2017 Car of the Year runner-up: The McLaren 720S may be the world’s best supercar

Our McLaren 720S Performance test car.

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Our McLaren 720S Performance test car.
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Hollis Johnson

Editorial note: Business Insider will name its 2017 Car of the Year on November 14, based on 15 finalists. Each day this week, we’re taking another look at the five vehicles that were runners-up. On Monday, it was the Acura TLX A-Spec. Today, we present the 2018 McLaren 720S.

    The 2018 McLaren 720S delivers blistering speed, precise handling, and a luxurious ride. The 720S features the latest in McLaren’s traction management and carbon-fiber chassis technology. With 710 horsepower and a 212-mph top speed, what more could you want in a supercar?

Earlier this year, I was invited to be one of the first people to the drive the new McLaren 720S supercar. The catch? I had to go to Italy to do it. Because of an unfortunate flight schedule that required one day, three flights, and a detour through Switzerland, I finally arrived in Rome.

And boy was it worth it. I had the opportunity to experience the McLaren both on the roads in and around Rome as well as around the challenging corners of the Vallelunga Circuit. Through it all, the 720S lived up to the hype.

In my driving review of the car, I wrote: “The 720S is the supercar equivalent of a five-tool player in baseball. It excels at just about anything and everything required for a vehicle in this genre. There are no holes in its game. It delivers blistering, yet accessible performance, luxurious comfort, robust build quality, cutting-edge technology, and head-turning looks. To top it all off, the 720S delivers all of this with enough pomp and circumstance to put on a show for the driver. “

“Simply put, the McLaren 720S is the most “complete” supercar ever produced. Period,” I gushed.

Since then, however, I’ve wondered whether my high praise of the 720S was affected by the picturesque settings and breathtaking driving roads. Was it all a holiday romance?

To find out, we asked McLaren for another 720S to test, this time in an environment far less hospitable to supercars: Business Insider’s headquarters in New York. (Though the car spent most of its time with us in neighboring New Jersey.)

A few weeks ago, McLaren dropped off a 2018 McLaren 720S Performance in a striking Paris Blue paint job. The 2018 720S starts at $284,745 while our Performance spec car with extra carbon fiber starts at $296,175.

Here’s a closer look at the 2018 McLaren 720S.


Earlier this year, I got the chance to the drive the McLaren 720S around the streets of Rome and…

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

….around Vallelunga Circuit just north of the Italian capital.

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McLaren

But we couldn’t help but wonder how well it could handle less hospitable conditions?Like New York City and New Jersey.

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Hollis Johnson

However, we almost immediately relocated to the car to wilds of New Jersey where the beast would have more room to roam.

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Hollis Johnson

But first, a tour of the 720S.

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Hollis Johnson

The first thing people notice are its controversial eye sockets. They are actually air intakes for the car’s low-temperature radiators.

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Hollis Johnson

Open up the front hatch and you’ll discover a front trunk or frunk. For a supercar, the 720S is surprisingly practical. You can fit a week’s worth of groceries in there. And whatever doesn’t fit can be stowed on the parcel shelf behind the driver.

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Hollis Johnson

Out back, the 720S’ exhaust sits above the bumper and diffuser. Just under the deployable rear spoiler that doubles as an air brake.

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Hollis Johnson

Overall the McLaren cuts a futuristic silhouette through the air as it drives down the street. In fact, every surface is designed to efficiently channel air around the car.

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Hollis Johnson

As a result, the stunning body by McLaren design chief Rob Melville is as much about the art of aerodynamics as it is about pure bedroom-poster-wow-factor.

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Hollis Johnson

Open up the dihedral doors and step inside.

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Hollis Johnson

The 720S is built around McLaren’s new Monocage II carbon fiber passenger cell. It’s lighter, stronger, and easier to get in and out of than its predecessor.

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Hollis Johnson

Since our test car was originally brought to the US for car magazines to conduct performance testing, it came equipped with lightweight sport seats. While they offer better support in high G force situations, they do make it more difficult to get into the car.

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Hollis Johnson

This is also why the driver-focused interior looks pretty spartan.

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Hollis Johnson

Here’s the luxury spec interior I sampled while in Italy.

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McLaren

While the seats change based on the specification of the car, the McLaren’s ride quality doesn’t. Much of this can be attributed to its new Proactive Chassis Control II system. In short, McLaren eschews anti-roll bars and traditional dampers for a system of interconnected hydraulic dampers.

The “proactive” bit comes from the advanced algorithms developed in conjunction with Cambridge University that adjusts chassis settings every two milliseconds based on input from a dozen sensors around the car. This gives drivers the impression the car can almost predict the future.

In addition, PCC II helps McLaren deliver the smoothest riding supercar in the world. Bumps that could shake a filling loose in a normal supercar come off as a minor disruption in the McLaren.

In fact, if Rolls-Royce ever lost its mind and decided to sink a few hundred million dollars into a hardcore supercar, it would be hard-pressed to make it ride better than the 720S.


In front of the driver is McLaren’s new digital instrument cluster. Its display format changes based on the driving mode. In track mode, the display retracts into the dash revealing a small readout on top of the cluster.

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Hollis Johnson

The McLaren’s massive windshield offers the driver superb visibility of the road.

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Hollis Johnson

Ignition and gear lever duties have been given to buttons.

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Hollis Johnson

Speaking of buttons, McLaren made it a point to work on the tactile feel of its interior. What looks like carbon fiber is carbon fiber, metallic switches are machined out of aluminum, and leather accents come from only the finest cows.

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Hollis Johnson

The 720S also gets a new 8-inch touchscreen running McLaren’s new infotainment system with crisper graphics and updated menu layouts. The new architecture developed with JVCKENWOOD represents a significant improvement over the company’s previous generation IRIS system that was clunky and confusing to use.

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Hollis Johnson

The 720 is also equipped with assistance features like 360-degree cameras and variable drift control, a system that allows drivers to perfect the art of drifting by giving them manual controls to adjust the traction control based on skill level and track conditions.

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Hollis Johnson

At the heart of the 720S is a new 710-horsepower, 4.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V8 engine. It features brand new turbochargers, intercoolers, cylinder heads, crankshaft, and pistons. The new engine is not only significantly more powerful than the previous unit, it also produces fewer harmful emissions. Unfortunately, you can’t open the hatch to see the motor, but McLaren did decide to bathe the engine compartment in mood lighting.

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Hollis Johnson

According to McLaren, the 720S can hit 60 mph in just 2.8 seconds and will reach a top speed of 212 mph. However, McLaren is known to underreport its performance data, so expect the 720S to be even quicker in reality.

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Hollis Johnson

My Verdict:

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Hollis Johnson

During our week with the 720S, we put it through its paces from the winding country roads of rural New Jersey to the boulevards of Manhattan. We also subjected the McLaren to what is possibly the most treacherous test in the world for a supercar, the chaos of Friday afternoon rush hour traffic in New York.

The McLaren survived everything we could throw at it with flying colors. It delivered on all fronts; blistering acceleration off the line, buttery smooth cruising on the highway, and pure exhilaration around the corners. The steering is the most precise I’ve ever encountered and its slick shifting 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox is, as my colleague Matt DeBord put it, telepathic.

The new 710 horsepower, twin-turbo V12 is an engineering masterpiece and word on the street says McLaren can reliably squeeze more than 800 ponies out of the 4.0-liter engine.

Through it all, the cabin remained civilized and comfortable while the in-car tech worked without a hitch.

Its road-going spaceship looks and melodious exhaust also drew crowds of admirers everywhere we took the car.

So, was our love affair with the McLaren 720S a fleeting holiday romance? No.

A few hundred miles on the roads of New Jersey made me love the 720S even more. Which allows me to reiterate the point I made in May:

“Simply put, the McLaren 720S is the most “complete” supercar ever produced. Period.”

And in terms of capability, I’ll take it one step further. Having spent extensive time with its rivals from Honda, Audi, Lamborghini, and Ferrari, the McLaren is, in my opinion, the best supercar in the world right now.

In fact, at $300,000, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything better than the 720S for less than $1 million.