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Auto review: McLaren's new GT is mesmerizing despite its semantics

Larry Printz, Tribune News Service on

Published in Automotive News

There are so many terms in English that make no sense, particularly in the category of food. Consider that Boston Cream Pie isn’t a pie but rather a cake. Or that white chocolate isn’t made from cocoa, so it’s not chocolate. Then again, hot dogs aren’t made from canines, and Buffalo wings aren’t made from bison. But there are other language traps for those new to the English language. Why do we park in a driveway and drive on the parkway? How come retail signs say, “all items on sale”? Aren’t they always available for purchase?

This comes to mind when considering the McLaren GT, the brand’s newest supercar and the first McLaren to be termed a grand tourer. The problem is it looks like yet another stunning McLaren mid-engine sports car, not a grand tourer, or GT, which is a sports car that’s not merely fast but also comfortable for long trips and able to stow cargo, like the Bentley Continental.

But McLaren’s GT doesn’t look like a GT, thanks to a shape typical of mid-engine sports cars. Its appearance derives from the GT’s monocoque carbon fiber structure, similar to that used in other McLarens, which are purebred sports cars. Yet the GT is sheathed in aluminum rather than the carbon fiber typically used in McLarens. This saddles it with more weight than the marque’s other cars. But its styling possesses an elegant purity of shape that’s mercifully mature, despite its dramatic dihedral doors that swing up and out of the way. Yes, they make for a memorable entrance, and not always in a good way, as when the test car’s driver’s door retained water when parked in the rain and unceremoniously dumped it onto the driver when exiting.

So it may not look like a GT, but its cargo space suggests otherwise. Beneath its tailgate is a 14.8 cubic-foot cargo area, augmented by 5.3 cubic feet of storage up front, bringing the combined trunk space to 20.1 cubic feet, making it McLaren’s most practical car. And you can opt for custom-fitted luggage. But, as in any mid-engine car, the rear trunk gets very warm due to engine heat, so pack anything heat-sensitive up front.

OK, in that respect, the GT is a GT. But is it a GT once you’re behind the wheel?

Nestled ahead of the rear axle and behind the occupants is McLaren’s new 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-8 that generates 612 horsepower. That's a 399 horsepower-per-ton power-to-weight ratio, one that delivers 60 mph in 3.1 seconds and a top speed of 203 mph. Controlling such speed runs is launch control as well as an aluminum, double-wishbone suspension with twin-valve hydraulic dampers at all four corners, along with anti-roll bars front and rear. It all rides on Pirelli P Zeros — 20-inch up front, 21-inches in the rear. Steel brakes are standard, ceramics are optional. Unusually, the driver-assistance safety systems you'll find on other cars — like blind-spot monitoring, or adaptive cruise control — aren't available, although the GT does have a standard backup camera and anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution.

 

Nevertheless, this is an exceedingly fun scream machine, one that explodes with power as the V-8 growls menacingly, accompanied by the engine’s throbbing vibration once you mash the throttle. There’s nary a hint of turbo lag, and the dual-clutch transmission dutifully snicks off the shifts. The car’s commanding composure is abetted by hydraulic steering and brakes, which provide a direct responsive feel largely missing from many modern cars. There’s little doubt that the GT performs like a sports car. Its tires never seem to lose grip; its engine delivers neck-snapping speed, and its exhaust provides a snarling symphony that will make you happy that you didn’t buy a Bentley. But while it does absorb rough road irregularities, it’s clearly not a grand touring ride.

The same might be said of the interior, which is well-appointed, but not hedonistic. McLaren’s roots as a sports car manufacturer show in their careful use of sumptuous leather, and knurled aluminum switchgear; just don’t expect ventilated seats, or ones that massage. The seats prove extremely firm, with excellent support that may be too remorseless for long drives. And unlike other GTs, the McLaren can only carry two passengers, although the cabin is fairly roomy, and its seven-inch vertical infotainment touchscreen features an excellent 12-speaker, 1200-watt Bowers & Wilkins audio system.

So is it a GT or isn’t it? By McLaren standards, it is. By industry standards, it is not. But such semantics are meaningless marketing mumbo jumbo. This is a mesmerizing new McLaren, delivering a remarkable driving experience that thrills you every time you climb behind the wheel. Whether it’s a grand tourer or not doesn’t matter, for the McLaren GT is automotive white chocolate: delicious no matter what you consider it.

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