From £750,0009
Woking’s new model is designed to be the 'ultimate road-legal track car', with performance that bests every McLaren to date

What is it?

It’s the McLaren Senna, and it’s quite a serious proposition. “We wanted to create the ultimate road-legal track car,” says Andy Palmer (no, the other one), McLaren’s Ultimate Series director. It’s a carbonfibre tubbed, 789bhp, £750,000 track-focused car.

There will be 500 of them, fully homologated as a series production car for worldwide sale (the ones we’ve driven are still, technically, prototypes). It happens to make 789bhp, or 800hp, and an accompanying 800kg of downforce at 155mph. Hence the rear wing and the rest of the – shall we say – ‘challenging’ looks?

A Senna won’t take long to reach the 155mph McLaren measures downforce at, either. McLaren is usually accurate with its acceleration quotes: it says 0-60mph takes 2.7sec, 0-124mph 6.8sec and 0-186mph just 17.5sec. The top speed is 211mph. You can add to the three-quarter million pound price quite easily too, via a visit to McLaren Special Operations (MSO) for bespoke extras.

Virtually all customers will have done so for this Ultimate Series car, although don’t take that description too literally: there’ll be a further 75 track-only GTR Sennas; lighter, more powerful again. And then presumably somebody like Lanzante will do a roadgoing version of that.

Another, perhaps even more significant, number is the 1198kg the Senna weighs (before fluids). The previous Ultimate Series McLaren, the P1, weighed 1395kg in similar trim, owing to its hybrid tech. The current 720S weighs 1283kg dry.

What's it like?

The Senna, visibly larger than a McLaren 720S because of its aerodynamic addenda, uses a chassis developed from the 720S. The Senna’s carbonfibre ‘Monocage III’ passenger cell – the strongest yet used in a McLaren road car – has been both strengthened and lightened, particularly around the rear bulkhead, where additional material eats into rear visibility. Or it would if you could see much past the wing anyway. Visibility forwards, though, is good for a car like this. You can even specify glass panels in the doors. They add a bit of weight but, well, it never hurts to see too much. At low speeds they help place the Senna in car parks, or next to kerbs.

This can still be a pretty intimidating car. There are the statistics, such as 660bhp per tonne, there’s the appearance of it, and there’s the fact that if you specify a six-point harness, you can’t reach the door to pull it shut once it’s fastened. It’s immaculate yet overwhelming; a concept made real. Not unlike, say, an Aston Martin Vulcan, a project born from a similar ethos: ‘We put our all into it, and you buy it to enjoy it'.

The rest of the Senna’s interior is less flamboyant than the Vulcan’s, or the McLaren P1’s. It’s all naked carbonfibre, naturally, but with fewer outlandish curves. It’s more straightforward, more racy.

But there are very ‘McLaren’ touches. Because McLaren fits sensible steering wheels to all of its cars, this one gets the same. The McLaren 720S’s digital instrument binnacle, which can be upright with a big, clear layout, or lowered for a minimal one (as in the 720S; I prefer it raised), is replicated, and so too are the basics of the driving position, albeit in a massively sculpted, fixed-back, carbonfibre seat. Some dials are attached to it and slide with it. The brake pedal is central so you can pick which foot to stop with, and the steering wheel is hugely adjustable. If you can’t find a purposeful driving position here, I doubt you’ll find one anywhere. For all of the intimidation you might feel initially, for all that it looks like no other McLaren, it at least feels like one.

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It does when you’re rolling too. As on other McLarens, there are different driving modes for chassis and powertrain. Thus far we’ve had a very short stint on the track, and a longer go on largely boring roads.

On the road, it pays to leave the suspension in its softest setting, in which it rides firmly but with a suppleness allowed by the linked hydraulic suspension, and turn up the powertrain by a notch, and take control of the gear changes yourself.

Left in Automatic mode, the twin-clutch gearbox tries to lug things out at low revs, which causes the 4.0-litre V8 to grumble and resonate through the carbonfibre chassis, which echoes like stiff, hollow sections sometimes can. Carbonfibre or big-tube aluminium bicycles are similar: very stiff, but quite loud.

Ask a bit more of it and you get an idea of the Senna’s latent potency. Each litre makes around 200bhp, so you’d expect that it feels a bit boosty, and incredibly rapid. On the road you never get more than a few seconds of the hit, the merest hint of what it’s ultimately capable of, backed by the rawness of stonechips thwacking the underside of the chassis. Compared to a regular 720S, it’s like a Land Rover Defender versus a Discovery: you can use both, they do a similar thing, but to different extremes. The Senna’s steering is still lovely, there’s a rounded edge to the ride, and it’s still rewarding, but road driving isn’t really what it’s about.

The Senna really comes to life on a circuit. Popping the car into Race mode lowers the Senna by 50mm and, thanks to underfloor wizardry, is responsible for creating 60% of the car’s total downforce. There are active aero elements front and rear, including a 20deg variance in the rear wing angle. And this is the kind of approach that begets walloping lap times: add power, forget hybridisation, take out a load of weight and add aero. It’s why the Lamborghini Huracán Performante laps faster than any of the famed hypercar trio: LaFerrariPorsche 918 and McLaren’s own P1. And why a McLaren 675 LT would be as quick around the same circuit as a P1, for example.

And now, the Senna eclipses that. By a distance.

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It has, as standard, a new compound and design of Pirelli Trofeo tyre (you can get more ordinary Pirellis as a no-cost option), which mean it can pull 0.3g (10mph) more than a 720S in high-speed corners and 0.2g (5mph) in lower speed ones. A P1 is, typically, ‘merely’ around 0.2g and 0.1g quicker than a 720S respectively.

And then there are the Senna’s going and stopping credentials. That power is up by 9% over the 720S doesn’t sound like a lot, but to try it on circuit is to whack into the soft rev limiter repeatedly, rather than never get there, as you do on the road. It’s odd: there are cars with half of the Senna’s 789bhp where you’d hesitate to extend your throttle foot. But there’s such a smoothness and reassurance in the Senna’s delivery that it’s easy to trust it.

McLaren’s approach to the transmission is as it usually is: that V8 drives the back wheels only, through a dual-clutch automatic gearbox. McLaren knows its way around this power unit (or different units, it would say, because of the many internal differences) to the extent that using it is as straightforward as in a 570S, only turned up to warp speed. It’s nothing like, say, a similarly powered Ferrari F12tdf or Aston Martin Vulcan in that respect. You want to use 789bhp? Just have it. Oh, there’s the soft limiter. Click a paddle and help yourself to another 789bhp.

If there’s a more approachable car with this level of power, I haven’t driven it, so the engine isn’t what is shocking about the Senna.

Nor is it the hydraulically assisted steering, which is responsive yet smooth, deadly accurate and feelsome, and perhaps the best power steering set-up in existence today. And neither is it the low-speed cornering, during which the Senna feels to the 720S like a Lotus 2-Eleven does to an Lotus Elise.

The intrinsic McLaren character is there: the incisive turn-in, the accuracy with which it can be placed, the resistance to roll and yet the compliance over bumps, but it’s all amplified on account of the weight reduction.

You feel that so very, very much – much more than the power. If you were given the choice of more power or less weight, one corner would be enough for you to pick the weight loss, every time. But all of this comes in a faintly reassuring character that you can feel in every McLaren from the 540C upwards.

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Mclaren senna 2018 uk fd prior driving

Should I buy one?

Well, two a day are currently in production and deliveries have already started, so if you want one, I’m afraid you’re rather late. In fact, they picked who’d be allowed one a while ago. But is this – the same character of chassis, of transmission, of engine, of handling – a problem?

One ex-chief exec of a rival supercar maker once said he thought it might be: “I couldn’t sell the same kind of sausage,” he said, “and charge twice as much for one that was only 10% longer than another.” He hasn’t since left to become a butcher, but I knew what he meant. But the McLaren Senna steers around this accusation in two ways.

One is its faintly astonishing corner speeds, and specifically the fabulous high-speed stability. It is so absurdly reassuring and stable – yet still wildly exciting – that you will drive it faster and faster and feel like you want to drive it faster and faster again. Like GT-spec 911s, it feels like it has the integrity to be thrashed day after day while you learn more about it and yourself. The second thing is the way it stops. It’s a bit of a cliché to talk about the way track or race cars brake – single-seaters are the bomb in this respect – but I’ve never known anything with more than one seat that brakes like the Senna.

McLaren reckons it can stop from 124mph in 100 metres – 16m less than a P1. But that doesn’t really mean anything until you learn that you can stand, as hard as you possibly can, on the brake pedal, from high speed, and it sheds speed like it has driven into a vat of treacle.

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Ultimately it’s those two things – and they are addictive, significant things – that take the Senna from being another, faster McLaren and turn it into another kind of McLaren. One that might just be the world’s fastest production road car. For how long? Aston Martin and Mercedes-AMG will be along presently.

McLaren Senna specification

Where Silverstone and France Price £750,000 On sale Now Engine V8, 3999cc, twin turbocharged, petrol Power 789bhp at 7250rpm Torque 590lb ft at 5500-6700rpm Gearbox 7-spd twin-clutch automatic Weight 1198kg (dry) Top speed 211mph 0-62mph 2.7sec Rivals Aston Martin Valkyrie, Mercedes-AMG Project One

18 Mclaren senna prototype drive cornering front 0

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Join the debate

Add a comment…
ghostrider 12 November 2018

Top Speed Car in the World

I love the McLaren Senna, can't wait for it to come to the game, but please no more narrow streets. Here you can read top fastest cars in the Word 2019.

Einarbb 22 August 2018

Even though it can be driven on the road

As only fraction of it's potential in evidence can be exploited on a road - this is probably more about, driving it between cuircuits or from home to a cuircuit to have some fund and back home. Home naturally being an expensively outfitted garage. 

Peter Cavellini 22 August 2018

Look at it this way....@

Einarbb@, look at it this way, you buy the Car,sorry, in this case your invited to buy a Car, your chosen to be offered one, right?, you wait patiently for however long it takes to screw one together and paint it in your own personal choice of color, finally it’s arrived, your new Toy to go in your play box/Garage, you drive it of and on in the first year, then, you see the next raved on about Supercar, you decide to sell your Senna, and do you know what?’ll probably make money on it!, yeah! motoring!, the profit will cover all your expenses for the Senna last year! Plus a little left over, now tell me that’s not bad.

john2219 21 August 2018

Senna this, Senna that...

..I am sick of hearing about that guy, they should have called it the Nigel Or the Mansell, the i would be be all over it.