This can still be a pretty intimidating car. There are the statistics, such as 660bhp per tonne, there’s the appearance of it, and there’s the fact that if you specify a six-point harness, you can’t reach the door to pull it shut once it’s fastened. It’s immaculate yet overwhelming; a concept made real. Not unlike, say, an Aston Martin Vulcan, a project born from a similar ethos: ‘We put our all into it, and you buy it to enjoy it'.
The rest of the Senna’s interior is less flamboyant than the Vulcan’s, or the McLaren P1’s. It’s all naked carbonfibre, naturally, but with fewer outlandish curves. It’s more straightforward, more racy.
But there are very ‘McLaren’ touches. Because McLaren fits sensible steering wheels to all of its cars, this one gets the same. The 720S’s digital instrument binnacle, which can be upright with a big, clear layout, or lowered for a minimal one (as in the 720S; I prefer it raised), is replicated, and so too are the basics of the driving position, albeit in a massively sculpted, fixed-back, carbonfibre seat. Some dials are attached to it and slide with it. The brake pedal is central so you can pick which foot to stop with, and the steering wheel is hugely adjustable. If you can’t find a purposeful driving position here, I doubt you’ll find one anywhere. For all of the intimidation you might feel initially, for all that it looks like no other McLaren, it at least feels like one.
It does when you’re rolling too. As on other McLarens, there are different driving modes for chassis and powertrain. Thus far we’ve had a very short stint on the track, and a longer go on largely boring roads.
On the road, it pays to leave the suspension in its softest setting, in which it rides firmly but with a suppleness allowed by the linked hydraulic suspension, and turn up the powertrain by a notch, and take control of the gear changes yourself.
Left in Automatic mode, the twin-clutch gearbox tries to lug things out at low revs, which causes the 4.0-litre V8 to grumble and resonate through the carbonfibre chassis, which echoes like stiff, hollow sections sometimes can. Carbonfibre or big-tube aluminium bicycles are similar: very stiff, but quite loud.
Ask a bit more of it and you get an idea of the Senna’s latent potency. Each litre makes around 200bhp, so you’d expect that it feels a bit boosty, and incredibly rapid. On the road you never get more than a few seconds of the hit, the merest hint of what it’s ultimately capable of, backed by the rawness of stonechips thwacking the underside of the chassis. Compared to a regular 720S, it’s like a Land Rover Defender versus a Discovery: you can use both, they do a similar thing, but to different extremes. The Senna’s steering is still lovely, there’s a rounded edge to the ride, and it’s still rewarding, but road driving isn’t really what it’s about.
The Senna really comes to life on a circuit. Popping the car into Race mode lowers the Senna by 50mm and, thanks to underfloor wizardry, is responsible for creating 60% of the car’s total downforce. There are active aero elements front and rear, including a 20deg variance in the rear wing angle. And this is the kind of approach that begets walloping lap times: add power, forget hybridisation, take out a load of weight and add aero. It’s why the Lamborghini Huracán Performante laps faster than any of the famed hypercar trio: LaFerrari, Porsche 918 and McLaren’s own P1. And why a McLaren 675 LT would be as quick around the same circuit as a P1, for example.