Too often badges are thrown around like fairground candy when it comes to car names, and GT is one that lands on the tail of a car – whether it actually is a GT or not.
A GT by any other name
Meaning Grand Touring, the term identifies a sports coupe that should carry more than two people in a two-door car made for long-distance cruising, with the engine out front to maximise interior space.
Modern GTs include the Bentley Continental, Ford Mustang, Chev Camaro, Aston Martin DB11 and Ferrari GTC4, so when McLaren announced a GT, what we have here is not what I was expecting.
McLaren concedes its GT is missing rear seats and is mid-engined, but argues that it’s still a long-distance cruiser with ample luggage space (apparently it can carry a set of golf clubs, plus luggage within its svelte, sports car silhouette). The claims sound imaginative, but after a few days living with the GT and driving it daily, I’ll acknowledge some merit that it’s a good long-distance tourer – for a two-seat sports car.
McLaren expects the GT to account for 25 per cent of its total sales, but if you’re waiting for the convertible, don’t, because there will be no Spider version in the current product plan that runs to 2023.
McLaren GT is all strength and space
While it maintains the classic mid-mounted, turbocharged V8 engine McLaren drivetrain, which in this case is four litres, matched to a twin-clutch transmission in a carbon fibre tub, 60 per cent of the GT is new. It weighs just 1,530 kilograms yet develops 620 brake horse power with 630Nm of torque that gets it to 100 kilometres per hour in 3.1 seconds and on to 326kph.
The new features also extend to the engine that, on paper, looks similar to its 720S brother, but features smaller turbos and redesigned plumbing to deliver a less aggressive power curve and allows it to sit deeper in the engine bay, freeing up more cargo space in the rear.
There’s a surprising amount of luggage space when you include the front boot, which holds 147 litres, while over the shoulder there’s another 419 litres, giving 566 all up (that’s more than the 255 litres offered by Aston Martin DB11).
However, it should be noted that any items vulnerable to heat should be stowed out of sight in the front boot, as the space in the back lies above a hot turbo V8 engine and under a glass canopy over, delivering even baking temperatures.
In some ways, the McLaren GT is more comfortable compared to its front-engined rivals as it has the superior poise from a mid-engine layout aided by organic hydraulic steering. Additionally, in place of the track-focused hydraulic suspension used on the 720S, it rides on recalibrated adaptive dampers with softer front springs and anti-roll bars.
It’s incredibly nimble to hustle, is flat through corners and doesn’t understeer or shudder over corrugations like many front-engine GTs. The ride height can be raised to get over all but the most aggressive speed humps, but they still need to be taken with caution on the viscous humps that the UAE seems to breed.
To get the most out of the engine, its solid metal paddle shifters need to be used often as the GT is tuned more for economy than your regular McLaren. I found that below 2500rpm it reacted to being hustled to get over its turbo lag before a wave of horsepower hit and carried me to about 5500rpm before a second push sent me on to a joyous 8200rpm red line.
Special tyres and trademark doors
Pirelli has developed a specific P-Zero tyre for its 20-inch front and 21-inch rear rims that offers a wider breadth of traction for all conditions. In keeping with its everyday useability, it also shuns the expensive carbon brake discs for regular steel units that provide a more linear feel under foot. The carbon brakes, however, remain an optional extra.
The trademark McLaren dihedral doors remain, although climbing in and out is easier thanks to the seats being mounted higher, a deeper cut in the side sill and a power-assist shut function, though it’s still not the easiest car to access.
Nappa leather and knurled-aluminium controls replace the carbon fibre and Alcantara normally used in McLarens, and it has an optional panoramic roof that switches tints at the touch of a button. Entertainment comes courtesy of a lightweight four-speaker Bowers & Wilkins or optional 12-speaker stereo, Bluetooth for streaming and a seven-inch vertical touchscreen console.
While the McLaren version is not what you expect from a Grand Tourer initially, I did grow to like it; its low-ride height and those doors compared to other GTs might make it hard to live with as a genuine daily, though.
On the road, however, it drives nicer than many of its rivals while offering more luggage space than some, so McLaren’s argument remains valid, that this two-seat, carbon-fibre sports car is worthy of carrying its GT badge.