McLaren made a promise at its 2010 launch that it would release 10 new cars in 10 years which was, to say the least, ambitious for what was effectively a start-up supercar company.
McLaren has enjoyed great track success, second only to Ferrari as the most successful team in Formula One, but is still a relative newcomer by comparison in terms of road cars. Yet, in 2021, the company is delivering on its promise with another new model, the 720S Spider, which will be joined by at least two more local reveals in the coming months.
The one characteristic that has flowed from the very first 12C McLaren launched in mid-2011 is simplicity and a minimalistic approach to the cockpit with its emphasis on the driver. In that regard, it’s a more selfish proposition than Ferrari, which is more luxury-focused from behind the wheel.
On the road, it’s a different matter, as they are line-ball in the performance stakes. When it comes to comforts and convenience, McLaren has always been about the driver first.
While there’s little in the way of storage or convenience for the passenger, with no glovebox for example, the driver enjoys a no-compromise dash with McLaren’s traditional steering that’s free of buttons and other distractions.
Suspension and performance settings take priority over the stereo, climate and navigation, with easy-to-use, hard-fixed buttons and dials compared to the latter features that are bundled together in a 7.0-inch touchscreen.
It’s not a completely stripped-out hull, though, as the 720S Spider still offers power-adjustable leather seats matched to Alcantara on other surfaces and a 12-speaker Bowers & Wilkins stereo as well as two USB ports.
As if the 720S Coupe didn’t tickle the senses enough with its mid-mounted, four-litre, twin-turbocharged V8 engine located inches behind the driver’s seat, the 2021 Spider amps it up to 11 when you drop the roof and cop the full acoustic experience complete with engine heat.
If it’s too hot, you can keep the roof closed and drop the letterbox rear window to let that sound blast the interior with full surround-sound effect. Conversation, however, will be non-existent.
Like the 650S Spider before it, the 720S was designed in unison with the closed coupe version so that even without a roof, it remains just as rigid and therefore doesn’t lose an ounce of handling or performance to its hard-topped sibling.
It’s a car that can be driven at 325 kilometres per hour with the roof down and 341kph with the roof sealed if you ever find a legal space long enough and someone prepared to risk the eye-watering speed to try it.
For the Middle East, an electrochromic glass roof that flicks from a heavy 90 per cent tint to clear glass with the push of a button is a must and when the weather’s right, the whole structure folds away in 11 seconds at up to 50kph.
A few other essential items owners will need to tick on the options list are its front-end vehicle lift that lets you raise the nose at low speeds for speed humps, 360-degree Park Assist and rear parking sensors.
Its deep rear diffuser becomes the lowest part of the car when the nose is raised and is vulnerable to kerbs and cement parking blocks when reversing. Thankfully, the Spider weighs only 1,332 kilograms, so you can leave it in neutral on flat surfaces and pull it back by hand to avoid scraping the diffuser when parking.
Its carbon fibre monocage is virtually the same structural unit from the coupe, save for a new carbon rear frame behind the seats for the roof, which means that the overall package including roof motors is only 49kg heavier than the coupe.
The impact of the extra kilos is virtually nil as the Spider loses just 0.1 seconds to 200kph, getting there in under eight seconds and has the same top speed.
The 710 brake horsepower, twin-turbo V8 and seven-speed paddle-shift, dual-clutch automatic transmission carry over unchanged, meaning that the sensation is just as dramatic as the coupe with the roof up and absolutely explosive with the top down.
And just like the hardtop, it also likes a solid drink of premium octane unleaded even at cruising pace. After 285km of mostly pedestrian driving around town, I needed to replenish its 72-litre petrol tank.
Given the speed of the fuel gauge, I enjoyed most of my time in the 720S Spider, plodding around at slow speeds, soaking up the engine rasps and whistles from the turbos but without any of the low-speed melodrama other supercars like to dish up at normal road pace. Thankfully, too, the temperature gauge behaved as well during the afternoon rush-hour crawl.
Leave the engine mode in the Comfort setting with the transmission in Drive, and it will pull cleanly through to sixth gear by 50kph and yet open the taps and the car will just about rip your face off at 250kph, showing that the flexibility is there but the choice is always yours.
McLaren is riding a wave at the moment delivering products such as the track-focused 765LT and Elva speedster that are still on the way, eclipsing its Italian competitors for desirability and driveability.
The fact that in virtually every area, the McLaren 720S Spider has lost nothing to its closed coupe sibling but adds the rawness of open-topped fun only adds to its appeal.
Engine: 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8
Transmission: 7-speed auto
0-100kph: 2.8 seconds
0-200kph: 7.9 seconds
Top speed: 341kph