McLaren’s perfect supercar: tearing up the track in the 666-horsepower 675LT

Woking's latest limited edition is not for the faint of heart

The McLaren 675LT I’m driving today costs a tick less than $400,000. The sticker says $396,820, which leaves $3,180 on the table. Just enough left over for several consultations with a top-notch chiropractor.

Owners will need those medical visits. And they’ll consider it four-hundred-grand well spent.

As I head over the lumpy streets of Manhattan on my way to a private racetrack in the Catskills, I have but one plan for this car: to thrash the hell out of it. That’s because the McLaren 675 “Longtail” — the basis of the “LT” in the name — isn’t built for cosseting. As a track-focused street car, the LT is meant to be driven hard, and it treats its driver and passenger thusly. This is not a ride for poseurs.

This is The Harper Spin, a weekly column from seasoned auto critic Jason H. Harper. He’s raced at Le Mans, crushed a car in a 50-ton tank, and now, he’s bringing his unique style to The Verge.

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The coupe’s optional sport seats are hard buckets that mercilessly squeeze hips and have exactly zero electronic adjustments. They don’t even tilt. They’re meant to bolt you in, lumbar support and butt padding be damned. And the McLaren’s lack of creature comforts extends all the way to its feet: it wears Pirelli P-Zero Trofeo R tires, just about the slickest rubber you can legally drive on a public road. They are tricky in the wet and in any temperature short of California sunshine. This is not an all-weather vehicle.

All of this should warn away Miami fat cats looking for the latest glamour-mobile in which to win the battle of the valets. Only 500 examples will be sold worldwide, and I sincerely hope that none ever make it to Florida. There’s not a road in the entire state worthy of this car.

I uncork my spine in the pit lane of the Monticello Motor Club, two hours northwest of Manhattan, and then head out on the challenging 4.1-mile road course, warming up those nefarious tires and getting a feel for the 675LT’s can’t-drive-55 personality.

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When it comes to performance cars, be it the Shelby GT350R to the LaFerrari, there are certain safe assumptions. Somebody from marketing will declare it "a race car for the street." They’ll say it that it uses technology derived from a race car. And that this model is made for real drivers.

Bullshit, all. I’ve never driven a Mustang I’d actually want to race, and Ferrari’s hypercar is too precious and complicated to drive in absolute anger. And that makes the LT an anomaly — the unicorn of supercars. It really is better on the track, sacrificing creature comforts for hardcore hardware. And it lives up to the theory of trickle-down technology from a racing program.

McLaren has always been a racing company. A stalwart in Formula One, over the years it has only occasionally flirted with producing street-legal cars. When it has, though, it has come up with unforgettable models like the 1990s-era F1 road car, still widely considered the most superlative of all supercars.

But at the start of this decade, McLaren decided it wanted to be a grown-up car company, and it created McLaren Automotive, a division of the McLaren Technology Group. The first car it launched was the MP4-12C in 2011, a challenger to Ferrari’s mid-engine 458 Italia. Unfortunately, they mucked it up: the car looked kind of boring. Didn’t sound great. Didn’t quite tear your throat out from a standstill. The folks who typically buy Ferraris were thoroughly unimpressed.

What it did do, though, was trounce any other road car on a racetrack.

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The 12C simply needed an experienced hand at the wheel, a vet who knew their way around a road course in a race car. Under those conditions, it was far better than it should have been, using technology gleaned from racing to brake better, corner at higher speeds, and maintain a tight racing line. It wasn’t dramatic in a conventional sense, but it was fabulous. McLaren took in the public reaction to the 12C and promptly threw the model name and exterior design overboard, releasing the 650S in 2014 as a modestly redesigned follow-up. It got a more outré design, an engine with more torque, and an overall better sound.

Ferrari types loved it. And I was disappointed. The 650S is less balanced, less nuanced, less intelligent.

The 675LT splits the difference. It filters back the 12C’s technical precision, even as it dials up both the 650’s styling and fearsome power. At under 3,000 pounds, the Longtail is lighter and more focused, and it looks better than either of the previous models.

Like any super sports car worthy of the name, the engine is located behind the driver for superior balance. In this case, the 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-8 is good for 666 horsepower and 515 pound-feet of torque. The transmission is a seven-speed double clutch. If you’re looking for conventional off-the-line speed, it’ll easily hit 60 mph in less than three seconds on its way to a top speed of 205 mph.

But it’s the stuff you can’t see that makes it extra special. The rear wing, normally concealed, pops upward and acts as an air brake — think of a mini parachute — when the car is braked hard, slowing the car more effectively than the carbon-ceramic brake discs alone. A hydraulic system under the skin also works to keep the car stable under heavy acceleration or extreme braking, so the body and chassis are rarely unsettled.

The result is a car that maintains its balance even when you’re driving it like you stole it.

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The "Longtail" designation comes from McLaren’s history, when special F1 "LT" models were crafted to compete in the 1997 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s toughest endurance race. McLaren scored first and second place in the historic competition.

Part of the original Longtail’s magic was in its extreme downforce, the phenomenon in which air pressure pinions the car to the tarmac, allowing for greater stability at high speeds. To achieve this, McLaren revised the F1’s bodywork, extending the front and rear spoilers and thereby increasing the surface area on which air pressure acts. In the case of the 675LT, the bodywork has been similarly revised, particularly with the larger and longer rear wing, making the rear deck appear more pronounced. The company says these tweaks add 40 percent more downforce over the more pedestrian 650S.

You can forget about the zero to 60 — it’s the least interesting thing about the car

So you can forget about the zero to 60. It’s the least interesting thing about the car. Imagine, instead, that you’re smashing down a straightaway at 125 mph and there’s a sharp right-hander in front of you. You get closer and closer, right foot still pinioned to the floor. Now you’re at 135 mph, and you still haven’t slowed.

In any normal car on any normal day, this would be an unfortunate scenario. The car wouldn’t slow quickly enough, wouldn’t be able to turn at that speed, and you’d shoot off the edge of the surface in a flash of tire smoke, overworked brakes, and a volley of exploding air bags. But the 675LT goes like this: Light brake pressure to set the carbon-ceramic discs; then a firm shove. The rear wing suddenly shoots up behind you, obscuring your rear view. You expect the nose to duck down, throwing you forward into the seat belt. That doesn’t happen. The car is flat and stable and utterly balanced.

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You get off the brake. Completely. You’re still going very, very fast. You twist the steering wheel, gently, and the car begins to arc, following the sweep of your hands. There’s little discernible body lean. The tires are stuck into the ground, squished into the tarmac by the wind.

The right tires kiss the inside curb. Light pressure back on the gas. You’re halfway through the turn and you’re already speeding back up, shooting for the exit curb. The left wheels run up on the outside curb and your foot is flat against the floorboard yet again. You glance down and find you’re back at 130 mph.

Magic.

The 675LT is the most nuanced hammer you could imagine. Speed almost seems to slow down in the cockpit. This is a fine instrument, never intended to terrify or even thrill in the manner of a muscle car. It is cerebral and considered, parsing every ounce of its power and mechanical grip in measured increments.

It wants to be driven mercilessly. It wants you to treat it hard. It wants you to be great. But in return, it expects the same from you.

Video: Phil Esposito, Tom Connors, Max Jeffrey
Photos: Sean O'Kane

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