Undiminished track prowess and fresh-air theatre put the Spider in a class of one

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There have been quite a few headlines circling around McLaren of late.

Rumour and tetchy counter-rumour about its future have combined with the recent departure of its CEO to fill the air with some degree of intrigue and suspicion. But away from front-page news stories, the brand has simply been trying to get on with the straightforward business of being a car company and adding to its ever-increasing model line-up.

As with the fixed-head model, production of the Spider will be limited to just 765 examples, all of which have already been spoken for.

With the eagerly anticipated Artura on hold, next in line for an unveiling is the 765 LT Spider, the drop-top version of the flagship of its track-hardened Long Tail line-up. Claimed to be the fastest convertible the brand has ever produced, it also promises to add an extra dollop of driver engagement, which, given how immersive and synapse-snapping the coupé has already proved to be, is quite some statement of intent.

Mechanically, the Spider-flavoured 765 LT is largely identical to the fixed-head model, with the same 755bhp twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 and suspension set-up that features a wider front track, lower ride height, bespoke springs and dampers and unique mapping for the interlinked hydraulic active damping system.

The biggest change, obviously, is the addition of the powered folding hard-top, which can have you up close and personal with the elements in just 11 seconds. There is a weight penalty for the roof, but thanks to its carbonfibre construction it weighs just 49kg, and at 1388kg all-in the LT is still 80kg lighter than an equivalently open-aired McLaren 720S.

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Such is the rigidity of the car’s carbonfibre structure that very little retuning was required for any of the hardware. In fact, the most significant alteration has been to the calibration of the car’s trademark active rear spoiler, which now has different angle-of-attack strategies to deal with the differing aero pressures from having the roof opened or closed, which is kind of cool.

It all looks very promising on paper, but does it stack up? We’re sent out, roof up, onto the challenging Navara circuit in Spain to start with, and from where we’re sitting, slung low and legs outstretched in typical recumbent McLaren style, the differences between coupé and cabrio are as good as indiscernible. There’s the same deliciously precise and feelsome hydraulically assisted steering, plus the incredible grip and balance that allow you to push harder and faster with every lap. It feels every bit as ferociously fast, too – the LT’s extra grunt and the closely stacked intermediate ratios of its seven-speed transmission allowing it to gobble up straights with the rampant energy of a nuclear reactor experiencing thermal runaway.

As with the coupé, that wider front track promotes stronger turn-in bite for greater mid-corner rotation that allows you to alter your exit angle of dangle at will. You still need to be on your toes when the electronic safety nets are gradually lifted, but no other McLaren is quite as willing to play the fool.

Yet to really experience the Spider’s enhanced appeal, you need to exit the track, lower the roof and head out onto the road, where you can immerse yourself in the sights, smells and surround-sound backing track that all come as standard with alfresco motoring.

This 4.0-litre V8 has never been the most musical of performers, but when your ears are so much closer to its bespoke quad-exit titanium tailpipes, it’s hard not to smile – especially in Sport or Track mode, where the hard-edged mechanical blare is augmented with some theatrical pops and gurgles. You can even continue enjoying the aural onslaught when it’s raining, thanks to the ability to lower the small glass rear window at the touch of a button.

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Like the coupé, the ride is just the right side of unacceptably stiff for the road, but it’s also just as engaging and involving. Such is the connection between driver and machine that you don’t have to be driving the LT in extremis to enjoy its finely honed dynamics: the constant stream of messages being fed back to you even when pottering about act as a constant reminder that you are at the wheel of one of the finest driver’s cars to be wheeled out of Woking.

James Disdale

James Disdale
Title: Special correspondent

James is a special correspondent for Autocar, which means he turns his hand to pretty much anything, including delivering first drive verdicts, gathering together group tests, formulating features and keeping Autocar.co.uk topped-up with the latest news and reviews. He also co-hosts the odd podcast and occasional video with Autocar’s esteemed Editor-at-large, Matt Prior.

For more than a decade and a half James has been writing about cars, in which time he has driven pretty much everything from humble hatchbacks to the highest of high performance machines. Having started his automotive career on, ahem, another weekly automotive magazine, he rose through the ranks and spent many years running that title’s road test desk. This was followed by a stint doing the same job for monthly title, evo, before starting a freelance career in 2019. The less said about his wilderness, post-university years selling mobile phones and insurance, the better.