McLaren borrows from the Super and Ultimate Series to build a remarkable sports car
I like being thrilled; not scared. I like a good challenge but avoid unwinnable carnival games. So when McLaren reported it had benchmarked and borrowed from its own 675LT, a notorious wild child in the automaker’s Super series, for the 600LT—itself derived from the 570S in the Sport series—I had concerns. You may recall we awarded the McLaren 570S coupe the Best Driver’s Car title in 2016, so we already knew and loved the chassis and engine. Would removing the top and adding power and the LT treatment make it better or worse? Without reservation, I can tell you it is the former.
The 600LT Spider is the fifth McLaren to receive the LT treatment. Starting with the progenitor, the successful 1997 McLaren F1 GTR Longtail FIA GT race car (GT1 Class LeMans winner), McLaren carried that ethos forward with both coupe and convertible versions of the 675LT, the 600LT coupe, and now Spider. Although it is extended by 76mm (3.0 inches) at the rear of its fixed spoiler, LT no longer simply means Longtail. Instead it relates to a handful of goals that McLaren uses to guide the engineering teams. Think of it as the equivalent to Porsche’s RS (Rennsport) performance derivatives. To McLaren (and Porsche), these goals are minimizing weight, optimizing aerodynamics, increasing power, enhancing driver engagement, tuning the chassis for track use, and limiting production. Indeed, McLaren has met its own self-set goals with the 600LT Spider. If one were to option the $22,090 McLaren Special Operations Clubsport Pack—consisting of carbon-fiber racing seats, carbon-fiber interior upgrades, MSO carbon-fiber front fender louvers, and titanium wheel bolts—the weight savings is maximized. To name a few of the larger items where McLaren “added lightness,” replacing the standard seats with carbon-fiber buckets saved 46 pounds alone, forged-aluminum wheels another 37 pounds, abbreviated by 3.5 feet, the top-exiting exhaust is worth 28 pounds, and so on for an astounding total of 219 pounds in total compared with the 570S Spider, a car with which the 600LT Spider shares only 75 percent of its parts.
Paradoxically, the 600LT Spider gains back all that weight traveling at 155 mph where its carbon-fiber bodywork—including front splitter, side sills, extended diffuser, and fixed rear wing—provide 220.5 pounds of downforce. Since the carbon-fiber MonoCell II tub upon which the entire car is built is so structurally sound, there was no additional strengthening or reinforcement necessary as in some other convertibles. It’s plenty stiff and stable, even with the slender A-pillars. The power-operated rear window and three-piece power-retractable roof and its mechanisms (which lowers in 15 seconds at speeds of up to 25 mph) mostly account for the 110-pound difference when compared with a 600LT coupe. All told, McLaren figures the meticulous, relentless weight reduction amounts to the equivalent of adding 60 horsepower. We’ll buy that.
Speaking of horsepower, the mid-mounted twin-turbo 3.8-liter flat-plane-crank V-8 (internally known as M838TE) makes 30 horsepower more than the engine in the 570S, for a total of 592 at 7,500 rpm. Torque rises from 443 lb-ft to 457 at 5,500 rpm. The increased output is due mostly to reduced pumping losses of a more efficient water pump, as well as the reduced backpressure from that glorious, fire-spitting exhaust system. A side benefit of these is improved throttle response that is, indeed, noticeable. We estimate the weight of the 600LT Spider at 3,150 pounds, and that would mean it would move just 5.3 pounds of sports car with each horsepower. Utilizing a seven-speed twin-clutch automated manual and standard launch control, McLaren claims a 2.8-second 0–60 mph blast. That’s remarkable considering it doesn’t have the advantage of all-wheel drive. Yet, we’ve done the deed in a (5.7 pound/hp) 570S coupe in the same amount of time with less grippy tires, so we’re going to say the 600LT is even quicker than that (2.5 seconds) when we factor in NHRA roll-out. Due to the added downforce of the 600LT, quarter-mile performance will most likely be about the same, around 10.5 seconds at 135 mph. Top speed is 201 mph with the roof raised, or 196 mph with it lowered.
We did sample launch control on our remote road drive and will stick with our estimates, but we didn’t attempt any top speed runs. We’ll just believe McLaren. Top-down motoring with all windows up demonstrated clever aerodynamics that left the cabin calm and conversation friendly. Left in Sport chassis and Sport powertrain modes, the 600LT Spider was a happy little cruise missile on the highway with the top raised. At part throttle, the hum of the engine was not intrusive, and only the coarsest surfaces intruded into the cabin. The cleverness of the transmission in drive was impressive, but who leaves a McLaren in drive, right? While the ride is noticeably firmer than that of a 570S, it’s never jarring. The continuously variable adaptive dampers and front and rear anti-roll bars of the Sports series that are used on the 600LT Spider are, according to McLaren, stiffer by 14 percent at the front and 34 percent at the rear. There were several cattle-guard crossings the car took in stride, and doing the usual “double-plus-five” that the yellow, suggested-speed roads signs suggest in the corners was a piece of cake. I did notice—as we later verified—that the steering ratio is quicker in the 600LT compared to the 570S, so there’s far less input required to go through bends, which is appreciated.
Compared to a 570S, the 600LT is equipped with a wider front track, lower ride height, forged-aluminum control arms, re-engineered geometry, and bespoke Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R MC tires. The way the 600LT dissects a race track is truly something to behold. I’ve driven a 570S on a race track, and it’s a playful, exhilarating sports car, with an ability to flow, slide, and entertain its driver. The 600LT instead feels like a weapon its driver can wield with a confident precision, much like the Porsche 911 GT3 RS. With chassis and powertrain set to Track and the electronic stability control in Dynamic, the 600LT retains the playfulness of the 570S; however, its repertoire and capability are so much larger, and at the same time more accessible.
Charging out of the pits of Arizona Motorsports Park and snaking onto the track, I could already feel how much more grip was available over a 570S’ 1.04 g lateral acceleration. Down the first straight, the 600LT punched a hole in the atmosphere much like the fighter jets flying above from the adjacent Luke Air Force Base. Driver engagement with the feral machine under my control was certainly enhanced by the twin, top exhausts ripping and popping 2 feet behind my head. Although the standard carbon-ceramic discs are the same diameter as those on the 570S (15.5 inches front/15.0 inches rear), their stopping power, aided by the Trofeo R tires, was remarkable. What’s more noteworthy, however, is that the use of lightweight Super series aluminum calipers and (Ultimate series) McLaren Senna–derived brake booster combine to provide a delicacy and feel in the brake pedal few, if any, carbon-ceramic systems possess. If you’ve driven a car with discs like these, you know the difficult task is not in the downward motion of the brake pedal, where you’re merely asking the car to shed speed. They all do that. The tricky part is what happens as the driver begins to release the pedal. Most systems of this type just let go in an all-or-nothing sort of way; not the 600LT. As a driver initiates his turn-in and simultaneously releases the brakes, he can literally feel the nose of the car getting lighter as the front tires’ duties shift from slowing the car to cornering. And the transition between the two can be metered incrementally and precisely, meaning it can be adjusted and modified on the fly. That’s really hard to do.
Weight transfer, too, is a tricky thing that McLaren has nailed. There’s a hairpin on the track that demonstrated how accomplished the 600LT is at this game. After the braking and turn-in is done, it needs a little bit of maintenance throttle to keep the momentum up. Just after the apex, and to promote the rotation of the car, a driver can momentarily lift off the throttle, feel the rear get light and loose, and point the car at the exit while unwinding the wheel and feeding throttle. Again, the 600LT does this with a repeatable exactitude I’ve rarely observed in a sports car. The suspension keeps the car very flat in Track mode, yet the 600LT relishes clipping the tops of curbs in corners and esses, and doing so doesn’t spit you off course by an inch. There’s a particularly lovely complex where flat-out in fourth gear the car rides a curb on the right, followed immediately by a dab of brake and downshift to third gear for another curb on the left, then hard on the brakes for a second-gear corner to the right. It’s a darned thing of beauty to get it right, and after just two laps, and with the accuracy and confidence the 600LT provides by the carbon-fiber tub-load, I never got it wrong again. What an utter joy.
After two 20-minute sessions on track, I had to relinquish my car to our hosts. And here’s the other odd thing. Oftentimes, after lapping a really quick car on a track, when the adrenaline buzz is in retrograde, I get that wobbly knees/trembling hands hangover in the paddock. Not one bit this time. Instead, I was left wanting more. I wanted to go back out and have more fun, work on improving my line, and lowering my lap times in the process. The 600LT encourages its driver and provides a sense of confidence and calm in a way that is truly special and rare—like the McLaren 600LT Spider itself. Each limited-production 600LT Spider is hand-assembled at the McLaren Production Centre in Woking, Surrey, England, but for just one year. Built alongside other Sport series cars, McLaren is currently making two or three a day for a total of about 500 to be available. Judging from the previous 675LT coupes and Spiders that sold out within weeks of their debut, if you want a 600LT Spider—and you do—order one right now. You can thank me later.
|2019 McLaren 600LT Spider|
|LAYOUT||Mid-eng, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door convertible|
|ENGINE||3.8L/592-hp/457-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8|
|TRANS||7-speed twin-clutch automated manual|
|CURB WT||3,150 lbs (MT est)|
|L x W x H||181.3 x 76.0 x 47.1|
|0-60||2.5 sec (MT est)|
|EPA ECON||15/22/18 mpg (mfr est)|