MOTOR1: 2019 McLaren 600LT First Drive: Light Fantastic
LT is to McLaren as RS is to Porsche, and the new 600LT lives up to its name.
Six-hundred LT – that’s Longtail in McLaren-speak, which, if you’ve got your history books out, you’ll recognize from the iconic F1 GTR Longtail. There have been others – notably the 675 LT – but the LT name is derived from that Le Mans legend, and we’ll never tire of seeing it in the press presentation. Nor will we ever argue with what the original Longtail represents.
When you think Longtail, think distilled: More purity thanks to less weight, more power, better brakes, greater downforce. More power. We mentioned that, right? There’s 592 horsepower, here, the 600LT name being representative of metric hp. This the first LT based on McLaren’s Sport Series, which is the “entry-level” to the McLaren range. That’s relative, though, as the 600LT is a full-fat supercar, as its 2.8 second 0-60 mile-per-hour and 204-mph top speed numbers testify. This car will run a quarter in 10.4 seconds.
We knew it’d be fast, though, as the 570S on which it’s based is no slouch. Indeed, there’s little wrong with the 570S, and it’s arguably one of the best cars the company makes. At least, it was. The 600LT now takes that mantle, performing that clever trick of being more engaging, more visceral, faster, sharper and better to look at, all without adding any real compromises over the original platform.
That wing adds weight, some 7.7 pounds if you count the support brackets. So McLaren’s knocked off about 211 pounds to compensate. The diet includes a 37-pound loss in the wheel and tire package, 22 pounds in suspension weight, 46-pound lighter seats (the harnesses alone account for 7.2 pounds of the mass lost), thinner glass that shaves 4.6 pounds from the car, 8.8-pound lighter brakes, and more extensive use of carbon fiber panelling. You get the idea, but to get the full 211 pounds you have to be pretty committed and do without A/C, an audio system, and pay extra for the super-lightweight seats. The weight saving is more realistically in the 165 to 175 pound range if you’re after a few comforts, or, as they’re more properly called, necessities.
With 592 hp, who’s really counting though? What’s clear is that the combination of that reduced mass, as well as the greater power have changed the 600LT into something a great deal more appealing and significantly sharper than the 570S upon which it’s based. The lighter suspension and brakes are from the 720S, the brake booster is borrowed from the Senna, and the front and rear springs are stiffened by 13 percent up front and 34 percent out back. Roll bar stiffness rates are tightened by 50 percent in the front and 25 percent in the rear. Hardly surprising given the 600LT’s track focus.
We’re not on track today, though. Instead we’re on curving, but less predictable, California roads. What’s abundantly clear is that in adding focus to the 600LT, McLaren’s not denied the car of composure. In the ‘Normal’ setting, the spring and dampers do a fine job of retaining precise control on road surfaces, being supple enough to ride out bumps you’ll initially brace yourself for; the anticipated jolt not materializing – unless you switch to the more brittle ‘Sport’ or ‘Track’ settings. That control is a difficult balance and one that McLaren’s achieved admirably. The 600LT offers a greater driving bandwidth than its track-focused specification might lead you to believe.
On the winding Route 74 that climbs out of Palm Springs, the 600LT hauls up the mountain road at indecent speed; its huge grip, fine wheel and body control, and quick, faithful steering allow it to absolutely conquer the road. It’s fast – ridiculously so at times. The savagery that boils over through the last quarter of the rev-counter’s sweep toward redline is little short of sensational.
The 600LT offers a greater driving bandwidth than its track-focused specification might lead you to believe.
Do that and tug the paddle, and the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox gives you another ratio. A quick adjustment to Track mode brings rapid-fire shifts, which allow you to pull the paddle with even greater confidence as the 600LT catapults out of corners.
The steering is light, and the wheel delivers substantial feel at its rim. That is something of a McLaren signature; the British automaker hanging on doggedly to hydraulic steering while others have opted for fully electric systems. Thanks to the assured bite of the six-piston front and four-piston rear calipers ,I’m able to stand on the brakes all the way up to entering a corner, the turn-in assured, and the 600LT feeling agile, precise, and predictable. It’s all backed by a rousing bark from the top-exiting exhaust pipes. If it’s dark, you’ll not just hear those pipes, but see the spent gasses ignite in your rear-view mirror – the 600LT’s secret party piece.
Inside, it’s all largely familiar and predictably McLaren. From the slightly obtuse need to press the Active button before selecting your suspension, gearbox, and chassis settings, to the rocker action of the paddle-shifter (the opposite side falling away as you tug the other one), the 600LT mimics its siblings in some rather obvious ways. Sitting snug in the beautiful, 600LT-specific lightweight bucket seats, one notices the car immediately feels different from the 570S.
How impressive the 600LT is on the road is a surprise; that it’s an utter joy on the track, is predictable. Thermal racetrack is at my disposal, and I’d be remiss not to take it out for a run around the private raceway. The 600LT is as wickedly quick here as it was on our initial track-only drive at the Hungaroring a few weeks back.
The only difference being Thermal’s dust and heat make the job tougher for the Pirelli Trofeo R tires to stick. A bit less tire pressure helps, and then the 600LT is really able to reveal its speed here. It’s the brakes that really shock, the stability and control they offer, and the relentless stopping power, even after repeated abuse in tough conditions.
The 600LT’s character at the extremes of its limits is always approachable and exploitable.
Switch the ESC to Track mode and there’s enough slip to revel in ruinous throttle-induced oversteer exiting bends. The 600LT’s character at the extremes of its limits is always approachable and exploitable. There’s real balance and feel, and the precision with which the 600LT operates makes it an absolute joy to drive. Whether it be on road or track.
The fact that it’s able to do all that, yet remains an able, enjoyable road car is even more impressive. The 600LT takes the road/track car fight to that most obvious of contenders, the Porsche 911 GT3 RS, and makes a highly compelling case for itself. Start putting it up against rivals like the Ferrari 488 and the less expensive McLaren credibly holds its own. Woking should be proud, as the 600LT makes for a brilliant sports car, and arguably the firm’s best product ever – Senna included.