LIMPSE THE 600LT across a swelteringly hot photography studio, the space’s walls and floor an abstract artwork of curated light and shade, and so sinister are the McLaren’s shadows and so purposeful its silhouette that it looks more yet-to-be-stickered racer than evolved road car; a plucky GT4 entry still without sponsorship, not a pre-production prototype. Blame the big fixed rear wing, the stunning multi-spoke wheel/gummy Pirelli Trofeo R tyre combination and the
race-ready stance. (The LT sits a not insignificant 80mm lower than the 570S, and runs a 10mm wider front track.) Blame the seats, too - the harness-ready carbonfibre super-lightweights first seen on the Senna and optional here. Clues that the 600LT is serious are both explicit and myriad.
When Darren Goddard, Sports Series vehicle line director, tells me the 592bhp 600LT will be faster through corners than the 666bhp 675LT - and ergo capable of faster lap times at some circuits, a product in broadly equal parts of its aero, tyre and weight advantages (1247kg dry, DIN, versus the 675’s 1328kg) - there’s no surprise on my part. My eyes and brain have already discussed the matter and concluded that, far from getting into diminishing returns, eight-year-old McLaren Automotive is in fact just getting into its stride.
Climb in: easy despite the high-sided bucket seats (which, incidentally, are incredible, hugging you tight like a compos ite carapace but spreading their embrace over every available square inch, such that you’re at once comfortable and now wearing the car). The Sports Series cockpit is a cosy space saved from claustrophobia by the floating centre console, the fine ergonomics and McLaren’s trademark economy of design. The steering wheel - now with cute orange 12 o’ clock marker - is gorgeous, to gaze upon and to hold. It’s also your point of contact with an altogether more aggressive front end than that of the 570 S.
‘The steering rack is faster than the 57oS's, and we’ve used a different torsion bar to put back in some of the texture and detail that’s deliberately dialled out on the S,’ explains attribute engineer Paul Burnham, who’s poked his head in through the open door. ‘We wanted greater feel and a heightened sense of engagement, with more surface information and feedback through the steering. The revised rack together with the geometry changes, the increased front track width and optimised tyre deliver that. We had to increase the front track because the revised rear geometry and wider rear tyres created such a strong rear end - the front track increase restores the balance.’
A dynamics engineer on McLaren’s early 2000s Formula 1 cars before he switched to road cars, first on the Mercedes SLR McLaren, Burnham knows a thing or two about fine steering and the importance of feel. ‘Yes, they’re two very different worlds - F1drivers aren’t interested in comfort or refinement - but there are similarities too, certainly in terms of what the driver’s looking for, and the information they need to feel confident.’
My left foot naturally rests on the brake pedal, previously one of McLaren’s few dynamic shortcomings. Even the 720S, while never wanting for stopping power, can frustrate with its numb, tricky-to-modulate pedal. But Burnham, who worked on the 720S before skipping the Senna to deliver the 600LT, has been rummaging in parts bins. As well as the Senna’s seats, he’s also nabbed an upgraded brake system for his baby: ‘Much of the system is Super Series derived - the foundation brakes are 720S - and the new Senna-derived master cylinder and booster give a firmer pedal and more precise modulation. The braking system also saves 4kg.’ Like line director Darren Goddard, Burnham punctuates each and every sentence with talk of weight savings: 4kg from the brakes, 2.1kg from the glazing, 3.3kg from the wiring harness, by deleting superfluous giveaway connectors. Somehow, lokg’s been cleaved from the suspension (forged double wishbone all round).
Burnham again: ‘The suspension’s been updated with re vised geometry and some Super Series parts load-optimised and lightened in the three years since the 570S debuted. As for the set-up, for me the handling has the poise, grip and precision of the 675LT with the sense of fun and agility of the other Sports Series cars - the best of both worlds.’
Goddard elaborates: ‘We have increased the spring and damper rates - they’re up something like 20 per cent, which isn’t silly - but the sophisticated valving gives a plushness on the road. It’s by no means too stiff for UK roads. Antonio Gonzalez, our dynamics lead, spent a lot of time with development driver Kenny Brack working on not just getting the ones and zeroes right but perfecting the damper valving and the chassis feel, too.’
Push the brake pedal, prod the starter button, and when the 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 explodes into life it’s almost as if it’s strapped to your back, so vocal are the new high-mounted exhaust exits, and so raw and honest the stiffer, less insulat ing engine and transmission mounts.
‘There are a couple of advantages to the new exhaust system,’ explains Burnham. ‘It’s shorter, so it’s lighter, and it leaves the rear of the car clear for a bigger, cleaner diffuser. It also improves engine performance by reducing exhaust back-pressure.’
As with the 675, the new system also transforms the at times underwhelming aural signature of McLaren’s explosive and versatile V8, burnishing its industrial blare with an exotic edge that’ll heighten the thrill of bashing the thing to its redline. At speed, the new exhausts spew hot gases onto the fixed rear wing: twin geysers of hard-worked atmosphere and savaged super unleaded. McLaren has calculated that, after a sustained top-speed run, tempera tures could exceed 24o“C, hence the ceramic coating to the wing’s centre section.
But before you get giddy about Red Bull-style blown wings and diffusers, Burnham’s quick to point out the complexities of doing so on a road car. ‘The effect is negligible on the LT,’ he smiles. ‘It’d be really challenging on a road car. During hard braking you’d be artificially maintaining high engine rpm [for the gas speed and resultant downforce] just as you wanted the stabilising engine braking,’ he explains. One for the 72oS’s Longtail derivative perhaps...
The engine and transmission internals are unchanged from the 570S; same pistons and valvegear, same ratios and gearbox hardware, same turbos. But the exhaust and ECU tweaks yield more power and torque (4571b ft), and the powertrain’s ferocity and potency will be transformed by changes to their electronic brain and the light-weighting work that’s been lavished on the car in which they sit.
Drive modes are still Normal, Sport and Track for both chassis and powertrain, but the parameters have been fiddled to suit the LT’s sharper dynamic focus. The powertrain setting also affects the twin-clutch gearbox’s shift strategy, as Burnham explains: ‘Each setting is modified over 570S, and there are different transmission parameters depending on the mode. Normal is your everyday mode, no drama.
Sport, which I think is ideal for a good drive on a favourite road, cuts the ignition between ratios to give that satisfying pop with each shift - nice, but that isn’t the fastest way to go on track. So, in Track mode, as we did with the Pi, we use inertia push; a surge of power to cover the shift and maintain the rate of acceleration.’
The 72oS’s heroic Variable Drift Control doesn’t feature. ‘We considered it but we’re mindful of protecting the [more expensive] Super Series, so we didn’t apply this technology,’ explains Burnham. ‘It was the same thinking with active aerodynamic elements, plus of course they also bring a weight penalty.’ Such is McLaren’s rate of R&D progress, and so focused its LT ethos, that the 6oo’s almost as interesting for what deliberately hasn’t been done - to save the 720S’s blushes - as for what has.
While the LT doesn’t actively manipulate its aero surfaces, the car has clearly been sculpted for downforce. McLaren claims 100 kilos of grip-boosting push at issmph, split 40:60 front/rear, where the 570 S is aerodynamically neutral at the same speed.
The LT’s harnessing of the onrushing atmosphere begins with the new splitter. Airflow is then directed to the smooth carbonfibre underfloor and along the LT’s intricate side fences before being directed where it’s needed: out through the cut-out rear wheel wells, reducing drag. Or through the vast diffuser, boosting rear downforce, or ingested by the larger side vents, which have enabled McLaren to delete the auxiliary fans, further reducing weight.
Burnham credits the closeness of McLaren’s design and engineering teams for the LT’s un-Senna elegance, at once serious-looking and artfully integrated: ‘The relationship between design and engineering just gets better and better as we work more closely together, shoulder to shoulder at the MTC. There’s give and take. The aero engineers supplied Rob [Melville, design director] and his team with a splitter centreline, but after that there was a fair degree of freedom, so long as the required underbody shape was maintained.
The design team then developed their themes. All LT-specific bodywork is carbonfibre, and there’s a carbon roof option.’ The 600LT is only the fourth LT, and McLaren didn’t struggle to sell the 675. Unveiled at the 2015 Geneva motor show, all 500 675LT coupes sold out in five months. The £285,450 675LT Spider was gone in four weeks.
600LT coupe deliveries will begin in October (a Spider will follow next year) but McLaren’s yet to put a number to the production run. A victim of its own success, it’s conscious of the need to deftly balance demand, production capacity and the exclusivity key to the LT brand. Neatly, the price premium over the 570S is likely to mirror the percentage of the car comprising new, LT-specific parts: 23. The 600LT will cost £185,500, a price that mercilessly undercuts ideologically comparable rivals like the Porsche 9 11GT2 RS, Ferrari 488 GTB (let alone the Pista) and the Lamborghini Huracan Performante. But then the Longtail - originally conceived to help the F1GTR see off bespoke GTi sports car racers from the like of Porsche and Mercedes - has never been one to afford the establishment much respect