Blasting down twisting swaths of tarmac in the 720S Spider with the sights and sounds of a mid-summer's day in Angeles National Forest all around me, one question gnawed at my psyche: Where do we go from here?
Sure, there's a few nitpicks and room for minor tweaks, but on the whole, I struggle to think of a more fully-realized rendition of the modern supercar. I remember thinking the 720S Coupe was the new high-water mark, but McLaren has managed to defy my preconceptions and deliver a drop top iteration that's even more awe-inspiring than its coupe brethren.
It's remarkable how far McLaren has come in such a short amount of time. The 106 examples of the BMW-motivated F1 from the 1990s notwithstanding, the race car builder has really only been producing road cars in earnest since 2011. And while models like the MP4-12C and 675LT are incredible performance machines in their own right, each exhibiting the lessons that Woking has learned year over year, the 720S feels like a quantum leap in terms of how it looks, feels, and drives.
But when McLaren handed over the key to this Burton Blue 720S Spider, I couldn't help but note the optional fixed-back racing seats outfitted to this convertible. Open top supercars are typically more focused on aesthetic and theater rather than top-tier capability, so the use of track-focused equipment on this Spider seemed incongruous. Turns out it would only take a jaunt up into the San Gabriel Mountains to permanently distort my automotive worldview.
In the sports car realm, there's a general rule of thumb that a roadster's performance will be compromised when compared to its coupe counterpart, largely due to a significant reduction in rigidity and the extra weight it carries as a result of the structural reinforcement that's required to restore that rigidity. And yet with the 720S Spider the bar has been set so high, and the engineering so thoroughly vetted, there's very little to scoff at.
For starters, the 720S's one-piece carbon fiber tub is so stiff that additional bracing wasn't required to keep the chassis rigid after chopping the top, so the Spider gains a mere 108 pounds in total versus the coupe. Additional poundage is never particularly welcome in the realm of performance, but with a dry weight of less than 3000 pounds, the Spider is still far from portly by modern standards.
The top itself is an elegant piece of engineering, taking just 11 seconds from start to finish to open or close at speeds up to 31 miles per hour. The rear glass can also be lowered to allow more of the V8's soundtrack to enter the cabin or raised to minimize wind turbulence. And while the 720S coupe is certainly a looker, the Spider ratchets the visual drama up a few notches further without mussing up car's curvaceous silhouette.
But let's not overlook the formidable performance hardware this thing is packing. Motivation is provided by a mid-mounted, twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 that generates a healthy 710 horsepower and 568 pound-feet of torque - grunt which is channeled through a seven-speed dual clutch gearbox and sent exclusively to the rear wheels. From rest, the 720S Spider can hit 60 miles per hour in 2.8 seconds on its way to a 10.4-second quarter mile, and with the top up, it won't stop pulling until 212 mph. With the top down, the Spider is relegated to a "mere" 202 mph.
To complement the startling amount of power that can be called upon by the driver's right foot, McLaren's Proactive Chassis Control II suspension system is on board, offering three distinct levels of stiffness (Comfort, Sport, and Track) depending on the setting chosen. As in all other modern McLarens, the system utilizes hydraulic stabilizers in lieu of conventional sway bars, allowing the 720S to more finely isolate adjustments to each corner of the car and minimize the negative effects of load while cornering. It's a complicated system, but this video does a great job of laying out the fundamentals.
To get the car slowed down in a hurry, the 720S Spider is outfitted with six-piston calipers and 15.4-inch, two-piece carbon ceramic discs up front, while four-piston calipers and 15-inch carbon ceramics are equipped at the rear. And it should come as little surprise that the 720S Spider comes wearing some sticky shoes—Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires measuring 245/35R19 provide the front-end grip, while meaty 305/30R20s are installed at the rear.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
Bathed in alcantara and carbon fiber, the monotone cabin of this particular 720S Spider looks purposeful rather than dour. Settling in at the helm, I was surprised by how comfortable the fixed-back buckets felt with only fore and aft adjustment available. And even my 6'3 frame had some headroom to spare, which is more than I can say for most other cars of this ilk.
If there's one element where there's still room for significant improvement, it's the infotainment system. While the 8-inch portrait-oriented touchscreen is reasonably responsive, it still lacks Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and in practice it has a habit of getting confused when asked to quickly jump from menu to menu. A Bowers and Wilkins sound system is optional, but this particular car didn't have it, so audio quality was only passable. But that's fine, because the real soundtrack came in the form of the optional Sports Exhaust system.
Setting off into Los Angeles traffic, I was reminded that the brilliance of the 720S isn't just its hair-raising performance. What makes the McLaren a true world-beater is all the other, less attention-grabbing work that has been done to make this car shockingly livable. Outward visibility is excellent in nearly every direction. The front axle lift system is triggered by way of a bespoke button on one of the stalks, so you don't have to hunt for it like a boob while idling in front of a driveway. The unrefined clunkiness around town that's so often a trademark of dual clutch transmissions is wholly absent. And the ride quality, even on LA's pockmarked roads, is nothing short of superb when you consider the car's primary intent.
And that intent is declared in no uncertain terms when the taps are opened. The way that the McLaren 720S Spider piles on speed is flat-out staggering. Bury the throttle from a standstill and there's a split-second of deliberation from the powertrain before things really get underway. It's just enough time to plant a seed of doubt in your mind, which the 720S Spider promptly obliterates once the boost comes into play. While McLaren says the sprint to 60 mph takes 2.8 seconds, there's little doubt that it is a conservative estimate. Very, very few road cars pull like this.
Yet it's also somehow manageable. Between the trick suspension, big carbon ceramics, and ultra-precise electro-hydraulic rack and pinion steering, the 720S Spider is a honed weapon of velocity. And the experience is only enhanced in Spider form—with the top down, the sense of speed is downright visceral, and it doesn't take long for the distinctive whoosh from the air intakes situated just behind your head to become overtly addictive. This car is trouble, and I absolutely love it.
But for me it was to be a fleeting affair, as the 720S Spider's base MSRP of $305,550 is a tad too rich for my blood. This test car also had roughly a hundred grand in options (sixty of which were exterior carbon fiber packages), bringing the grand total to $410,670 with destination. That's a fairly substantial price tag, even in the realm of supercars. But you'd be hard-pressed to find an alternative which justifies the price tag more convincingly.
Where we go from here is a question for another day. And I'm perfectly content to let the future remain a mystery for the time being, because the here and now is pretty damn good.