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  • Writer's pictureAndy Pilgrim

First Drive: 2019 McLaren 600LT Knocks Our Socks Off

Latest McLaren proves the company is on the right track

A trip to Hungary lurked on my bucket list for some time, so it was fitting and exciting when I this month got the call to drive the new 2019 McLaren 600LT at the Hungaroring, the country's Formula 1 circuit.

The LT designation stands for "Longtail" and goes back to the original 1990s McLaren F1 road car. McLaren in 1997 produced an updated race car version of the F1, designated the F1 GTR Longtail. I remember being on the track at Le Mans in '97 at the same time as the Longtail GTRs—stunningly beautiful race cars with an amazing-sounding V-12 motor.

The 675LT and 675LT Spider are, until now, the most recent versions of McLaren Longtail. They had low-volume 500-unit production runs, selling out in just two months and three weeks, respectively.

In the new 600LT's case, "Longtail" literally means a 1.9-inch longer tail/rear than found on the McLaren 570S coupe on which it is based. The 600LT will have a production run of 12 months; if you don't have your order in already, you might be a tad late. Maybe eBay is in order for the procrastinators.

As journalists hung around the Hungaroring waiting to get on the track, I heard several people opine that the 600LT looks so similar to the 570S and the 675, as if this wasn't a good thing. No doubt, the 600LT does look similar to those other McLaren models. But doesn't a Porsche 911 Carrera look a lot like a Porsche 911 Turbo, or even a Cayman from certain angles? Don't various Ferraris? A similarity of design practice hasn't hurt those companies as they continue to produce new models with only slightly different form and function.

One of the LTs I tested included 17 pay-to-play options, adding just more than $80,000 to the $242,500 base price. I asked one of the McLaren communications folks about the plethora of options found on all the launch event's 600LTs. "We wanted to show cars including the options most of our buyer's request," came the response. "Virtually nobody buys a base McLaren, the more option choices we give them the more people can make it their very own 600LT." There's not much of an answer to that explanation, apart from, "OK then, $80k for options, got it."

As far as design, you won't find many members of the Automobile staff who are huge fans of the 570S's rear end. The back of the 600LT is a nice improvement, particularly when it has the optional Rear Bumper (fender) Aero Fins. They define the extremities nicely and look quite racy. Those Aero Fins come as part of the $7,500 Gloss Visual Carbon Fiber Exterior Upgrade Pack 2. (Yes, that is the name.) Another part of the "many words Pack 2 option" are slick looking side skirts with aero winglets. Combining the LT's 0.3-inch lower ride height with the carbon aero options gives the car a seductively menacing stance.

While on track, we were assigned professional driver coaches in the right seat. This was really helpful, as you never get many laps during these events and I had never seen the Hungaroring in person. My U.K.-based coach was Jamie Wall, also a professional racer and competitor during recent years. Riding in the passenger street around a racetrack with a stranger at the wheel takes a lot of nerve, and Wall's pointers got me up to speed in no time. So big thanks to him for letting me run as hard as I needed to in order to get the most out of my track time.

The Hungaroring is a really great racetrack with plenty of places to pass (well, maybe not in F1 cars), something that is always a prerequisite for me to enjoy a circuit. It features 14 turns, with several blind corner entries due to walls or topography. The most fun/adrenaline-pumping corner for me was the quick left hand Turn 4, comprising a blind turn-in at more than 90 mph while cresting a hill, making car positioning critical. Great stuff.

McLaren's have always felt like they pull unusually hard at more than 80 mph. When I first drove the McLaren MP4-12C back in 2012, the acceleration rate past 80 seemed to defy its 593 hp. I felt the same thing when first driving the 562-hp 570S about three years ago when I was following a 660-hp Ferrari 488 GTB in a 570S for our Automobile All-Stars test. I lost almost no ground to the Ferrari during several roll-on acceleration runs, so I've always put McLaren acceleration down to the company knowing a shed load about slippery aero coefficients.

Another reason McLaren's accelerate so fast is because they don't create the kind of downforce we see in cars like the new Corvette ZR1 or Porsche 911 RS models. If you add all the fancy aero bits to a 600LT, it produces 221 pounds of downforce at 155 mph. For comparison, the latest RS Porsches produce around 420 pounds (GT2 RS) and 500 pounds (GT3 RS) at the same speed. In real world driving terms, the only place I could legitimately compare the downforce or grip difference between a ZR1 or 911 RS and this LT, assuming equal tires at the limit of adhesion, would be in corners that are quicker than 80 mph—which would/should put me on a racetrack.

McLaren knew what it was doing by initially putting us on the track in a 570S. After a few sighting laps, it was straight into the 600LT. I immediately felt an increase in driver connection compared to the 570S. Steering inputs were "right now," and both straight-line braking and trail braking modulation were much improved, enabled by McLaren Senna-inspired brake boost technology. Added to that was measurably more stick from the Pirelli P-Zero Trofeo R tires (225/35R19 front, 285/35R20 rear). These sticky donuts are a no-cost option on the LT.

Extra lateral grip from the Trofeo Rs made me appreciate the super-lightweight carbon seats. They held me in place perfectly and were very comfortable. If I think back to 2012 and my first drive in an MP4-12C, I see how far McLaren has come. In my mind, the 600LT has the most useable and finely finished interior I've seen so far in a McLaren, and it is a really pleasant place to spend driving time.

The Hungaroring has all kinds of fun corners: long 180-degree "patience" turns, 55-mph sliders, nasty blind off-camber entries, and a "Where did it go, George?" 90-mph flick through a kink. Definitely not boring. Serious speeds really only occur on the front straight, where the LT's 3.8 Liter twin-turbo (593-hp, 457 lb-ft) engine shoved me up to 160 mph. At which point panic and prudence forced my left foot to bury the brake pedal, as I bombed downhill into the very slow first corner. The huge carbon-ceramic discs do a good job of stretching seatbelts. Brake-rotor size is 15.35-inch front, 14.96-inch rear with aluminum six-piston front and four-piston rear calipers. When the rear tires got rather hot and slippery in the afternoon session, the superb modulation of the brakes allowed me to maintain speed and momentum. I could comfortably slide the LT's rear into apexes from what felt like a zip code away.

The first corner is probably the slowest turn on the track; a tight entry, followed by an immediately opening radius to exit. This second-gear turn showed-off the LT's acceleration, reading "really quick" on my derriere dyno. The LT has 30-hp more than a 570S, thanks to a sweet sounding top-exit exhaust system and recalibrated ECU, but I feel power is only half the story here.

McLaren showed us some impressive comparisons. If you consider the LT's relatively low weight (approximately 3,000 pounds as tested), along with its 592 hp, the following numbers make sense: The LT can out-accelerate a Lamborghini Huracan Performante (630 hp, 3,350 pounds) to 124 mph by 0.7 of a second (8.2 seconds for the 600LT, 8.9 for the Lambo). The LT even gains 0.2-second to 124 mph over the ballistic Ferrari 488 GTB (660 hp, 3,252 pounds). A 0-60-mph time of 2.8 seconds for the LT nips at the heels of a Porsche Turbo S, amazing for a two-wheel-drive vehicle. If you ever had any doubt, this all makes it rather apparent just how much weight matters.

The quick steering and chassis changes to the new car were central to differences in feel when jumping from a 570S to a 600LT. Here is why: LT springs are 13-percent stiffer in front and 34-percent stiffer in the rear, while hollow antiroll bars on the LT are 50-percent stiffer in the front and 25-percent stiffer in the rear. Add to that some lighter suspension pieces, recalibrated adaptive dampers, the lower ride height, and an overall weight savings of 212 pounds compared to the 570S. All these changes come together very nicely, making the LT a pure pleasure to rip around the Hungaroring and capable of pegging any driver's giggle meter.

Deliveries begin in October, and the 2019 600LT is apparently selling like Starbucks coffee at a chess tournament. If you are one of the lucky ones waiting on your delivery, sleep soundly: good things are on the way.

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