Brilliant generation of baby Maccas bows out with GT4-inspired road racer

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For an organisation that breathes genuine motorsport credibility into every product it makes, something like the 620R ought to be an automatic home run.

McLaren the racing team existed some 22 years before McLaren Cars was formed to deliver the F1 road car and some 47 years before McLaren Automotive, as we now know it, arrived. So not only is the new 620R a supercar built in the typically racy modern McLaren mould, being mid-engined, carbonfibre-tubbed and equipped with a 3.8-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine and dual-clutch automatic gearbox, but it’s also one actually intended to function as an entry-level trackday product for very serious and deep-pocketed enthusiasts.

A lack of isolation positions the 620R between a Porsche 911 GT3 RS and a Radical RXC on the road. It’s noisier and feistier, just, than a Ford GT. With earplugs, I could put up with it – but I’d need to be on the way to a circuit to justify it.

This small and very specialised corner of the market is one in which the British marque should excel, with its current customer and works racing programmes in the GT4 and GT3 classes and, of course, the lifelong preoccupation with Formula 1.

But what exactly is the 620R, besides being the all-guns-blazing finale of the current McLaren Sports Series range, before these excellent ‘junior’ supercars are replaced by the new generation of V6 plug-in hybrids that are expected to be announced early next year?

The inference could be that the 620R is simply a straight road-legal version of the 570S GT4 racing car, which costs £180,000 for the car itself plus another £160,000 or so for six rounds competing on some of Europe’s most famous circuits. Does, then, the 620R homologate the GT4? (Not likely, as it has been released well after the racer.) Or is it merely an exhilarating, track-honed car that’s also happy on the road? McLaren’s answer to the Porsche 911 GT3 RS and Ferrari 488 Pista, if you will.

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Is it, in fact, really a road car? The official answer is that the 620R is, in fact, a street-legal 570S GT4, built for no other reason (beyond the obvious commercial one) than the thrill of it. What we’ll now discover is what exactly that means, and whether this car does enough to distance itself as a driver’s car from the already sensational 600LT.

The McLaren Sports Series range at a glance

The 620R represents an end point for McLaren’s Sports Series range of cars.

Over the years, the portfolio of available models has swollen to be fairly comprehensive, with track-focused 600LT models offered alongside the more luxurious and comfortable 570GT. There are a number of convertible variants, too, based around the standard 570S and 600LT.

A next-generation model with a new V6 hybrid powertrain will be along in the very near future to replace the Sports Series range.

Price £250,000 Power 611bhp Torque 457lb ft 0-60mph 3.2sec 30-70mph in fourth 5.6sec Fuel economy 17.8mpg CO2 emissions 278g/km 70-0mph 41.9m

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2 McLaren 620R 2021 road test review hero side

The 620R is built around the firm’s carbonfibre Monocell II tub. In that respect, it’s unlike the McLaren 720S and the latest Ultimate Series cars (which use the bigger, stiffer Monocage tub) but like the McLaren GT and, fairly obviously, the 570S. Like all modern McLaren road cars thus far, it has a twin-turbocharged V8 between the driver and the rear axle line. But from this point on, the differences between this end-of-the-line special and the rest of the Sports Series portfolio are many, various and significant.

While the 570S GT4 car’s 3.8-litre ‘M838TE’ engine is limited by strict competition regulations to an output of just 430bhp, it’s uncorked in the 620R to hitherto unprecedented levels. In this application, it makes 611bhp at 7250rpm and 457lb ft between 3500rpm and 6500rpm.

Bonnet scoops are about downforce, not cooling. They make the front splitter work harder, reducing pressure at the windscreen base and cleaning up airflow over the car onto the rear wing. There’s up to 185kg of downforce at 150mph.

This uplift in output comes courtesy of reworked ECU and turbocharger management and makes the 620R the most powerful version of McLaren’s lower-level model family of this generation. It does, however, leave it some way behind key rivals, both front- and rear-engined, for outright firepower.

A seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox transmits that power to the road, as do centre-lock forged alloy wheels of staggered sizes and specially developed Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R tyres. To give a genuine race car experience, McLaren also offers a set of racing slicks for track use as an option. We were offered the opportunity to fit these to our test car, but the rules of the Autocar road test dictate road-legal rubber is used throughout. Carbon-ceramic discs, with vacuum pump and brake booster technology derived from the McLaren Senna, help haul the 620R to a stop.

Suspension hardware has also been carried over from the GT4 car. The 620R makes use of the same lightweight, two-way manually adjustable coil-over dampers, which have 32 settings for bump and rebound. Meanwhile, the front and rear wishbones – shared with the 600LT and 720S – and uprights are fashioned from aluminium, while the spring rates and anti-roll bars are considerably stiffer than they are on either a 570S or a 600LT. Stainless steel suspension top mounts replace the regular rubber ones for sharper steering response and better feel.

The car’s massive, adjustable rear wing, along with the aggressive front splitter, bumper and bonnet, have been adapted from those used on the GT4 car to meet road car regulations.

Aerodynamic air ducting in the bonnet – like that seen on the Ferrari 488 Pista – helps clean the airflow over the top of the car and aid downforce, as do prominent dive planes just ahead of the front wheels. All told, the 620R can develop 185kg of downforce at 150mph.

Our test car also came equipped with the £25,000 R Pack. Along with a string of visual modifications, including a glossy exposed carbonfibre finish on many of the car’s panels, this adds a titanium SuperSports exhaust and a prominent carbonfibre roof scoop.

We weighed the 620R at 1470kg on our scales, making it 5kg heavier than the 600LT Spider we road tested in 2019, even though the latter had McLaren’s optional Luxury Pack fitted – a telling disappointment. Our 620R test car had plenty of fripperies you might not choose in yours, including a Bowers & Wilkins audio system and sat-nav, but clearly not all of the car’s modifications are net weight-reducers.


13 McLaren 620R 2021 road test review cabin

The process of swinging open the 620R’s dramatic dihedral door and then lowering yourself down into its cabin isn’t a straightforward, flattering or comfortable one.

The side sills of the car’s tub are wide and fairly tall, so you lift your leg over and step your foot down onto a footwell floor that’s been liberated of its carpets – only to find, with the potential for even more discomfort, that floor can be quite slippery.

Extended carbonfibre shift paddles look right at home and feel excellent. Their rigid one-piece design means you can upshift and downshift with either hand

All being well, you then pivot and lower your backside down onto the hard, narrow edge of the fixed-backrest carbonfibre racing seat that has been lifted straight out of the McLaren Senna hypercar, before finally swinging your right leg inboard and dropping down into the chair properly. It’s not a routine you’ll wish to repeat any more than necessary, but once inside you’re greeted by a driving environment that’s simple and superbly purposeful.

The driving position is exceptional. McLaren’s typically thin-rimmed, Alcantara-upholstered steering wheel sits directly in front of you and can easily be drawn in close to your chest. The infotainment, starter button and control knobs for the powertrain and chassis settings are all right where you need them to be, thanks to Woking’s foresight in raising the car’s transmission tunnel console for ease of access.

The low dashboard and scuttle afford excellent forward visibility, although the large rear wing does impede the view backwards somewhat. Elsewhere, the racing seats that make ingress and egress so challenging now offer indefatigable support and are surprisingly comfortable over distance.

Regular inertia-reel seatbelts were accompanied by the provision of six-point harnesses in our test car, while bright-red fabric pulls mean you can still just reach up to close those upward-opening doors once you’ve fastened yourself in.

As the base of the chair sits so close to the ground, the 620R offers plenty of head room. We measured 960mm of space, which isn’t quite comparable to what you’d find in, say, a Volkswagen Polo, but all apart from the tallest adults will fit in comfortably even with a helmet on.

That’s not something you can say of all closed-cockpit, road-legal racers. The centre console houses a number of small but deep trays that are ideal for keys, although the harsh vibrations that buzz through the chassis from the engine bay and up from the road do mean such things rattle about noisily on the move.

There are netted storage pockets in the doors, too, but even so, if the car were yours, you’d travel with any loose items kept safe – and quiet – in a bag in the usefully sized front boot.

McLaren 620R infotainment and sat-nav

The 620R comes with McLaren’s old 7.0in infotainment screen, but this doesn’t include sat-nav or an audio system as standard. A track telemetry suite with lap timer is about the extent of the system’s functionality. McLaren will add navigation and a stereo as no-cost options. The same goes for air conditioning.

Our test car had the Iris navigation suite, and an uprated Bowers & Wilkins sound system had also been fitted, at a cost of £3640. The mapping graphics are really pretty basic, and the system can take a while to respond to your inputs. The screen’s small, slightly fiddly digital keyboard means entering a destination address can be a bit of a challenge, too.

The system is otherwise easy enough to learn, and the presence of Bluetooth connectivity, DAB radio and a smattering of USB ports bring some home comforts to the 620R’s cabin. The Bowers & Wilkins system did, however, seem out of place in a car as track-focused and noisy on the move as this.


21 McLaren 620R 2021 road test review engine cover

The 620R would feel very fast wherever you’d be likely to drive it, but it does need heat in its Pirelli tyres, and a dry surface on which to operate, to assuredly get its ears pinned back.

It’s the kind of car that ought to come with a spare set of wheels fitted with rubber intended for road driving in the cold and the wet because, even though they’re road-legal, those standard Trofeo Rs don’t cope well with either. The irony is that owners may already be budgeting for that spare set of rims anyway, but expecting to keep McLaren’s track-only slick tyres wrapped around them instead. The most sensible thing would probably be to have standard P Zero road tyres on one set and the full track-only slicks fitted to the other.

Not really my cup of tea on the road, but once you’ve got some heat in the tyres, the 620R is phenomenally good on track. I can’t see many owners using theirs for anything else.

The 620R holds only a very slender 19bhp advantage over a 600LT, though. We’ve seen considerably less purposeful supercars from the likes of Ferrari and Lamborghini record markedly faster acceleration figures over the past few years, simply by virtue of having greater firepower – as well, admittedly, as the benefit of slightly better test conditions in which to show what they can do.

On a fairly chilly test track surface, the 620R was actually 0.3sec slower from 0-60mph than the 600LT Spider we road tested last year and needed a couple more tenths to cover a standing quarter mile. It might have gone a tenth or two faster in a warmer ambient temperature, but it would still most likely have struggled to put clear air between itself and the supposedly lesser LT until well past 100mph, at which point its longer spells operating near to peak power in higher gears finally begin to tell.

It isn’t the magnitude of this car’s performance that makes it feel unique, then, nearly so much as the delicious savagery of its texture and feel. Rigid engine mountings and that roof-mounted air intake combine to make the sensory experience of driving this car wonderfully raw and visceral. That factor, combined with the more laggy and boosty delivery of this version of Woking’s V8 than we’re now used to from bigger and pricier McLarens (it needs to spin beyond 3500rpm before really taking off), makes for high drama indeed.

That 3.8-litre motor actually makes the upper harness straps of the driver’s seat vibrate across the tops of your shoulders as it passes about 5000rpm, and other cabin fixtures buzz and zing menacingly at different crankshaft speeds. It’s seriously noisy, then, and every bit as raucous as the McLaren Senna’s V8 was. It’s still not exactly tuneful, though, but definitely more enigmatic to listen to than ever before, not least thanks to the rushing and fluttering of air being gulped through the roof intake.


23 McLaren 620R 2021 road test review hero nose

McLaren may claim that there’s still plenty that separates the mechanical specification of this car’s suspension from that of a 570S GT4 racer, but you simply won’t believe there could be, having driven it.

The particular settings that were dialled into the manually adjustable coil-overs of our test car made it the stiffest-feeling McLaren road car we’ve tested so far. It’s stiffer even than a McLaren Senna, most testers agreed, and a car of very present and occasionally imposing purpose even when simply driven from A to B.

A firm set-up means the 620R corners with virtually no body roll and little fore or aft movement when braking or accelerating, but it remains tactile and engaging to drive

On the road, the 620R is super-taut and level. It doesn’t seem to roll through corners in any way whatsoever and shifts very little of its weight longitudinally under heavy braking or acceleration. As such, this could be a hard chassis to read and get on terms with at road speeds were it not for a steering rack that hits particularly rare heights even by McLaren’s high standards.

The 620R’s steering could so easily have felt aggressive and hyperactive over uneven roads – but no. Instead it remains sensibly, intuitively paced.

It telegraphs grip level and contact patch feel more clearly than almost any new car with numberplates there is, save perhaps an Ariel Atom or Lotus Exige. And while it does react a little bit more to bump and camber than McLaren steering systems generally tend to do, it isn’t the kind of tiller you need to hold straight with both hands as if it belonged to a Dallara Stradale or a street-legal Radical. You can relax at the wheel of this car on the road and simply enjoy what’s going on around you – and that would make a big difference to how often you’d be inclined to drive it.

Such stiffly tuned race-bred cars sometimes lack inherent handling balance at normal road speeds, but the 620R doesn’t. Its handling agility fluctuates a little depending on tyre temperature – like so much else about it – but the car is both enormously grippy and really directionally precise when the Trofeo Rs are up to temperature. And in fact, the process of switching those tyres on and then keeping them warm ends up being just another engaging facet of a vividly involving driving experience.

Despite having a chilly and in places damp handling circuit on which to run, the 620R matched the lap time set last year by the 600LT in drier conditions. We can only guess at how much quicker it might have gone on another day, but the answer is likely to be at least half a second.

The car’s unflinching stability and iron resistance to body movement make it so easy to gauge the grip level of the tyres. Driving right up to that level takes physical effort, but it’s mentally absorbing as well. It’s as if every bit of cornering energy is transmitted laterally into the car’s tyre sidewalls rather than being lost vertically into the suspension, and every bit of braking energy goes straight into the tyre carcasses and the carbon-ceramic discs rather than being soaked up by body movement.

The 620R doesn’t feel quite as powerful under braking as the Senna did, but the discs do somehow generate an intriguing second wind once you get properly into the pedal, and they resist fade interminably.

Comfort and isolation

If the 620R was intended to be comfortable enough that you could drive it to your chosen circuit for a track day and then drive home again afterwards, it’s probably just about refined and habitable enough.

Body control is exceptionally tight and the ride is undoubtedly firm, but the suspension isn’t so unyielding that this McLaren is totally incapable of breathing with more gently undulating roads. But while there is a limited amount of compliance here, the 620R is still nowhere near as fluent over long-wave inputs as Woking’s habitual standard for on-road ride comfort.

High-frequency, short-wave inputs are rather more gruelling, as are any ruts or bumps that the 620R’s forged alloy wheels might happen to run over. With, in effect, no sound-deadening materials, suspension noise is particularly conspicuous in such instances. At lower speeds in particular, you really do feel the force of these impacts, and you will find yourself much more inclined to drive around drains and manhole covers than wince as you clout over them.

It’s noisy at a cruise. Rolling on those Trofeo Rs, the 620R generates a considerable amount of road roar at motorway speeds. Air constantly whistles down the roof-mounted air intake and around the rear wing like wind blowing through the branches of a dead tree. Engine noise is persistent, and you can hear stones pinging loudly off the underbody. At 70mph, our microphone put cabin noise at 79dB, making it just 2dB quieter than a Senna.


McLaren 620R 2021 road test review - hero front

The 620R starts at £250,000 even before you add the MSO-developed R Pack, which, among aesthetic elements, adds a titanium SuperSports exhaust and a functional roof scoop, all for an extra £25,000.

Compared with, say, the outgoing 911 GT3 RS, which cost around £140,000 when released in 2018, the McLaren is expensive. It is, though, limited to just 255 examples and arguably goes further than either Porsche’s GT3 RS or the pricier GT2 RS in its adoption of race-car technologies. Both the 488 Pista and the recently announced Lamborghini Huracán STO – perhaps the 620R’s closest spiritual rival – cost around £250,000, so in fairness McLaren has considered its market sensibly.

620R is forecast to retain 54% of its original value after three years, versus 49% for the Lamborghini Huracan EVO and 39% for the AMG GT R Pro

In terms of the day-to-day running of the car, it’s worth noting that if you go for the manually adjustable track-spec suspension, you lose the nose lift function, which in our experience is worth having for any McLaren likely to see speed bumps more than very infrequently.

Servicing, meanwhile, despite the car’s GT4 pedigree, is no different from that of any other series-production McLaren, with maintenance intervals of around 9000 miles or 15 months, whichever is sooner. Lastly, McLaren does not include any track support with the 620R, although the car is regarded as an excellent starting point in which to explore the brand’s Pure track driving programme, which involves professional coaching and hospitality at many of the best circuits in the world. All for a price, naturally.

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25 McLaren 620R 2021 road test review static

The idea of a road-going McLaren that genuinely has been derived from a racing car is an intriguing idea. Even the very quickest and most powerful supercars typically have grip and track purpose eked into them, rather than gradually taken away until they become just palatable enough to use away from the circuit.

Woking has given us ‘GTR’ track-only versions of road-legal products several times now, but the 620R represents a new approach. Or it does, at least, for McLaren.

Leaves a little to chance. Spectacularly raucous and raw, though

The trouble is, with that kind of departure point, you set yourself against huge expectations because nothing but blockbusting, unprecedented performance and track pace will really do. During our test, it was the 620R’s inability to go much beyond the measurable dynamic potential of other Sports Series McLarens that made us question its effectiveness as a product – although we didn’t do so very often.

For the price, you’ve got a right to expect very special things of this car. Subjectively it meets that expectation with room to spare, even if objectively the margin between this and a 600LT is perhaps a little too narrow for comfort.

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Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

McLaren 620R First drives