Review update: 2021 McLaren GT stuffs a supercar into a tourer
When a duck is stuffed into a chicken that’s stuffed into a turkey it’s called a turducken. When a supercar is outfitted as a grand tourer stuffed with two passengers, it’s called a McLaren GT. One of these mashups is much more enjoyable than the other, and it rides on four massive wheels instead of six cooked wings.
For years, McLaren has tried to make supercars accessible to an American audience. Now, the British racing brand redirected its energies away from the Sport Series into a new hierarchy of vehicles topped by multimillion-dollar marvels such as the McLaren Speedtail, girded by supercars in the middle, and underwritten, perhaps, by its first grand touring model for a relatively accessible price of $200,000.
Launched for 2020, the more road-friendly GT can’t shake its supercar heritage, by design. After spending a spirited weekend with the gorgeous 2021 McLaren GT, I found the synthesis of supercar and tourer enchanting, even if it never made a case for practicality.
Hit: GT stands for GorgeousesT…
Beheld from any angle, McLaren’s first grand tourer is a fantasy made real for the select few. My tester came in Serpentine (for $4,500 extra), a dark green that shimmered in sunlight and chilled at night. The duality of color reflected the duality of purpose: this beauty could star on any stage, town, country, or track.
With the scissor doors open, the aerodynamic beauty transmogrified into an insect of doom pulled from the comic books. Release the long and thin rear hatch covering the mid-engine’s thorax, pop the frunk to arch the sinister brow, and the GT is one vertical component short of taking flight and stinging the eyes of its enemies.
Miss: ...more than grand tourer
Like every other McLaren, the GT nestles its two occupants in a lightweight carbon-fiber tub. Sitting just 4.3 inches off the ground, the thick 6.0-inch-wide sills encourage a one-legged squat to get in or backing up your back side into the seat. That’s pretty standard supercar stuff, but the narrow footwell encourages the left foot to control the brake. The narrow center console stacks a cupholder and storage box, evidence that McLaren maximized every inch of usable space while not compromising on what makes it a McLaren.
Stretching 6.5 inches longer than other McLarens, the long sweeping tail transforms this transformer into a long weekend getaway car, in theory. The front box holds 5.3 cubic feet, good enough for two carryon bags, while the rear shelf over the engine transports another 14.8 cubic feet to get to 20.1 cubes total. The cubic part is misleading. At its deepest in the tail, the GT’s storage fits a basketball, just barely. The back is meant for long shallow storage, like a couple sets of skis, or McLaren says a set of golf clubs. Without a bag, I’d add, or else one without much in it. Yet, after a lovely afternoon of driving, the rear storage area stayed as cool as the cabin, never suffering the heat from the massive engine below.
Hit: Performs like a supercar
Vents everywhere—behind the doors, above the rear wheels, in the rear spoiler, spanning the rear lower bumper and its giant twin exhaust pipes—cool the twin-turbo V-8 engine and dissipate heat. Toned down from the McLaren 720S in the brand’s Supercar series, the 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-8 churns out 612 hp and 465 lb-ft of torque, rocketing the GT from 0-60 mph in 3.1 seconds, according to McLaren. There was no reason to doubt it or the burst to 124 mph in 9.0 seconds. It felt that quick without activating launch control or studying the gauges.
A featherweight in the touring class, the car only weighs 3,384 lb. Behind the wheel, the temptation to rocket out of apexes and carve into the windiest roads possible subvert the notion of touring. Sport mode vanquished turbo lag, delayed the shift points, and dialed up the steering response.
It didn’t automatically change the suspension settings, however. Two controls in the console, marked P for Powertrain and H for Handling, allowed me to customize the level of feedback from the road. Feedback was ever present, but leaving the H in Normal and the P in Sport was a sweet spot that kept the car hugging the road without making me want to hug a chiropractic table.
Hmm...or does it performs like a grand tourer?
Defying explanations in any field of science, from physics to animal behavior, my 15-year-old teenager slept fitfully on a trip into the country—with the windows down at 65 mph. When I switched from Normal to Sport mode, his head nodded, as if in challenge, “Try to wake me.” Was this attributable to the comfort elements of the GT or the narcoleptic sleeping asylum of the American teen?
The seats were snug, the footwell cramped, but the only thing uncomfortable about the GT was the tester’s $217,155 tag.
Miss: Active what now?
About those two toggle controls on the console. Neither of them do anything if you don’t first press the “Active” button. Otherwise, all settings default to Normal mode. Why take up precious real estate with a third button that could be handled by the P or H buttons?
2021 McLaren GT
“It exists to make the driving experience a conscious one,” McLaren PR Manager Laura Conrad told me. If you had it in Track mode before stopping for lunch, say, then hit the road again during more satiated driving where you want comfort, the Active button ensures you wouldn’t leave it in Track mode. “You don’t want the car to automatically be in any mode—you want to have to consciously select it.”
I’m all for conscious driving, but the button isn’t necessary.
Hit and Miss: Modern conveniences in odd places
As a grand tourer, McLaren fits the GT with many modern conveniences (except Apple CarPlay and Android Auto) but often in odd places. To engage the super smooth 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, press a console button; to disengage...well, the GT lacks a Park button. It has to be put in neutral, and the parking brake activated.
It has less novel features, too. The side mirror switch is part of the parking sensor button on the dash to the right of the steering wheel. The power seat controls wedge up to the center console at the seat bottom, so seat adjustments are made by feel. The rearview camera projection appears in the gauge cluster, which I found helpful because for all the excellent vision out the front and sides of the car, there’s very little at the rear. The touchscreen serves as the long nose of a center stack topped with circular vents and a toothy mouth of buttons, like a macaque. Sized and oriented the same as an iPhone Max, the glare off the touchscreen when wearing polarized sunglasses required a longer look than felt safe.
Hit: Magic T-tops
2021 McLaren GT
The GT has a roof made of glass, bisected by a longitudinal frame, so it looks like static t-tops. A button panel on the ceiling dims the light let into the cabin in five grades, which I appreciated as a bald man forgetful of hats.
The McLaren GT is more an entry-level supercar than a grand tourer in the traditional sense. Assuming money to burn, it stuffs itself into a sweet spot stuffed alongside the Acura NSX and Audi R8.
2021 McLaren GT
Base price: $203,195, including $3,195 destination fee
Price as tested: $217,155
Drivetrain: 612-hp twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 with a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
EPA fuel economy: 15/22/18 mpg
The hits: Gorgeous, breathtaking quickness, cool t-tops
The misses: Inconvenient controls, limited space