Choosing the best car I drove in 2018 wasn’t easy. It was mid-December – the season when every journalist is contractually obliged to churn out end-of-year lists – and I had whittled my top 10 down to two.
In the Lizard Green corner sat the Porsche 911 GT3 RS: a hardcore, limited-run special with more power, less weight and aggressive aero. In the Papaya Orange corner was the McLaren 600LT: a hardcore, limited-run special with… you get the idea. With Christmas deadlines looming, I plumped for the McLaren, despite only having tried it on-track. Now, after driving it on UK roads, I’m confident I made the right call.
The ‘Longtail’ (LT) name harks back to the Le Mans-winning McLaren F1 GTR, but the 600LT is the first junior ‘Sports Series’ McLaren to get the treatment. Some 23 percent of parts differ from a 570S, almost all of them focused on going faster. Its 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 is stoked to produce 600hp at 7,500rpm, while dry weight falls 100kg to just 1,247kg. Forged aluminium suspension and carbon-ceramic brakes are borrowed from the 720S, a fixed rear wing and racing-style diffuser help deliver 100kg of downforce at 155mph, and bespoke Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R tyres offer motorsport-grade adhesion. The upshot, says McLaren, is higher cornering speeds than the ‘Super Series’ 675LT – still the fastest car around the Top Gear track.
My first encounter with the 600LT takes place at the Hungaroring. A bona fide Formula One circuit near Budapest, it’s a fitting – if somewhat intimidating – place to test a track-tuned supercar. Still, needs must. I pull on a full-face helmet, swing the door upwards and slide into the ‘Senna seat’ – a thinly-padded carbon fibre shell. Like everything about the 600LT, it feels pared-back and ruthlessly functional. The engine idles fretfully, its stentorian throb echoing off the pit wall. My mirrors are clouded by shimmering heat haze from the top-exit exhausts. The marshal beckons me forward...
What follows is dizzyingly intense and dazzlingly brilliant. The McLaren serves up violent speed, joining the dots between apices with laser-like focus. Driven back-to-back with a 570S, every input feels more measured; its steering is immediate, body control is absolute and gear shifts are whipcrack-fast. Braking from 160mph at the end of the main straight, the ‘regular’ car goes light and loses composure; the LT stays flat and unflustered.
Unlike some supercars, the McLaren is sensibly sized for UK roads, with amazing forward visibility over its plunging scuttle.
Fast-forward six months to a country lane in deepest Sussex. The McLaren’s suspension, so taut and tenacious on a racetrack, feels firm and unflinching here, lacking the supple fluidity of a 720S. Thankfully, everything else about the 600LT is as fantastic as I remembered. It’s rabidly quick – every gap becomes an overtaking opportunity – yet lucid and engaging enough to be fun at sane speeds. I feel hard-wired into the car, concentrated but confident, the outside world going rapidly into reverse.
Unlike some supercars, the McLaren is sensibly-sized for UK roads, with amazing forward visibility over its plunging scuttle. It’s also docile and tractable around town, turning heads on the high street as effectively as any rival Aston Martin or Lamborghini. Be sure to opt for air conditioning and audio/navigation if you want a modicum of comfort, though: obsessive weight-saving means neither is standard. Best to see that £185,500 price tag as a starting point...
Porsche no longer sells the ‘991’ GT3 RS (although a new ‘992’ version is in the pipeline), while McLaren has recently doubled-down with the 600LT Spider – essentially the same car with a folding hard-top roof. Will that end up being the best driver’s car launched in 2019? Don’t bet against it.