While the new McLaren 600LT harks back to the iconic F1 GTR 'Longtail' of 1997, it brings the LT formula bang up to date, using reduced weight, enhanced aerodynamics, more performance and cleverly calculated chassis upgrades to create not only the most exciting model in McLaren's Sports Series, but one of the most engaging-to-drive cars the company has ever made.
In the metal
Finished in a dark hue, the McLaren 600LT is a menacing presence, yet one that's relatively subtle given its performance. The exterior changes over the 570S Coupe it's based upon focus on its aerodynamics for the most part, so there's a long front splitter and large rear spoiler, a serious looking rear diffuser and a flat carbon fibre floor underneath, along with other carbon body parts designed to enhance engine cooling and the aerodynamics. It lives up to its 'Longtail' billing thanks to an extra 74mm in the length and the net result is a quoted 100kg of downforce at 250km/h. Ultra-light alloy wheels are standard, too, but the easiest way to spot a 600LT is from the rear, where you'll see that the exhaust outlets have been moved onto the rear deck, ahead of the new wing. They've made way for more aerodynamic tweaking beneath and are complemented by a new mesh to aid engine cooling.
Bizarrely, the top exit exhaust has allowed McLaren to delete the rear window heating element, saving weight, while the glass itself has been trimmed down, meaning a reduction in mass from the glazing alone of 2.1kg. This obsessive weight reduction carries on throughout the car and has meant that the 600LT is some 100kg lighter than the 570S it's based on.
Inside, there's more evidence of weight loss in the form of the standard carbon fibre racing seats and multiple Alcantara pads rather than full trim. Buyers can go further again and specify the same seats as in the McLaren Senna, or if they aren't quite as obsessed as McLaren is with weight, they can have electrically adjusted and heated chairs instead. It's worth checking how you fit into the various seat designs, as you'll want to be snugly held in place. Likewise, to achieve the minimum weight, the 600LT needs to be kept in its default guise, without air conditioning, audio or satnav, though they're all no-cost options - and air conditioning is a must.
While the McLaren 600LT is a road-legal car, its remit is certainly to be more than a little track-capable, so our first taste of the coupe was exclusively within the environs of the Hungaroring circuit, the very one that the Formula One boys did their thing at in July this year. In fact, and this is a happy coincidence, McLaren has won more races here than any other F1 team. But I digress. In short, this is a serious race track, one that will soon show up any inadequacies in a road car's chassis.
As it proved when we hit the track initially in examples of the McLaren 570S Spider, to help us learn our way around before jumping into the 600LT. The 570S is a very good car, but driven to higher speeds on this circuit, it soon becomes clear that its stability, especially under heavy braking, is wanting somewhat. It's not something you'd discover on the public road, where the 570S excels.
We're still trundling down the pitlane at 60km/h in the 600LT when it becomes clear that it's a very different beast. It's much louder for a start, thanks to the re-piped exhaust. And it's an angry, 'you-better-drive-me-quickly-or-else' noise rather than a spine-tingling melody. Indeed, from the pit wall, watching and listening to 600LTs going past at full chat, they sound for all the world like something that would race in a GT class at Le Mans.
The suspension is obviously firmer, too, but not so much your teeth chatter. In fact, the 600LT borrows many parts from the McLaren 720S, including the front and rear double wishbones and uprights, plus the rear toe links, all made from forged aluminium. Up front, the track is 10mm wider than that of the 570S and there's an 8mm reduction in ride height. The springs are stiffer, the variable damping system has been tweaked and thicker anti-roll bars are fitted. We briefly tried the Normal setting in the Active Dynamics Panel before moving up to Sport and then spending most of the time in the most extreme mode, Track, which is ideal for a smooth circuit.
Turning into the first corner with conviction, the nose of the 600LT feels immediate and trustworthy, and you can quickly get back on the power to slingshot out of the corner, using all the track to release massive speed from the car. There's no limited slip differential at work here, but instead McLaren's Brake Steer system. It's highly effective. After a few laps, it's clear that the ESC's traction control is hampering progress a tad, so we switch it to the Dynamic setting and this, I believe, is the 600LT at its finest. In this guise, it allows the driver more control over rear traction, but with a safety net, allowing you lean hard on the tyres on the exit of a corner. The limits of grip are clearly telegraphed and breakaway is relatively benign when you ignore the textured messages coming at you from the steering and your own rear end. This is a lot of fun.
Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R tyres with a bespoke construction and compound are standard on the 600LT and they undoubtedly contribute to its dry-track ability. They endow the front end with astounding grip. So much so that you get a bit blasé about your corner entry speed and how early you get back on the accelerator. This can lead to minute amounts of understeer, which the electro-hydraulically-assisted power steering conveys to your hands in detail, so you soon realise that it's more satisfying to be patient in the middle of a corner, hugging the apex and getting the car rotated into the curve before squeezing the power back on. This results in breath-taking pace around the track. These days, 600hp doesn't sound like much for a supercar, but you won't get out of this car thinking it needs more.
But don't for a second think that the 600LT is all about fast laps and robot drivers; no, it feels good to drive at modest speeds, too, and it is a highly involving experience regardless. This really is a car to be driven. As often as possible.
What you get for your money
The McLaren 600LT is well-equipped by any measure, even taking into consideration its lofty starting price. For no extra costs, it gets Alcantara upholstery, carbon fibre racing seats in a choice of two sizes, air conditioning, a seven-inch portrait touchscreen infotainment system, telemetry, satnav, keyless entry and start, USB ports and even a couple of airbags. Nonetheless, it doesn't take many option tick boxes to swell the price well over €400,000, and you'll need to spend on some essentials, such as the nose lift kit. Still, given this car's performance and on-track ability, we reckon the target audience will see it as great value. What's more, nobody knows how many will be made as yet, as production is limited to just one year. Incidentally, there will also be a 600LT Spider...
If you're about to buy a McLaren 570S, whatever you do, don't take a drive in the 600LT, as it's immediately obvious how much more capable it is, especially driven on the track. This is a truly special car, yet one that doesn't necessarily shout about that (until you start it up). Get your order in now before all the production slots are spoken for...