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Our favourite driver’s car of 2018 is made more desirable still with this new Spider version. Can it reach the same lofty heights?

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Is McLaren’s second attempt at a hardcore track-ready modern long-tail supercar quite as good as the first was – the reputation-building 675LT? That’s this week’s hot topic, and all the signs so far have promised just so.

The 600LT coupé is, of course, Autocar’s reigning Best Driver’s Car. It won out in an incredibly tight judges’ vote at Anglesey Circuit in October last year at the head of a quite incredible field that included the Alpine A110, Porsche 911 GT3 RS, Jaguar XE SV Project 8 and Ferrari 488 Pista.

A substantial rear wing and elongated front splitter were key aspects of the original F1 GTR ‘Longtail’s’ design. Similar cues appeared on the 675LT and now they’re present on the 600LT

At the time, the coupé escaped our road test treatment, so now’s our chance to lavish the full six-page, performance benchmarking exercise on the new 600LT Spider. Now we can finally and fully explore what makes this latest Longtail brilliant, and also better define exactly what it was about the car that made its victory at Anglesey last year so tight.

Our first drive of the 600LT Spider came earlier this year in North America where, on the road only, the car repeated a feat we’re beginning to take for granted from McLaren: it demonstrated all the apparent advantages of the coupé – huge pace, superb steering, balanced handling and a stunning road-appropriate suspension calibration – but added the appeal of folding hard-top open air motoring.

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Now is the chance to try the 600LT Spider in right-hand-drive form, on UK roads – and to unleash it on benchmark handling circuits at MIRA’s proving ground to find out just how close a match the Longtail performance makeover has made the supercar to the likes of the McLaren 720S and even the incredible McLaren Senna on sheer, exhilarating track pace.

Price £201,500 Power 592bhp Torque 457lb ft 0-60mph 2.9sec 30-70mph in fourth 6.3sec Fuel economy 16.7mpg CO2 emissions 276g/km 70-0mph 39.9m

McLaren 600LT range at a glance

There are two flavours of 600LT available: the standard coupé and the convertible Spider tested here. The Spider comes with a big price hike over and above the coupé, but such is the price of open-air motoring.

McLaren has worked hard to shave weight from the car, so things like satellite navigation, carpets, air conditioning and a stereo are not included as standard. Those not too concerned about lap times can add some creature comforts back in.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Mclaren

DESIGN & STYLING

McLaren 600LT Spider 2019 road test review - hero rear

Despite its Longtail badge, the 600LT Spider has grown by just 7.4cm next to the standard 570S on which it’s based. However, as with the original F1 GTR ‘Longtail’ that lent its name to McLaren’s 21st-century series of go-faster models, the tweaks wrought on the 600LT are more about making the car as capable as possible on track than increasing its overall footprint.

Significantly improved aerodynamics play a central role in achieving this, and Woking’s engineers have introduced a number of changes to the car’s bodywork to make it as limpet-like as possible. These include a wider, more aggressive front splitter that’s been extended by some 27mm; new side sills designed to ‘clean’ turbulent air; a rear diffuser that looks like a grossly oversized set of hair clippers; and a sizeable fixed rear wing. Combined, the improved aerodynamic package of the 600LT Spider develops the same 100kg of downforce at 155mph as it does on the coupé, despite the packaging obstacles the introduction of a convertible roof inevitably bring.

The 10-spoke ultra-lightweight forged alloy wheels and Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R tyres combine to shed 17kg of weight from the 600LT compared with the 570S.

That roof does incur a weight penalty, but it’s a marginal one. The incredible structural rigidity provided by McLaren’s MonoCell II monocoque is key here; without the need for additional bracing, it allowed McLaren’s engineers to implement the same precisionist weight-saving regime introduced on the hard-top. As a result, the 600LT Spider can weigh as much as 100kg less than the convertible 570S on which it’s based – with the right options boxes ticked. On MIRA’s scales, our test car came in at 1465kg.

Elsewhere, the car’s 3.8-litre twin-turbocharged V8 now produces 592bhp – 30bhp more than in the 570S. Some 457lb ft of torque is now developed between 3500-6500rpm, too. The shorter length of the lighter stainless steel top-exit exhausts played a role in extracting this additional potency, while a motorsport-derived flat-plane crankshaft also allows the engine to be positioned lower down in the chassis for a more competitive centre of gravity.

Drive is sent to the rear wheels (which are shod in supersticky Trofeo R rubber) via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. Lastly, the 600LT also makes use of the same lightweight aluminium double-wishbone suspension componentry as its McLaren 720S big brother, which is complemented by coil springs and adaptive dampers. The front and rear anti-roll bars have been stiffened for greater response and stability, while the front track has also been widened by 10mm.

INTERIOR

McLaren 600LT Spider 2019 road test review - cabin

Architecturally speaking, there’s little about the 600LT Spider’s cabin that differentiates it from that of the regular 570S. The housing for the portrait-oriented IRIS infotainment system still protrudes downwards from the centre of the dash, where it floats above a centre console populated by a starter button, roof controls and toggles for the drive modes. There’s a useful, if difficult to reach, cupholder there too, as well as a number of smaller storage compartments for things like keys, phones or wallets. These are handy, as the glovebox and doorbins have been stripped in order to save weight.

Track-day purists may well be pleased that the 600LT Spider does not feature satellite navigation, a sound system or air conditioning as standard. Those buyers who will not be spending all their time on circuit will be happy to hear they can be added free of charge.

Optional memory sports seats didn’t make for as low and perfect a driving position as the ones in the coupé we tested last year. They didn’t leave me short on head room either, but I don’t remember the lower ones being uncomfortable.

These features are largely operated through the 7.0in portrait-oriented touchscreen, which runs McLaren’s in-house IRIS operating system. While not the most graphically rich software out there, it’s generally easy to use – but can be a touch clunky, particularly when switching between menus. Still, it’s preferable to Ferrari’s infotainment suites.

The Luxury Pack optioned on our test car introduced a premium Bowers & Wilkins 12-speaker audio system, which seemed redundant given the general noisiness of the McLaren’s cabin while on the move. The sound quality was at least decent when the motor wasn’t running, though.

Up front, the 150-litre front luggage compartment is lined with thinner carpet to shave further kilos. The carpet lining the cabin of our test car has been removed and replaced with Alcantara, an option that will cost you an extra £1950. Combined, however, all of these tweaks contribute to a weight saving of 7.2kg.

Air conditioning is a no-cost option (omitting it saves weight), and mercifully our car had it. The feather-light carbonfibre racing seats from the McLaren Senna can also be optioned in place of the standard regularly light carbonfibre racing seats from the P1. However, to the dismay of some of our testers, our 600LT Spider featured the £7500 Luxury Pack.

This, among other things, swaps those lightweight chairs out for heavier power-adjustable sports seats, and also introduces an electronically adjustable steering column. Admittedly, these make adapting the driving position very easy but, given the painstaking lengths McLaren has gone to to remove weight from the 600LT, their inclusion doesn’t really seem to fit with the car’s ethos.

But what a driving position it is. While positioned slightly higher than with those race seats, you sit directly in front of the thin, communicative Alcantara-clad steering wheel with an uninterrupted view out of the large front windscreen. The pedals are spaced close together, with the brake being positioned so as to encourage left-foot braking. There’s some 970mm of head room with the roof in place, which of course increases infinitely when it’s stowed away.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

McLaren 600LT Spider 2019 road test review - doors

We knew the 600LT Spider was going to do well here – but getting well clear of the objective, measurable performance level of a 570S is what you’d expect of this car. And even though we were comparing a 600LT Spider carrying a slight weight penalty with a 570S Coupé with no such encumbrance, that’s precisely what the LT did.

Launching under McLaren’s electronic governance, with that strangely smooth and unexpectedly non-violent, wheelspin-free, immaculately managed fervour these cars all show in those circumstances, it did just enough to dip under the 3.0sec barrier from rest to 60mph. It only narrowly missed the 6.0sec threshold to 100mph, at which point it’s three-tenths ahead of a 570S and still pulling clear. The car has first-order, no-prisoners-taken acceleration on tap, then. Enough to narrowly beat a Ferrari 488 GTB off the line, and then to only very gradually surrender the initiative to the Italian over the next few hundred yards on the way to the standing quarter-mile marker and beyond.

Top-exit exhaust is one of the signature features of the 600LT. The shorter pipe length reduces back pressure and enables the engine to breathe deeper. More power is a result.

Porsche’s 911 GT2 RS was the other main performance benchmark, we’re told – and McLaren can consider that another box ticked. The German – a hundred horsepower up on the Longtail, remember – would need to run all the way to 120mph before starting to get its nose out in front, according to our figures.

That performance level is all the more remarkable when you consider that this car uses McLaren’s older 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 rather than the significantly more torque-rich 4.0-litre from the McLaren 720S. On close inspection, the engine doesn’t quite impress like the bigger one in more transient, subjective terms. It’s noticeably softer-feeling in its responses to throttle inputs at low revs than some turbocharged equivalents, although much crisper as it revs to 4000rpm and beyond.

Meanwhile – to some testers, at least – it still sounded less like a supercar engine, at times, than an Embraer turboprop passenger plane running its engines up pre-takeoff; or, at other times, like some gigantic leaf blower with anger-management issues. Sitting with your head out in the open, so close to the exhausts, remains an intriguing pleasure, it must be said, but the simple truth is that rivals have engines that are more exciting and operatic to listen to while you’re doing it.

RIDE & HANDLING

McLaren 600LT Spider 2019 road test review - cornering front

Just like the 600LT coupé, the Spider is a supercar with a rare and exceptional ability to light up any journey on the road. We should, however, only consider that part of the car’s dynamic mission statement: because a 570S Spider has a comparable ability to delight and excite from A to B – and surely it’s for the LT to offer more, both here and on a circuit, just as the 675LT did.

In identifying and quantifying exactly how much more you get, you can certainly count big doses of extra lateral grip and contact patch feel from those Trofeo R tyres. Smaller but perceptible gains on body control, turn-in agility and steady state, mid-corner balance are delivered by McLaren’s suspension overhaul. But there are also really striking parallel and entirely complementary senses of unerring linearity and accuracy about the car’s handling, and well-judged dexterity about the car’s ride, that allow you to drive it so confidently – and as quickly as is permitted – on the road without ever feeling overawed by it. Those are truly rare qualities in a mid-engined supercar of this performance level – and they make the 600LT Spider a quite stellar driver’s car for regular daily use.

No one really does steering feel better than McLaren at the moment, and the 600LT is one of Woking’s most communicative models. A triumph, for sure.

On the track, the car is perhaps not quite as stellar in every sense, though it wants for nothing in terms of grip, poise, pace, stamina or stopping power. As you can read above, it’s little short of astonishing when driven by the book: fast through the apex, late and strong on the brakes, quick through the gearbox, accurate in all and balanced as you feed in the power.

But, while the car’s electronics allow a little exploitable handling adjustability when you’re using ESC Dynamic mode, the Longtail’s handling becomes a little bit scrappy when you disable the aids completely and progress beyond the limit of grip; and so finishing off a set of tyres on a track day, for example, wouldn’t quite be the indulgent, flattering exercise it might be in a Porsche 911 GT3 RS or a Ferrari 488 GTB. To be fair, though, it wouldn’t be a chore either.

The 600LT Spider went nearly a second quicker around the MIRA Dunlop handling track than the Porsche 911 GT2 RS – and it didn’t need so much as an adjustment of tyre pressure to do it. The Lamborghini Huracán Performante went quicker still in 2017, and by a bigger margin than the one to the Porsche. However, on a circuit where aerodynamic downforce doesn’t do quite as much for a car as it might elsewhere, the McLaren’s straight out of the box showing was impressive.

Modifying the tyre pressures slightly, in an attempt to bring out the last word in mid-corner handling poise, only made the car slightly slower, less able to put its power down cleanly and more given to fairly sudden oversteer out of the slower corners.

McLaren’s torque vectoring and traction control systems keep a very effective rein on the car’s attitude – although, often in checking turbo boost almost before it arrives at the driven axle, the interventions they make can feel more like turbo lag than anything else.

COMFORT AND ISOLATION

Put quite simply, a car as focused and capable as the 600LT Spider has no right to ride as well as it does. At a steady cruise with the chassis and powertrain settings knocked back to Normal, the McLaren’s ability to isolate its occupants from the wide range of blotches and blemishes that characterise Britain’s roadways is uncanny. There’s real pliancy here: a sense of settledness and civility – particularly over longer-wave undulations – that you simply don’t get from the likes of a GT2 RS or 488 Pista. Of course, this gentility isn’t quite as pronounced at lower speeds, but it’s unlikely you’d wince at the prospect of using it for short city hops. That seems a strange thing to write about a supercar but is true nonetheless.

There is a caveat, though: noise. Stiffer engine mounts allow more low-frequency sounds to permeate into the cabin, while the weight-stripping process that saw the interior carpets removed and window glazing reduced further amplify exterior road noise. Anything that clatters its way along the 600LT’s underbelly echoes throughout the cabin, too. As such, cabin noise at a 70mph cruise was taken down at a vocal 79dB – making the 600LT Spider noisier than a Lamborghini Huracán Performante (77dB), if not quite as aurally tiring as a GT2 RS (80dB).

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

McLaren 600LT Spider 2019 road test review - hero front

Prices for the 600LT coupé start at £185,500 and move up to £201,500 for the convertible. Next to the Lamborghini Huracán Performante and Porsche GT2 RS (both of which started around the £208,000 mark), that looks like good value. Limited production numbers mean the 600LT should fare well in terms of residuals, too.

Of course, most owners probably won’t skimp on options. Our test car weighed in a smidge above £222,000, with extras such as the Luxury Pack, Security Pack (£3980) and dazzling Myan Orange Elite paint (£3660) all doing their bit to push that asking price up.

The McLaren holds its value considerably better than the cheaper Audi R8 and more expensive Lamborghini Huracan Spyder

Those looking to strip as much weight as possible out of their 600LT by opting for additional swathes of carbonfibre and lightweight race seats might just push that price up even further.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Mclaren

VERDICT

McLaren 600LT Spider 2019 road test review - static

Convertible supercars of the calibre of the 600LT Spider, so little afflicted by dynamic compromise compared with their fixed-roof relatives and so compelling to drive at their best, are truly rare.

The performance and handling tests whose findings are discussed on these pages are rigorous enough still to expose a measurable dynamic flaw or two with most open-top conversions, but so convincing was this car’s response to them that you could simply transpose them onto the test sheet of the 600LT coupé and still be seriously impressed.

Great, at times, on track, but nothing short of sublime on the road

In that respect, this car makes a strong case for a glowing five-star score. But judged instead simply as one of a pair of near-enough indecipherable 600LT siblings, our road test jury had just enough reservation to hold back a little bit of that maximum credit.

The 675LT left you in absolutely no doubt about the extra level of oft-imposing, always rewarding driver appeal that the Longtail brand stands for. While the 600LT offers a similar upgrade on track purpose, its overall driver appeal, as unearthed by this test, is considerable – but isn’t quite so transformed.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Mclaren

Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017 and like all road testers is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests and performance benchmarking, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found presenting on Autocar's YouTube channel.

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

McLaren 600LT Spider 2018-2020 First drives