From £750,0009
Woking’s new model is designed to be the 'ultimate road-legal track car', with performance that bests every McLaren to date

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McLaren Senna 2018 road test review - hero front

Can Woking’s 'ultimate road-legal track car' make history at our dry handling track?

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    McLaren Senna 2018 UK review

    Woking’s new model is designed to be the 'ultimate road-legal track car', with performance that bests every McLaren to date
Matt Prior
21 August 2018

What is it?

It’s the McLaren Senna, and it’s quite a serious proposition. “We wanted to create the ultimate road-legal track car,” says Andy Palmer (no, the other one), McLaren’s Ultimate Series director. It’s a carbonfibre tubbed, 789bhp, £750,000 track-focused car.

There will be 500 of them, fully homologated as a series production car for worldwide sale (the ones we’ve driven are still, technically, prototypes). It happens to make 789bhp, or 800hp, and an accompanying 800kg of downforce at 155mph. Hence the rear wing and the rest of the – shall we say – ‘challenging’ looks?

A Senna won’t take long to reach the 155mph McLaren measures downforce at, either. McLaren is usually accurate with its acceleration quotes: it says 0-60mph takes 2.7sec, 0-124mph 6.8sec and 0-186mph just 17.5sec. The top speed is 211mph. You can add to the three-quarter million pound price quite easily too, via a visit to McLaren Special Operations (MSO) for bespoke extras.

Virtually all customers will have done so for this Ultimate Series car, although don’t take that description too literally: there’ll be a further 75 track-only GTR Sennas; lighter, more powerful again. And then presumably somebody like Lanzante will do a roadgoing version of that.

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Another, perhaps even more significant, number is the 1198kg the Senna weighs (before fluids). The previous Ultimate Series McLaren, the P1, weighed 1395kg in similar trim, owing to its hybrid tech. The current 720S weighs 1283kg dry.

What's it like?

The Senna, visibly larger than a 720S because of its aerodynamic addenda, uses a chassis developed from the 720S. The Senna’s carbonfibre ‘Monocage III’ passenger cell – the strongest yet used in a McLaren road car – has been both strengthened and lightened, particularly around the rear bulkhead, where additional material eats into rear visibility. Or it would if you could see much past the wing anyway. Visibility forwards, though, is good for a car like this. You can even specify glass panels in the doors. They add a bit of weight but, well, it never hurts to see too much. At low speeds they help place the Senna in car parks, or next to kerbs.

This can still be a pretty intimidating car. There are the statistics, such as 660bhp per tonne, there’s the appearance of it, and there’s the fact that if you specify a six-point harness, you can’t reach the door to pull it shut once it’s fastened. It’s immaculate yet overwhelming; a concept made real. Not unlike, say, an Aston Martin Vulcan, a project born from a similar ethos: ‘We put our all into it, and you buy it to enjoy it'.

The rest of the Senna’s interior is less flamboyant than the Vulcan’s, or the McLaren P1’s. It’s all naked carbonfibre, naturally, but with fewer outlandish curves. It’s more straightforward, more racy.

But there are very ‘McLaren’ touches. Because McLaren fits sensible steering wheels to all of its cars, this one gets the same. The 720S’s digital instrument binnacle, which can be upright with a big, clear layout, or lowered for a minimal one (as in the 720S; I prefer it raised), is replicated, and so too are the basics of the driving position, albeit in a massively sculpted, fixed-back, carbonfibre seat. Some dials are attached to it and slide with it. The brake pedal is central so you can pick which foot to stop with, and the steering wheel is hugely adjustable. If you can’t find a purposeful driving position here, I doubt you’ll find one anywhere. For all of the intimidation you might feel initially, for all that it looks like no other McLaren, it at least feels like one.

It does when you’re rolling too. As on other McLarens, there are different driving modes for chassis and powertrain. Thus far we’ve had a very short stint on the track, and a longer go on largely boring roads.

On the road, it pays to leave the suspension in its softest setting, in which it rides firmly but with a suppleness allowed by the linked hydraulic suspension, and turn up the powertrain by a notch, and take control of the gear changes yourself.

Left in Automatic mode, the twin-clutch gearbox tries to lug things out at low revs, which causes the 4.0-litre V8 to grumble and resonate through the carbonfibre chassis, which echoes like stiff, hollow sections sometimes can. Carbonfibre or big-tube aluminium bicycles are similar: very stiff, but quite loud.

Ask a bit more of it and you get an idea of the Senna’s latent potency. Each litre makes around 200bhp, so you’d expect that it feels a bit boosty, and incredibly rapid. On the road you never get more than a few seconds of the hit, the merest hint of what it’s ultimately capable of, backed by the rawness of stonechips thwacking the underside of the chassis. Compared to a regular 720S, it’s like a Land Rover Defender versus a Discovery: you can use both, they do a similar thing, but to different extremes. The Senna’s steering is still lovely, there’s a rounded edge to the ride, and it’s still rewarding, but road driving isn’t really what it’s about.

The Senna really comes to life on a circuit. Popping the car into Race mode lowers the Senna by 50mm and, thanks to underfloor wizardry, is responsible for creating 60% of the car’s total downforce. There are active aero elements front and rear, including a 20deg variance in the rear wing angle. And this is the kind of approach that begets walloping lap times: add power, forget hybridisation, take out a load of weight and add aero. It’s why the Lamborghini Huracán Performante laps faster than any of the famed hypercar trio: LaFerrariPorsche 918 and McLaren’s own P1. And why a McLaren 675 LT would be as quick around the same circuit as a P1, for example.

And now, the Senna eclipses that. By a distance.

It has, as standard, a new compound and design of Pirelli Trofeo tyre (you can get more ordinary Pirellis as a no-cost option), which mean it can pull 0.3g (10mph) more than a 720S in high-speed corners and 0.2g (5mph) in lower speed ones. A P1 is, typically, ‘merely’ around 0.2g and 0.1g quicker than a 720S respectively.

And then there are the Senna’s going and stopping credentials. That power is up by 9% over the 720S doesn’t sound like a lot, but to try it on circuit is to whack into the soft rev limiter repeatedly, rather than never get there, as you do on the road. It’s odd: there are cars with half of the Senna’s 789bhp where you’d hesitate to extend your throttle foot. But there’s such a smoothness and reassurance in the Senna’s delivery that it’s easy to trust it.

McLaren’s approach to the transmission is as it usually is: that V8 drives the back wheels only, through a dual-clutch automatic gearbox. McLaren knows its way around this power unit (or different units, it would say, because of the many internal differences) to the extent that using it is as straightforward as in a 570S, only turned up to warp speed. It’s nothing like, say, a similarly powered Ferrari F12tdf or Aston Martin Vulcan in that respect. You want to use 789bhp? Just have it. Oh, there’s the soft limiter. Click a paddle and help yourself to another 789bhp.

If there’s a more approachable car with this level of power, I haven’t driven it, so the engine isn’t what is shocking about the Senna.

Nor is it the hydraulically assisted steering, which is responsive yet smooth, deadly accurate and feelsome, and perhaps the best power steering set-up in existence today. And neither is it the low-speed cornering, during which the Senna feels to the 720S like a Lotus 2-Eleven does to an Elise.

The intrinsic McLaren character is there: the incisive turn-in, the accuracy with which it can be placed, the resistance to roll and yet the compliance over bumps, but it’s all amplified on account of the weight reduction.

You feel that so very, very much – much more than the power. If you were given the choice of more power or less weight, one corner would be enough for you to pick the weight loss, every time. But all of this comes in a faintly reassuring character that you can feel in every McLaren from the 540C upwards.

Should I buy one?

Well, two a day are currently in production and deliveries have already started, so if you want one, I’m afraid you’re rather late. In fact, they picked who’d be allowed one a while ago. But is this – the same character of chassis, of transmission, of engine, of handling – a problem?

One ex-chief exec of a rival supercar maker once said he thought it might be: “I couldn’t sell the same kind of sausage,” he said, “and charge twice as much for one that was only 10% longer than another.” He hasn’t since left to become a butcher, but I knew what he meant. But the Senna steers around this accusation in two ways.

One is its faintly astonishing corner speeds, and specifically the fabulous high-speed stability. It is so absurdly reassuring and stable – yet still wildly exciting – that you will drive it faster and faster and feel like you want to drive it faster and faster again. Like GT-spec 911s, it feels like it has the integrity to be thrashed day after day while you learn more about it and yourself. The second thing is the way it stops. It’s a bit of a cliché to talk about the way track or race cars brake – single-seaters are the bomb in this respect – but I’ve never known anything with more than one seat that brakes like the Senna.

McLaren reckons it can stop from 124mph in 100 metres – 16m less than a P1. But that doesn’t really mean anything until you learn that you can stand, as hard as you possibly can, on the brake pedal, from high speed, and it sheds speed like it has driven into a vat of treacle.

Ultimately it’s those two things – and they are addictive, significant things – that take the Senna from being another, faster McLaren and turn it into another kind of McLaren. One that might just be the world’s fastest production road car. For how long? Aston Martin and Mercedes-AMG will be along presently.

McLaren Senna specification

Where Silverstone and France Price £750,000 On sale Now Engine V8, 3999cc, twin turbocharged, petrol Power 789bhp at 7250rpm Torque 590lb ft at 5500-6700rpm Gearbox 7-spd twin-clutch automatic Weight 1198kg (dry) Top speed 211mph 0-62mph 2.7sec Rivals Aston Martin Valkyrie, Mercedes-AMG Project One

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Comments
15

21 August 2018

miserable sod - and no I can't afford one - but why on earth would anyone buy this monstrosity? Apart from handing it over to some air conditioned specialist garage service for 5 years and making (another) fortune out of it. I dislike it for many reasons. Obviously it's ugly. It's far too wide - there's nowhere you want to be where you could use more than about 15% of the performance on the road. You'd have more fun on the track in pretty much any historic race car. There's nowhere much to put your mistress's glam-rags for the parties on boats in Monte Carlo. Completely beyond me why anyone intelligent enough to make the money required to buy one would actually want to do so. I'd rather have an Alpine. At least I could thrash that through the Provencal Hills and enjoy myself without worrying that pretty much anything coming the oter way would cause us to crash as the road ain't big enough for the both of us.

21 August 2018

 Johnfaganwilliams@, Heard the phrase....your money your choice, yes, I agree it’s not pretty,it’s function over form and it does function rather well, yes, it’s not an every Day Car, more Track really, but the lucky Person chosen to be offered one will have more than 1,2,3,4,5 cars even, so there’s a fair chance the do a lot of Track Days, do tours through Europe, and on these jaunts they will have a passenger, and without sounding sexist you’d be travelling light for a Week,so you’d only have a Weekend bag with the essentials and clothing and I’m fairly certain McLaren would have thought of that, like I said... their money their choice, that’s fair isn’t it?

Peter Cavellini.

21 August 2018

Can you read? The Senna is a track car cum race car you can drive to the track in relative comfort. It is an engineering masterpiece. I teach engineering amongst other interests; this car alone could be a prop to teach almost any aspect and a lot of Business subject matter too. 

21 August 2018
James Dene wrote:

The Senna ... is an engineering masterpiece.  

This car reminds me of C P Snow's 'The Two Cultures' which laments the lack of communication between scientists (in this case the engineers) and artists (in this case the stylists)

An engineering masterpiece maybe, but is there any reason to make it so ugly? Before you say 'form follows function', yes, form follows function but function is NOT DETERMINED by form: For every function there is a range of formal solutions to choose from eg. something as simple as painting a cerain component black or body colour will alter the perceived proportion of the car. 

In terms of aesthetics, the Senna is a disaster. The original McLaren, ie. the F1, is the exampler of form and function working beautifully and coherently together.

21 August 2018

Is almost revels in its own ugliness. I quite like that.

Sadly most will be bought as investments and hardly used. This is not a criticism of the Senna per se, but the whole supercar market seems utterly divorced from reality.

Are McLaren going to go racing in it? Because if so it will find a purpose... to do honour to the F1.

21 August 2018

Give the Senna racing slicks and racing brakes, in addtion to it's light weight and huge downforce, I think it's safe better that it'll lap the Nurburgring quicker than the Porsche 956's 6min 11sec. And there's doubt the track-focused Senna GTR will trump the Porsche  919's 5m 19 sec time which, considering it's a purpose built racing car that comes in under a ton and has over 1000bhp, is pretty disappointing. At least McLaren will show Porsche, again, how to get the most out of car.

21 August 2018
Roadster wrote:

Give the Senna racing slicks and racing brakes, in addtion to it's light weight and huge downforce, I think it's safe better that it'll lap the Nurburgring quicker than the Porsche 956's 6min 11sec. And there's doubt the track-focused Senna GTR will trump the Porsche  919's 5m 19 sec time which, considering it's a purpose built racing car that comes in under a ton and has over 1000bhp, is pretty disappointing. At least McLaren will show Porsche, again, how to get the most out of car.

It wouldn't get close to the 919 evo's time. Its not even the same universe. Remove your hatred for German cars and be realistic. It's a very fast car for the track that (rich) people can (potentially) buy. It is not a F1 lap time beating car (Spa record) like the 919 evo with illegal aero race mods and restrictor removals. I would hazard a guess it may get close to the 956, not quicker. Not a chance it would be under 6m.

21 August 2018

In your dreams, I'm afraid. Not a chance in hell. So you just don't like Porsche? 

21 August 2018
I'll have one in fluorescent green with black highlights, please.

21 August 2018

uhmmmm, function over form is an optimistic summary. Don't suppose it matters really because it's a must-have accessory for today and a collector's curiosity for tomorrow

jeremyjs

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