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McLaren’s top priorities with the new 720S: aerodynamics, aerodynamics, aerodynamics

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McLaren 720S
McLaren 720S
Vlad Savov / The Verge

At first glance, McLaren’s new 720S supercar would seem to have massive headlights, but look a little closer. The headlights themselves are each a thin 17-LED strip, and the big cutaway surrounding them is actually an air intake. I got to see this happy, shiny new car at a press preview ahead of its unveiling today and the lasting impression it leaves is that it was designed purely for the sake of optimizing air flow through and around it.

Aerodynamic efficiency of the McLaren 720S — the ratio between downforce and drag — is more than double that of the 650S, the car it is replacing in the McLaren Super Series. The teardrop-shaped vents on the hood redirect air so it doesn’t get caught up in the "gutter" where the windshield wipers reside, and the doors have air scoops and ducts, too. The automatically adjusting full-width rear wing works in concert with a rear diffuser to complete the design and, more importantly, keep exuberant drivers on the road.

Granted, every supercar can be said to prioritize aerodynamics, but in the case of this 720S, that premise has been taken to an extreme. Paired with a carbon fiber monocoque — Monocage II, in McLaren parlance — what this obsessive pursuit of optimal airflow means for the driver is a list of extreme supercar specs. Zero to 100kmh is achieved in 2.9 seconds, and, just as impressively, 100kmh to 0 happens in 2.8 seconds or just under 30 meters. Maximum speed is 341 kmh / 212 mph, powered by an all-new 4-liter twin-turbo V8 engine.

McLaren prides itself on running more like a technology company than a carmaker, and its additions to the 720S speak to that approach. The new car has an entirely reworked navigation system, Apple CarPlay support (no word yet about Android Auto), and that crazy fun rotating dashboard we saw teased ahead of the Geneva Motor Show launch today. More than just being tech-friendly, McLaren’s approach and cadence of iterating on its designs is closer to tech companies overhauling products on an almost annual basis. This 720S truly is a whole new car, only distantly related to its predecessors and the harbinger of an entire new design language for McLaren.

As much as I appreciate McLaren’s fanatical commitment to aerodynamic efficiency with the 720S, I’m not entirely in love with the look of this new supercar. There are seams and scoops everywhere and it feels too busy visually. That said, I do very much like the vast door openings, which for once make it possible to get in an out of a high-performance car in a somewhat elegant fashion. There’s none of the butt-first awkwardness that characterizes getting into your super swanky Ferrari or Lamborghini here.

"Everyone who drives it," claims McLaren, describes sitting inside the 720S as feeling "like a jet fighter cockpit." Having never been inside a jet fighter cockpit, I can’t really vouch for the validity of that claim, but I can say that the 720S is superbly comfortable for what’s essentially a road-going racecar. There’s no excess asceticism here, as the leather seats and upholstered doors ensconce you in gentle luxury, and the carbon fiber chunk on the steering wheel is a nice touch, along with all the aluminum switches and toggles. It’s just a nice place to be, this McLaren car.

McLaren 720S

The McLaren 720S pricing starts at $284,975 (it’s being shown off with optional carbon fiber extras here at the Geneva Motor Show), and deliveries start in May.

Photography by Vlad Savov / The Verge