At first, the concept of the McLaren 600LT Spider is an odd one to grapple with. The coupe, for instance, started life as the 570S; McLaren ditched weight, while adding power and downforce, then tweaked everything else in the name of serious driving fun, on road or track. The Spider is all that, too, though with the added weight and complication of a retractable hardtop. Does it work?
In the metal
McLaren took the 570S Spider as a basis for the 600LT Spider and managed the same 100kg weight reduction (depending on some options, it must be said) as it did in the transition from 570S to 600LT coupe. That's one of the key aspects of the Longtail ('LT') philosophy, and it's worth noting that the 600LT Spider is only 50kg heavier than the coupe variant too. Not bad when you consider it includes a three-piece retractable hardtop that can be folded out of the way at speeds of up to 40km/h.
With the roof in place, the 600LT Spider doesn't look very different to the coupe, and anyway, you'll be distracted from the roof join lines by the carbon fibre bodywork. It looks seriously menacing, but the changes from the 570S Spider play a vital part in how the 600LT performs, generating up to 100kg of downforce at 250km/h (same as the coupe manages). The fixed rear wing, low splitter up front, edgy side sills and massive rear diffuser are all present and correct. As are the deck-mounted exhaust outlets ahead of the back spoiler and lightweight wheels of a bespoke design to the 600LT range, shod in Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R tyres.
The interior is remarkably minimal looking, as there's no glovebox or door pockets and less padding and carpeting. As standard, a lightweight wiring harness is used and there's no satnav or audio or even air conditioning. Many buyers will add them back in (for no cost) and if they do, there's a portrait-orientated touchscreen that takes care of everything you need when required, complementing the crystal-clear digital instruments. Crucially, the driving controls are nigh-on perfect, with an Alcantara-trimmed steering wheel rim that isn't too chunky, firm pedals and proper gearchange paddles. You sit in the same carbon fibre racing seats as found in the McLaren P1 and, if your pockets are deep enough, you can swap them for the even lighter items used in the McLaren Senna. Or, if you don't share McLaren's obsession with weight reduction, there are heated and electrically adjustable sports seats available, too.
Unique to the 600LT Spider, there's extra storage space behind the seats when the roof is up and, regardless of the roof position, the rear glass window can be lowered whenever you want to hear the engine and exhaust to the fullest.
Without having a 600LT Coupe on hand to test back-to-back with the new Spider, we couldn't honestly say there's any discernible difference between the two body styles. Neither should there be, with about 50kg between them and more-or-less identical performance numbers. On the road, the Spider feels focused and taut at all times, which is to say that it comes with a little compromise in a bid for its higher limits. The 570S is far more civilised and, if you're buying an open-topped version of the Sports Series for everyday use, that's probably a better bet.
That is, of course, unless you're a complete driving addict and you live for the interaction between man and machine. Some will scoff at such a notion, but those that understand exactly what I mean will feel instantly at home behind the wheel of the 600LT Spider. There's an immediacy to the steering from the off, an underlying firmness to the chassis and a deliciously modulated brake pedal that all, even at low speeds, indicate that this car is going to be a riot.
You don't need to be breaking the speed limit to enjoy the occasion that is the 600LT Spider, either. Unless you're cruising along the motorway (don't do that in this car if you can help it), it's best to switch the powertrain into Sport mode, get the roof and rear window down and revel in the myriad pops and bangs and roars assaulting your earholes as you accelerate up through the gears of the seven-speed 'Seamless Shift Gearbox'. McLaren's Ignition Cut strategy makes this particularly loud and amusing.
On track, choose Race mode for the suspension and powertrain, and this replaces the histrionics with ruthless efficiency and raw speed. Honestly, we were enjoying the Spider's race circuit prowess so much that it became irrelevant that there was no roof over our heads. This version of the 600LT is just as precise as its coupe sibling and, like that car, it immerses the driver in the experience, goading them to push faster and play with the chassis at and over the limits of adhesion.
Those sticky Pirelli tyres have very high limits of grip, but the twin-turbo V8 is more than a match, as we discover when we start to experiment with the stability control system. As well as on and off, there's a middle setting called 'Dynamic', which really lets the car flow on track, allowing satisfying amounts of rear end slip on the exit of tighter corners. The corner entry speed is astonishing too, and the balance mid-corner phenomenal, allowing you trim the line with the throttle seemingly at will. Through all this, the electro-hydraulic steering feeds back to your hands how much grip there is to play with. This is an intoxicating car to drive and as the whole remit of the 600LT is driver engagement rather than outright lap times, it matters not a jot that there's a folding roof included.
What you get for your money
Buyers of cars such as the McLaren 600LT Spider have a different view on 'value for money' than most motorists, so the eye-watering starting price (about €370,000 imported, based on the UK exchange at the time of writing) won't be their primary focus. For what it's worth, the Spider works out as about 10 per cent more expensive than the 600LT Coupe and has the same mouth-watering specification. There are very few direct rivals on the market today.
Some might baulk at the idea of creating a sportscar such as the McLaren 600LT to the legendary Longtail formula and then adding a retractable roof. However, McLaren's characteristic meticulousness has ensured that the new Spider version is just as special a car in every way, with the added benefit of no bodywork between your ears and those mental exhaust outlets. For buyers that are more likely to use their 600LT on the road than the track it's the obvious choice.