. It makes for a sensational ambience when you don't want the roof fully down

At the back, the air brake is larger, having been filched from the McLaren 765LT, that hardcore track-day special, and the grille has been restyled.

The exhaust now has a raised central outlet similar to that of the mighty McLaren P1, now a decade old but still extraordinary. Up close, the 750S looks spectacularly exotic, but overall the sinewy yet voluptuous and faintly organic form of the 720S is perhaps a little too familiar.

It’s a similar story inside, but given the ultra-light carbonfibre monocoque is unchanged and all of the engineering hardpoints are therefore carried over, that is to be expected.

It remains a superb cockpit, on the one hand engendering a captivating sense of light and space and on the other plumbing you firmly into the machine. No other supercar does this so successfully. McLaren has also stiffened up the engine mounts for no other reason than to better connect the driver with the engine.

This being McLaren, there are optimisations elsewhere. The electrohydraulic steering rack’s ratio is increased, giving direction changes a touch more bite and, on the road, a palpably heavier action at low to medium speeds (many will like that, although some will find it unnecessary).

The 10-spoke wheels are forged aluminium and the lightest ever fitted to a production McLaren, saving 13.8kg all round. New spring and damper units save 2kg. 

The suspension modes have also been tuned to offer greater disparity between Comfort, Sport and Track (chief engineer Sandy Holford says Track should be essentially unusable on the road).

Finally, there's a new brake booster to maintain pedal consistency. And you can add the six-piston monoblock front calipers from the McLaren Senna

INTERIOR

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mclaren 750s review 2023 20 interior

The clearest change inside the cabin is the loss of the slightly awkward folding instrument display of the 720S in favour of the column-mounted one from the McLaren Artura. It’s 1.8kg lighter (as ever with McLaren, every kilogram counts) and has ears in the form of rocker switches for the Active Dynamic suspension and powertrain modes.

There’s also a new touchscreen infotainment system with improved functionality and Apple CarPlay (Android Auto is apparently in the works). In other prosaic but genuinely meaningful news, the nose-lift activation time has been cut from 11sec to 4sec and can now operate with more steering lock applied. For owners, that will be a serious win. 

The instrument binnacle is fixed to the steering column now, so when the latter moves, the former does too. Why aren’t all cars like this?

Carbonfibre-shelled bucket seats are now standard and save 17.5kg over the Sports seats that were fitted to the 720S (and are still available). Go for the Super Lightweight carbon seats, as here, and each shells weighs just 3.5kg.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

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00107 McLaren 750S Extra UK FD 2024 track drift front

Out onto a patchily damp Estoril. Hardly aiding proceedings (at least, not yet) is the fact that we’re contending with the 750S’s most extreme tyre option in the form of Pirelli’s lap-time-hunting P Zero Trofeo R.

This ought to be interesting – and, for a few slightly skittish laps, it is. The car’s mid-engined layout, grip and any poorly timed mid-corner closing of the throttle send the mass of the engine vaulting over your shoulder, causing all sorts of problems for the tail. Exploring the capability of such a boosty, muscular V8 requires the caution of hand-feeding a grizzly bear.

The 750S introduces the McLaren Control Launcher, which enables you to save and then immediately access your preferred powertrain, gearbox, handling and aero settings. It’s a welcome addition.

However, as the track dries and the rubber heats, somewhat predictably, the 750S comes alive. Better cooling, greater boost, 765LT pistons and a second fuel pump have taken peak power from 710bhp in the 720S to 740bhp. Frankly, the improvement is academic. The latest Super Series McLaren is as jaw-droppingly quick in a straight line as the last one.

Once you’re into the meat of the torque curve from about 4000rpm, the thing moves like a leaf picked up by the wind. The shorter final drive from the 765LT plus the sharper, more sonorous song of the new, lightweight, single-exit exhaust also enhance the drama, if only subtly. This is still no Lamborghini Huracán, and true romantic appeal remains beyond its Ricardo engine, but is it the best-sounding McLaren V8 yet? Mercedes SLR aside, probably.

RIDE & HANDLING

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00105 McLaren 750S Extra UK FD 2024 winter corner rear

However, in handling terms, the 750S is a charmer. In fact, on track it’s an utter riot.

McLaren wanted to dial in more of the 765LT’s mischievous nature but without its sometimes banzai sideways inclinations, and it seems to have succeeded. The 750S uses a revised version of the hydraulically cross-linked suspension (now dubbed PCC III) and has a 6mm-wider front track than the 720S, but it also features a marginally softer (3%) front spring rate and an equally firmer (4%) rear.

I once spent six months in a 720S, and if gluteal muscle memory can be relied upon, I’d say the 750S isn’t quite so unreasonably absorbent but that, for such a car, its ride is more than good enough.

The resulting car has freakish levels of early-, mid- and late-corner adjustability but with no real vices, meaning you have the confidence to explore your options. Some people dislike the dead travel at the top of the brake pedal, but it does pave the way for endless fine-tuning of the car’s attitude on the way into corners.

Thereafter, you can get stuck into the throttle and ride out small slides or keep things tidy. The faintly imprecise nature of the way 590lb ft of torque is delivered can make the decision for you, but it’s all huge fun and not especially scary. It lacks the yaw-related precision of the 296 GTB and the sublime accuracy of the Porsche 911 GT3 RS, but it still easily mixes with those box-fresh characters.

It’s also a finer road car than any other supercar. We drove a 750S Spider on the public highway (the white car pictured here), and it’s clear that almost none of the 720S’s stunning fluidity has been lost.

This car has better compliance not just than dedicated grand tourers but many an executive saloon, too. Its ability to tread lightly combines with prodigious all-round visibility and reasonable luggage space, particularly if you don’t add the titanium roll cage and therefore maintain access to the rear deck (through which you can specify an engine-viewing window).

We do have a bit of a bone to pick with its refinement, however. Reducing the transmission’s final drive ratio has provided even more ridiculous in-gear punch, so now you can set the traction-control light blinking frantically in fifth – yes, fifth – gear on a dry road, but by the time you reach seventh, you will wish for an eighth. At 75mph, it’s pulling 2500rpm in top, which is just a little noisier than I’d like. After all, this isn’t a Colombo V12 I’m listening to here.

Since the launch in Portugal, we've had a chance to try the 750S in more difficult conditions on more difficult roads. More precisely, in Wales, which happened to be quite frosty at the time. In these conditions, the 750S is simply sublime. Despite its price and power, so good is the feel through the (still hydraulic) steering, so superb is the visibility, so beautifully balanced and easily controlled is the chassis that we found ourselves literally laughing at what it can do and the confidence it inspires. When we're not gasping, that is. More incisive than the 720S, more playful too? We’d say so.

Having recently spent time on the same roads in the heavier but more powerful Ferrari 296 GTB, we can say that, despite their similarities in price and power-to-weight ratios, they feel distinctly different. The Italian is a more complex, deeply layered car that wears its technology on its sleeve, the Brit a more pared-back, less immediately impressive car that ultimately may however prove even more satisfying to drive.

VERDICT

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00103 McLaren 750S Extra UK FD 2024 winter static

So should you buy one? If you’re so inclined, there are few reasons not to. And yet while meaningfully improved, the 750S is a trickier sell than the 720S was.

When that was launched, its carbon-tubbed purity and vertigo-inducing speed felt nigh-on invincible, but Ferrari’s move to soulful V6 PHEV power has been enormously successful. The 296 GTB also offers novel styling, so crucial for this kind of car. Closer to home, the Artura – subordinate by 169bhp – is now arguably more rewarding to drive.

However, even today, six years on, nothing out there combines the real-world pace, the usability and the sheer extraterrestrial flair of the 720S. And its successor has just upped the ante in all respects.

UK driving impressions by Andrew Frankel

Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017, arriving from Evo magazine, and is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests, performance benchmarking and supercar lap-times, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found on Autocar's YouTube channel

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year, and focuses mainly on the more driver-orientated products, as is tradition at Autocar. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Away from work, but remaining on the subject of cars, Richard owns an eight-valve Integrale, loves watching sportscar racing, and holds a post-grad in transport engineering.