Growing up, my idea of a supercar had always been a V12-powered Italian machine with curves to die for.
It would also be incredibly difficult to drive, with an impossibly heavy clutch and steering. Even the gearshift lever would require tremendous strength to operate.
In return, the supercar would deliver mind-numbing performance.
With those notions in mind, I was sceptical about whether McLaren’s 720S had the makings of a supercar. After all, instead of a V12, it “only” has a turbocharged 4-litre V8. It’s not Italian either.
These biases evaporated the moment I stood beside a red 720S. Pictures do not do it justice and to call it sleek would be an understatement.
The carmaker wasn’t kidding when it said that the car’s design was inspired by the great white shark. Stare at its front end and you will be half mesmerised, half intimidated.
Pop open the dihedral doors and you will be surprised to discover that the sills are narrower than expected, while the wide apertures make ingress and egress easy.
The cockpit is put together nicely and the materials certainly feel expensive. But it is not perfect. To adjust the electric seats, you have to grope beneath them to find the controls.
I also couldn’t get over the Plain Jane graphics. In a space this well made, sub-par items stand out.
What’s really impressive about the interior is how much all-round visibility it gives the driver.
With 720bhp beneath my right foot, a century sprint time of 2.9 seconds and a zero-to-200km/h time of 7.8 seconds, I told myself to take it easy, lest this mean machine decide to chew me up and spit me out into the Italian scenery – sideways.
But the mid-mounted 4-litre V8 is a gem of a motor. Its responsiveness and power delivery are so linear and razor sharp I swore it did not have a pair of turbochargers bolted to it.
The handling felt neutral and precise. It was planted on highways and dispatched winding B-roads with ease.
What it doesn’t cope too well with are pockmarked surfaces – even with the suspension set to Comfort. But on perfectly paved surfaces like the ones at the Vallelunga Circuit, the 720S is simply sublime.
Power aside, the car’s performance is enhanced by its stiffness and light weight. The car weighs 1283kg dry – about as much as an average compact saloon.
Thanks to its electronically controlled suspension and dampers, huge carbon-ceramic brakes, plus an airbrake that pops up in 0.5 of a second, the 720S sheds speed as effortlessly as it piles it on.
I spent about 40 minutes on the track and, with every lap, the breadth and depth of the 720S’ abilities astounded me.
With the powertrain and handling both set to Track mode, the 720S sliced through corners like a hot knife through butter, guided by the wonderfully direct and precise steering system.
There is more than enough grip from its Pirelli P Zero tyres, so you get on the power earlier when exiting corners.
Floor the throttle and you will see the tachometer needle snapping to the right.
The soundtrack was titillating too. The V8’s rumble would rise to a thunderous crescendo as its notes blared through dual tailpipes. McLaren says the sports exhaust boosts volume by 30 percent.
Blisteringly quick, precise and responsive, the 720S certainly has altered my notion of what a supercar should be.
McLaren 720S 4.0 (A)
ENGINE 3994cc, 32-valves, V8, turbocharged
MAX POWER 720bhp at 7500rpm
MAX TORQUE 770Nm at 5500rpm
GEARBOX 7-speed dual-clutch with manual select
0-100KM/H 2.9 seconds
TOP SPEED 341km/h
CONSUMPTION 9.3km/L (combined)
PRICE EXCL. COE $990,000
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