Regular readers may recall I said the McLaren 600LT was the most exciting car I drove in 2018. My review concluded: ‘The [forthcoming] 600LT Spider is essentially the same, but with a folding hard-top roof. Will that end up being the best driver’s car launched in 2019? Don’t bet against it’. Time to discover if McLaren has done the double.
First, though, a quick recap. The 600LT is a harder, faster version of McLaren’s ‘junior’ 570S supercar: less daily-driver, more track-day toy. The LT suffix stands for ‘Longtail’, and you’ll find a fixed spoiler and twin top-exit exhausts on the elongated rear deck. Some parts, such as the lowered suspension and bigger brakes, are borrowed from the more exotic 720S, while power climbs by 30hp to 600hp.
The 600LT’s F1-style carbon fibre chassis is so stiff that chopping off its top requires no extra bracing. The electric roof – which folds in 15 seconds at up to 25mph – adds 48kg, but the Spider still weighs up to 100kg less than its 570S sibling, depending on which options you choose. The thinly-padded racing seats from the Senna hypercar are 3.66kg lighter, for instance, while titanium wheel bolts shave a further 420g. Masochists can even forgo air conditioning (12.6kg) and an audio system (3.3kg) in the quest to cut kilos.
On-paper performance is scarcely compromised versus the coupe. Zero to 62mph takes an identical 2.9 seconds and, at 201mph (or a hair-raising 196mph with the roof down), few will quibble about a 3mph deficit flat-out. This latest Longtail isn’t just about straight-line speed, though: corners are its specialist subject. With that in mind, I set my alarm for 5am, fire up the 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 – thus waking up most of south London – and flee the city for deepest Suffolk, in search of B-road bliss.
It’s before dawn and I still have the M25 to contend with so, rather than going fully topless, I retract the drop-down rear window. The truncated tailpipes, which spit flames at high revs, are now inches behind my unguarded eardrums, their furious rasps and downshift detonations so hard-edged they could crack concrete. Previous McLarens were criticised for sounding muted. Not this one. My 600LT Spider does have a stereo (3.3kg penalty be damned), but I don’t switch it on once.
McLaren 600LT Spider on test.
Vital stats: 600hp, 0-62mph in 2.9sec, 23.2mpg and 276g/km.
Price before options: £201,500. Price as tested: £251,710. pic.twitter.com/bmEqzmCiMz
— Tim Pitt (@timpitt100) August 1, 2019
As the sun burns away the morning dew, I exit the A12 and fold the roof fully. The effect is like licking salt after downing a double tequila: an intoxicating sensory overload. The V8 revs like a superbike, body control is utterly iron-fisted and the 600LT’s hydraulic steering is so direct it feels almost precognitive. It turns into bends with motorsport-grade adhesion, then punches outwards with concussive force. This blend of deft dynamics with shock-and-awe savagery is something only the more focused Ferraris and Porsche’s GT cars can equal.
It’s not perfect, though. The 600LT coupe is incredible on-track, as I learned last year at the Hungaroring, and I’ve no doubt the Spider would feel just as tenacious and explosive. Likewise, on smooth roads, it’s hard to imagine a more rewarding way to lose your licence. However, on broken British tarmac, with all its cracks and potholes, the 600LT can feel too firm and unflinching. By the time I rejoin the M25 home, I’m like a tired toddler suffering a sugar-crash.
So, today’s nugget of prudent consumer advice: if you want a daily-driver, go for the softer-sprung 570S. A weekend plaything? Definitely the 600LT. As for the best driver’s car of 2019, we have a few months of the year left – and a review of the new Porsche Cayman GT4 still to come. Place your bets now.
In pictures: McLaren 600LT Spider