DUBAI: I like the idea of Grand Tourers — GTs as they are known in the motor business. At their best, they combine the exhilaration of sports car driving with just a little bit more room and comfort, for when you are making the “grand tour” they are designed for.
It is a segment of the luxury car market that British carmaker McLaren eyed warily for a while. Perhaps more than any other super-sports carmaker, McLaren has stuck to its racing car roots. Would a GT not be a betrayal of that long and valued heritage?
But last year, McLaren took the leap into the GT space and has come up with a little gem of a vehicle.
The 2020 version I drove — courtesy of the accommodating people in its Dubai headquarters — was GT enough to make you contemplate a drive through the Rub Al-Khali Empty Quarter, but sporty enough to raise eyebrows on Jumeirah Beach Road.
It looks exquisite. McLaren designers seem to have sat down and picked out all the sexiest, sleekest features from all other supercars and blended them perfectly in the GT — then added some more just as a bonus.
Looking at it head-on from the front, it has the threat and power of a shark. The body is all flowing lines and elegant contours. The rear has just a hint of jet fighter about it.
With a carbon fiber and aluminum body, it is lighter than any in its class, which accounts for the neck-breaking power you get out of its 4-liter V8 engine. You can hit 200 km in nine seconds from standing, and if you put your foot to the floor you will reach 326 km per hour.
For connoisseurs of engine noise, the sound on acceleration is raw and powerful, but not overpowering enough to make you concerned for your hearing. McLaren has stuffed plenty of advance insulation into the car. From outside, there is a gratifying boy-racer power crack, if revving up at the lights is your kind of thing.
A reworked suspension system, combined with McLaren’s hydraulic steering, means you retain the racing car feel but without the bumpy ride some sports cars give you.
It is low on the ground. In fact, you would have to practice entry and exit in private in order to do it with any grace in public. But the butterfly doors give you plenty of access room at least.
So how would I feel embarking on a long drive in the McLaren GT? Well, I would be confident that I would have a reasonable amount of luggage for one thing. The rear opens up to show enough space for two golf bags, and the front boot also has plenty of room for a weekend for two.
Only one small word of dissent here. My wife complained that there was nowhere to put her stuff. “This is a real boy’s car isn’t it — golf clubs but no room for a handbag,” she said.
In fact, I could see women being especially delighted to own and drive the McLaren GT. It is less macho and more intimate than other GTs, and is definitely a car to be seen in.
The two-seat cabin is well designed and, again, intimate, with a stack of hi-tech features. A British audio system is a novelty these days, but sounded great.
Buying a McLaren GT from the showroom will set you back at least $210,000, depending on the color you choose and the level of interior decor. The one I drove was in a seductive amaranth red, and had plenty of leather and chrome inside.
I loved driving it through the canyons of Sheikh Zayed Road. Next time, the Empty Quarter.