A writer’s personal account test-driving the 2020 McLaren GT.
In the name of transparency, I have two things to get off my chest before readers indulge in this girl meets car story. 1) I am not an auto enthusiast, nor have I claimed to have any expertise on the subject (as evidenced by the very dented 2008 Honda Accord sitting outside my house) 2) I don’t typically write articles in first person, but considering the uniquely incredible circumstances of me jaunting around D.C. in a McLaren, an exception was made. That leads me to my next point, the McLaren GT is not just a car, it’s an experience.
When an opportunity arose to test drive the English brand’s new lifestyle Grand Tourer, my first impulse was to pass based on sheer intimidation. After all, I would be getting behind the wheel of a car that retails for $210,000, before bells and whistles. But as the pandemic has made life pretty grim over the last few months, I figured – if nothing else– it would make for a good story. A memory. A funny trick to play on friends – “Life is chaotic, the future unknown, so I decided to seize the day and buy a fancy car!” The prank flopped based on my aforementioned dented Honda.
Jokes aside, I did not expect how deeply spoiled I would become after helming this driving specimen or the appreciation I would gain for the care and precision that goes into designing such a magnificent piece of machinery. Each vehicle is hand-assembled in Surrey, England. It turns out you don’t have to be a car buff to appreciate a 4.0 liter twin-turbocharged V8 with 620 horsepower. The proof is in the pudding.
McLaren Automotive is British brand with a storied history. It upended the Formula One racing world in 1963 and since, has 20 World Championships to show for it. The illustrious F1 model is coveted by collectors globally. Due to the automotive group’s racing chops, even its lifestyle vehicle has supercar abilities including a “launch” button and manual gear shift paddles, which transition the car into a fierce competitor on the track. The 2020 GT reinvents the genre with its long-range capabilities, lightweight carbon fiber skeleton. It is a representation of McLaren’s efforts to attract a new audience while keeping a bridge to those enamored with its super racing fleet.
Needless to say, there were features of the model I did not test out. More seasoned drivers may have also pushed speed boundaries topping out at 203 mph, but I stuck to the basics, relishing in the whiplash-induced acceleration of traversing zero to 60 mph in a mere 3.1 seconds. Wielding such power out of the gate made red lights an exciting prospect.
Driving it within city limits versus the open road introduced me to the vehicle’s two different personas. In the crowded District lurching through stop and go traffic, the McLaren GT was a celebrity sauntering down the red carpet. Heads turned. Jaws dropped. All bets were off if rubberneckers were in view of parking sessions where opening the car’s signature dihedral doors (aka suicide doors) showed no sublety with their skyward swings. After graduating from my initial shyness on day one, I leaned into the attention and sensory overload that comes with driving such a high-performance vehicle. Comfortable Nappa leather seats (which can be upgraded to soft grain leather and even cashmere), a crisp audio system by Bowers & Wilkins blaring Sirius XM that comes standard in each car and ambient lighting options all contributed to the allure.
Once I took Miss McLaren an hour outside Washington for a spin through the hilly backroads of Virginia’s Loudoun County, the GT was a prop no more. On the endless ribbons of asphalt she soared and handled, stretching her legs and purring with each tap of the gas pedal. I had no idea a car could make me feel so alive. The experience was intoxicating. The glass wraparound front windshield offering 180 degrees sightlines made driving through the bucolic Virginia countryside that much more scenic. It was a bonus that expanded trunk space, crafted with ski equipment and a bag of golf clubs in mind, allowed ample space for the picnic gear I had in tow.
It was only after handing over the key and returning back to the driver’s seat of my Honda that I gleaned total perspective on how the relationship between a McLaren and the road is distinguished by a different dynamic than that of a traditional vehicle. Bespoke suspension, steering and brakes ensure that when you drive the GT, you own the pavement not the other way around. Yes, it can impress your friends, drop the jaws of your neighbors and break the necks of passersby, but the McLaren GT is much more than flashy good looks. As a newly-minted auto geek, I can attest.