The ‘Grand Tourer’ category of cars has always been confusing to me. Sure, most companies portray vehicles of road trip grandeur and infinite storage, but realistically, what constitutes a vehicle worthy of the GT badge has long been open to interpretation. Is it a long-range? Amazing Infotainment? Armchair comfort? In the luxury segment, at least, the common recipe for a Grand Tourer consists of: a large engine, an even larger wheelbase, and enough bells and whistles to keep everyone distracted for the journey ahead. While this type of dessert has proven to be tasty for some, many have found these cakes far too heavy to be enjoyed properly. Even when engineers are given the green light to shave a little weight for more performance slanted variants, you’ll struggle to find a package south of 1700kg.
English supercar specialists, McLaren, have decided to do things very differently. Rather than trying to shave weight from a chubby chariot, the team from Surrey has taken one of their lightweight carbon fibre tubs and filled it with comfort leaning hardware. A manufacturer that has performance driving at the top of its priority list, adding some extra luggage space and nose clearance? On paper, this seemed like my kind of Grand Tourer. McLaren said they set out to “create the lightest, quickest accelerating car in its class.”, but as a selfless gesture, I thought I should test drive the new GT on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road. You know, just to be sure.
I first experienced the McLaren GT as a passenger at the Goodwood Festival of Speed last year, but seeing it on the showroom floor with its siblings was a sight to behold. Not quite as aesthetically menacing as the 720s, or as ominous as the 600LT, the GT certainly looks the most current and handsome of the McLaren lineup. A fusion of glass and curved carbon dominate the silky profile with a slightly subtler stroke of the designer’s pen. You still see glimpses of the car’s capabilities through some oversized air intakes and pumped rear guards, but the overall design language embodies a more refined and understated aesthetic. The carbon fiber tailgate is a piece you would proudly hang on your living room wall, but on the GT, it is content covering the largest luggage bay McLaren has ever produced (that’s two golf bags if you’re so inclined). Probably more impressive than the storage volume is the luggage bay’s surprising choice of textiles. Modestly titled, ‘ SuperFabric ‘ the military-grade lining can resist scratches, stains, and water while somehow still looking and feeling luxurious. As I only had a backpack (and an addiction to low centers of gravity) I decided to pop my goods in the frunk and head towards my coastal escape.
Now, you may be surprised to learn, but leaving a dealership in a supercar is usually one of the nerviest parts of any test. These cars take their aerodynamics very seriously, and as a result, sit dangerously low to our challenging driveways and speed bumps. Even when you remember to take the time to slow down and activate the lift kit, there is always a bit of glute clenching, face-pulling and praying that you didn’t just leave some carbon on the concrete. With 110mm of clearance (130mm with lift), the gentlemen from McLaren ensured that I had nothing to worry about. Forgetting what my insurance excess was, I thrust the GT into Melbourne’s traffic with a relieving silence from my undercarriage. I know it might sound ridiculous, but driving through Melbourne without having to slow to a crawl, lift the nose, then slither over anything that wasn’t a laser flat surface, was the most stress alleviating feeling I’d had in a supercar. Dips? No worries. Speed Bumps? Straight On. It was only when I started noticing myself eyeing off nature strips, that I thought it was time to push on towards Torquay.
With the highway to the coast looking pretty lacklustre, I put the gearbox in auto and began exploring the car’s cockpit. In terms of layout, it was familiarly McLaren. Exceptional driving position… driver-focused console… machined switches… all boxes were ticked on the McLaren report card. But on closer inspection, there was a slightly different feel to everything. The whole composition felt a little plusher. There are extra carpet, leather, and cashmere scattered throughout the cabin which softens without feeling dreary, and while impressive to look and touch, this textile matrix has also reduced road noise considerably. My car was fitted with the optional electrochromatic roof which somehow functions as impressively as it sounds. Developed by McLaren Special Operations, the electrically charged glass ceiling can change from solid to see-through at the touch of a button with a few gradients in between. Party tricks aside, it’s a very sensible way of providing a feeling of airiness, while controlling the amount of UV that enters the cabin. The only slip in the GT’s interior arsenal was the lack of a second USB port. Call me petty, but I think that a car that screams ‘road trip’, should be able to keep both pilots as charged electrically as it does physically. But with Torquay to my rear and the Great Ocean Road to my front, I was willing to overlook plugs for ponies and unleash the 600 that were rumbling against my back.
The exhaust thundered open as I selected ‘ sport ‘ and flicked down two gears via the beautifully machined aluminium paddles. The GT ducked and weaved through the first few bends with a purposeful grace that other cars in its class could only dream of. As the landscape started to undulate, the 630Nm of torque made short work of any climb or overtaking opportunity that presented itself. The GT was in its element. While it’s not 600LT levels of sharpness, the electro-hydraulic steering rack in the GT is a thing of beauty. Every mid-corner adjustment… every apex… every corner exit… it doesn’t matter what the input, you always feel organically connected to what the chassis is doing. This is particularly useful when a 600BHP 4.0 litre twin-turbocharged V8 is punching you out of corners with a warp-like velocity. Launching from a standstill, the GT will reach 100km/h in just 3.2 seconds and 200km/h in 9. But it’s slingshotting between sweeping bends along the coast where you appreciate the versatility of this engine. Peak torque is delivered between 5,500rpm and 6,500rpm, so you can afford to be a little more relaxed between shifts and still end up accelerating with a rapidity that’s best in class.
As a two-seat Grand Tourer, the new McLaren is an incredible piece of kit. It has all the storage, comfort, and pragmatism of a GT cleverly integrated into a world-class, supple supercar. When most luxury cars feel like a hefty gentleman in activewear, the McLaren GT is Vasyl Lomachenko in a Tom Ford cardigan. If you want a two-tonne lounge chair that sits on cruise control and lives on the freeway, this isn’t the car for you. But if you’re someone that still appreciates the core experience of driving, desires the romance of a twisty road, and thirsts for lightweight luxury, then the McLaren GT should be at the top of your shopping list.