McLaren is on a roll these days. Of the 18,000 vehicles produced since 2011, a huge portion of that total—4,863, to be exact—were sold in 2018, and the 2019 models are nearly sold out. Not bad for a company that sells only sports cars. But to stay viable and to attract even more new buyers, the portfolio must expand beyond this niche. So what to do when you’re a small-volume manufacturer looking to make the most out of what you already have?

Up until now, McLaren has been “sports cars for serious drivers,” says chief engineer Adam Thomson. “But as part of the Track25 business plan, the company is looking at what else we would like to do.” So in addition to the Sport (570S), Super (720S), and Ultimate Series (Senna), McLaren saw fit to add a fourth category to their portfolio: Grand Touring. The 2020 McLaren GT is the inaugural model for this new category.

“There’s this huge, diverse range of what a GT product is,” said Thomson. “Some of them are great at some things. Some of them are less great at some things. But for us, they all carry some inherent DNA that, for us, means they’re compromised in certain ways.”

Weight, according to McLaren, is the biggest compromise, followed closely by agility. When designing the GT, McLaren instead chose to take inspiration from classic GTs from the ’60s, which best embodied this clarity of purpose that it sought to achieve. The challenge? Creating a new model that feels special and distinct from an existing platform.

Of course, the difference here is that McLaren is starting with an exceptional platform. A new carbon-fiber structure, dubbed Monocell II-T, is adapted from the 570S. A new rear upper structure enables the engine to nestle closer to the ground for a lower center of gravity, all while retaining the full structural rigidity of the original.

Despite the use of shared components, McLaren says that two-thirds of the GT is specific to this model. From there, it was all about creating a unique identity.

It has to have presence. “GT customers want a car that is more understated, more elegant, more subtle,” says Thomson. One look at the exterior, and the silhouette is still instantly identifiable as a McLaren: long, low, and wide, with a distinctive greenhouse that begins just above the front axle and flows harmoniously into the rear quarters. Perhaps the front end is a little too understated, with the headlights lacking the visual drama of McLaren’s other cars. This is a coupe that gets better-looking the further back you go.

It has to be quick. That’s an easy one. The GT is motivated by a revised version of the existing 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 found in the 720S, here tuned to deliver 612 hp and 465 lb-ft with 95 percent of that torque available from 3,000 to 7,200 rpm. That’s sufficient to propel the 3,373-pound GT from 0 to 60 in a scant 3.1 seconds on the way to a top speed of 203 mph. Providing you drive at a more plebian pace, an estimated 15/22 mpg enables the GT to extract nearly 420 miles from its 19-gallon tank.

It has to be livable. All that speed doesn’t matter if you can’t get out of your own driveway. Although it won’t be tackling the Rubicon anytime soon, the GT’s front end does feature a 10-degree approach angle, ensuring that most ramps and speed bumps can be taken without scraping the nose; ground clearance measures a decent 4.3 inches. A vehicle lift function raises the front end an additional 3 degrees and increases ground clearance to 5.1 inches. Reduced spring rates and twin-valve hydraulic dampers are tuned to compensate for this increased ride height and ensure the ride quality is GT-worthy. For a quieter cabin, the standard exhaust system features active valves that only open under hard acceleration.

It has to be practical. A long cargo area exists where the engine once lived, offering an astonishing (for its class) 14.8 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats. The vertical shape compromises usability somewhat, but it also means the GT can swallow a golf bag or two sets of skis and boots. Even with these unwieldy objects in place, there’s still room for an overnight bag or two. Need even more space? There’s an additional 5.3 cubic feet of storage in the frunk, for a total of 20.1 cubic feet. Naturally, McLaren offers a custom luggage set that includes two bags, a garment case, and golf bag, all tailored to the fabric and color of your choice. At speed, the side intakes channel air around the compartment to prevent your perishables from perishing.

It has to be comfortable. Acres of leather adorn the cabin, and well-padded seats are designed to be comfortable over long distances. McLaren switchgear continues to be a tactile delight. Metal stalks feel great to the touch and move into position with a beautifully weighted damping, and knurled knobs click into place with the precision of a Swiss watch. Two option packages, Pioneer and Luxe, pile on even more comfort and convenience. An optional Bowers & Wilkins audio system crams 12 speakers into the small cabin, including two subwoofers made of—you guessed it—carbon fiber.

Still, platform sharing is platform sharing, and the GT remains a sports car at heart. Around town, the GT could use a lesson in tractability. When meandering at slower speeds, the powertrain is gruff, cranky and impatient. Despite extensive sound deadening and NVH refinements to the carbon-fiber structure, the irritated rumble of the V-8 still infiltrates the cabin at low rpms. Exacerbating this situation is a transmission that’s often confused and reluctant to downshift, even with a decisive stab to the accelerator. Noticeable turbo lag adds insult to alacrity. Creeping through rush-hour traffic requires not only patience, but also exquisite timing. Not a big deal when you’re on a racetrack, but it’s unforgivable in a Grand Tourer.

Throughout this drudgery, you’ll need to pay close attention to your surroundings. The GT lacks active safety features such as automatic emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring. And like other McLarens, nudging the brake pedal only introduces the calipers to the rotors; from there, modulation is all about pressure, not travel. The infotainment system screen washes out even in partial sunlight and is completely unreadable when wearing polarized glasses. Which is probably just as well, since the interface is difficult to navigate, and McLaren doesn’t offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

There’s an easy solution to all of that, of course. Switch the transmission into manual mode, nail the throttle, and the GT comes alive. Flat torque curve or not, this is an engine that loves to rev. Once everything is spinning righteously beneath that capacious luggage compartment, the GT accelerates like a fierce, angry arrow, straight off the bow. Spontaneous passing maneuvers are ridiculously easy. Despite the wooden feel, the brakes are ferociously strong. And the hydraulic steering lives up to its name, with movements that are fluid and precise. It’s not only an absolute joy to guide the GT around corners, but a reminder that even the best electric power steering setups still can’t deliver this level of honest, rewarding feedback. The McLaren DNA is never more proudly evident than when the GT is charging through mountainous switchbacks or reeling in the miles at a furious pace.

Sure, the idea of crossing continents at deliriously high speeds is delightful in theory, but the reality of increasingly congested highways sometimes limits those opportunities to mere minutes, not hours. You’ll spend the rest of the time somewhere in between, plodding along far below the speed limit, relying on the comfort of your car to keep you sane.

So the question remains: Is it a GT? As it turns out, every inherent DNA offers some sort of compromise. With a starting price of $213,195, the 2020 McLaren GT presents a nimble alternative in a class of heavyweights. It goes like stink, its ride is spectacular, and we can think of no other car in this class with this amount of cargo space. That might be enough for existing McLaren customers who are looking for a more comfortable alternative. But further powertrain refinement and a usable infotainment system are necessary if McLaren really wants to light a new wick on the GT torch. Until then, we’d say it’s two-thirds of the way there.

The post 2020 McLaren GT Review: How This GT is a Mission in Progress appeared first on MotorTrend.


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