McLaren 720S | PH Used Buying Guide10/30/2021
The 720S is the most complete supercar ever to leave Woking – now it's available for 911 Turbo money
By Tony Middlehurst / Sunday, October 31, 2021 / Loading comments
- Available for under £140,000
- 4.0-litre V8 petrol twin turbo, rear wheel drive
- Phenomenally, perhaps even stupidly, quick
- Superb ride, handling, and steering
- No IRIS infotainment troubles to blight your life
- Some issues with glass and suspension though
Search for a McLaren 720S here
Search for a McLaren 720S Spider here
When McLaren released the 650S in early 2014, it marked the beginning of a new era. Specifically, the Super Series era. Super Series cars sat above Sports Series cars like the 570S and below Ultimate Series destroyers like the P1.
Applied to the 650S, ‘Super’ seemed like a limp sort of word for what was a blazingly fast coupe with a 0-62mph time of three seconds dead, a standing quarter mile time of 10.5 seconds (at 139mph) and a top end of 207mph. Impressive stats by any standard, until McLaren itself established a whole new benchmark three years later at the 2017 Geneva show when the second Super Series generation was kicked off by the 720S (internal code P14). The new car was 91 per cent different to the 650. Its new and stronger carbon fibre Monocage II body structure was around 18kg lighter and, as the larger model number suggested, it had more power too from a stroked 4.0 litre M840T version of the previous car’s 3.8.
Anyone who had experienced the might of a 650S at full chat probably wouldn’t have put ‘more power needed’ into the 720S suggestions box but supercar expectations never go backwards, do they? Almost more impressive than the additional 70hp that McLaren packed into the 720’s new motor was the ability they gave it to handle that extra poke. Even though it was nearly 90kg heavier than the 1,330kg 650S, the 720S still managed to turn in better performance figures than its predecessor. The 0-60mph time dropped easily into the mystical two-second zone, 0-100mph came up in a frankly bonkers 5.6 seconds and 0-124 in 7.8, while the standing quarter mile time of 10.4sec was only 0.2sec slower than that of the underwear-moistening P1. Zero to 300km/h (186mph) was dealt with in under 20 seconds, while top speed was hoisted to 212mph. Because why not?
A 720S Spider version was launched at the end of 2018. Mechanically it was identical to the coupe and the tub chassis meant that no body stiffening changes were required either, but the retractable hardtop kit with its scaled-up Swiss watch raising/lowering mechanism did add nearly 50kg to the weight. Despite that, with no power shortage to worry about, there was no degradation in the 0-62mph time, which matched the coupe’s at 2.9sec.
Price-wise, the 650S was £195,000 new, with a £20k premium for the Spider. The equivalent starting price for the 720S coupe was £208,600. This eventually went up to just under £222,000 and just over £244,000 for the Spider. If you had cash to burn you could drop £335,000 on the MSO-tweaked but mechanically unaltered Velocity with carbon fibre aplenty and a very labour-intensive paint job.
Whichever 720 model you bought, it was a fair bit more expensive than the most obvious competition, principally the conventionally-chassised Ferrari 488 coupe at £184,000 (rising to £195,000, and £217,000 for the Spider), and Lamborghini’s £155,000 Huracan (£183,000 for the Spyder).
Then again, neither of those Italian offerings boasted the 720’s dihedral doors. Nor were they ‘hand assembled in a tranquil environment where creativity and excellence thrive’, words from the peculiarly written 720S brochure with all the excess full stops removed for easier reading. Most importantly, these rivals were both heavier and less powerful than the McLaren. One well respected UK magazine put the 720S at the very top of a list made up of luminaries including the Ferrari 488, Ford GT, and Lamborghini’s Aventador S and Huracan LP610-4.
Would you buy one on the strength of that, or are you not sure about what is after all still a relatively new brand in this unforgiving market? Time to delve deeper.
SPECIFICATION | MCLAREN 720S (2017-on)
Engine: 3,994cc, twin-turbo V8
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): [email protected],500rpm
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],500rpm
0-62mph: 2.9 secs
Top speed: 212mph
Weight: 1,419kg (1,468)
Wheels (in): 9 x 19 (f), 11 x 20 (r)
Tyres: 245/35 (f), 305/30 (r)
On sale: 2017 – on
Price new: £221,800 (Spider £244,300)
Price now: from £139,000
(720S Spider figures in brackets)
Note for reference: car weight and power data are hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it’s wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.
ENGINE & GEARBOX
The 720S’s dry-sumped M840T engine was a long-stroke 4.0 litre evolution of the 650S’s M838T 3.8-litre unit. Although the M840T was a V8, in normal McLaren tradition it was a flat-plane type so it wasn’t that special sound-wise, even with the £4,750 sports exhaust in place.
What was special, however, was the punishing weight of performance available once you had 4,000rpm or so on the tacho. Lighter pistons and conrods and easier-spinning titanium-alloy impellers in the 720S’s pair of electrically actuated twin-scroll turbochargers meant that lag was less noticeable than it had been in the 650S. At least, it was if you had the time and reflexes to notice anything much once the throttle was mashed. The Graziano 7-speed dual clutch auto gearbox served up soft changes at low speeds and lightning-fast ones when you were tramping on, with intelligent cog-dropping thrown in for good measure. McLaren said it was 45 per cent quicker than the 650S box.
The 720 was cleaner than the 650 on emissions too, returning two and a bit more miles per gallon on the combined cycle. 26.4mpg was very creditable for such shattering performance, but of course that would drop if you were brave enough to make anything like full use of that performance.
Aerodynamics twice as efficient as the 650S’s played a big part in keeping the engine cool and well fed with oxygen-rich cold air for combustion. Peering under the bodywork gave you a better insight into the lengths to which McLaren had gone to hide the aero within the overall design. That’s when you would see the massive radiator cowlings fitted just behind the cabin, designed to fire air straight into the rads with no leakage, along with the concealed doorskin channels and other little tricks including one to do with Carry On comedian Kenneth Williams which we’ll explain later.
Working on your own 720S was not something many owners did. If you needed to reset codes or warning lights a special key was required and using non-approved tools could invalidate your warranty. Fairly serious strip-downs were required for many jobs before you could even start to work on the target project, for example fitting a new exhaust. That reflected a design philosophy common among such highly focused cars where components lived in the best locations for driving rather than for ease of access.
Talking of warranties, the standard one was 36 months. Factory warranty and service extensions were available, at a price. We can’t tell you what that price is because that info is not exactly leaping forth from the internet, which is not usually a good sign if you’re hoping for a low price. With any luck, 720S owners will come onto the forum with some numbers for us.
Service intervals were every 10,000 miles or 12 months, whichever came first. Again, dealer service costs are not massively transparent (we couldn’t find them anyway) but specialists like Northants-based Thorney Motorsport, Litchfield and others have been offering warranties and services at more accessible prices.
At Litchfield for example a 20,000-mile service inspection involving the replacement of the engine oil, oil filter, coolant, clutch oil and filter costs £871 (including VAT). Their 40,000-mile service adds a gearbox oil change to that list and costs £1,248 including VAT. A brake fluid change with them is around £120.
Thorney has become the world’s largest buyer of McLaren parts outside the official network. Shortly before we put this piece together McLaren Automotive appeared to have instructed its UK dealers to cut off the supply of parts to Thorney on pain of being closed down, but from what we can see on the thread covering this it appears that this situation has since been resolved.
Another specialist whose name regularly comes up when McLaren owners are talking about who has gone the extra mile to be helpful is Essex-based Alistair Bols.
Two of the big chassis differences between the 650S and the preceding MP4-12C had been the newer car’s adaptive suspension and its superior downforce. The 720S took that game on a stage further with its updated, sensored-up Proactive Chassis Control II system which did away with anti-roll bars by hydraulically linking the dampers.
You had three driving modes – Comfort (no more ‘Normal’ with the 720S), Sport and Track – plus Variable Drift Mode which, like Ferrari’s Side Slip Control 2, allowed more or less anyone (including the sort of person who probably shouldn’t be even thinking about it in the first place) to execute handy powerslides without endangering themselves or those around them. As you gained confidence, you could swish your finger across the screen graphic to dial down the assistance. That was the Variable bit. Maybe now is the time to mention that MSO Track Pack titanium roll cages can be bought for the 720S at around £11,000 including two seatbelt harnesses. Failing that, you could try to become a better person by going on one of McLaren’s driver improvement and lifestyle events that included ice driving or more leisurely scenic tours, all of them taking in posh hotels.
The 720S’s Monocage II tub was the same as that used in the Senna and Speedtail. Apart from anything else its extra strength relative to the 650S permitted the use of much slimmer A-pillars which aided visibility. The Spider had ‘compact flying buttresses topped with glazed floating elements’, or glazed C-pillars to you.
Getting the ESC to switch off sometimes took a bit of patience, and it was a shame that the tyre pressure warning sounds couldn’t be deactivated in fluctuating temperature conditions, for example in the cooling-off periods between track stints.
Leaks from McLaren adaptive dampers are not unknown, and the accumulators for the suspension’s hydraulics have been categorised as consumable items by more than a few 720S owners. A front-end lifter was a good option to tick at a little over £2,000 but accumulator problems in this area (which could happen even in very low mileage cars) would throw up ‘suspension failure’ messages and render both the front lift and the Active Dynamics panel inoperative.
However, if the suspension was in apple-pie order the result was an excellent ride with tight handling in normal road driving. New geometry – more castor at the front, more toe at the rear – worked well with the wisely-retained hydraulic steering. There was no limited slip differential, but it didn’t matter because you simply used the throttle to adjust the car’s attitude. Sounds hard, was easy.
Carbon ceramic brake discs (390mm front and 380mm rear, with six- and four-piston calipers respectively) were standard fitments. They needed a hefty leg shove for best operation. A recall was issued in July of this year (2021) to sort out a brake banjo bolt that wasn’t properly lined up on some 2019-20 cars, leading to a less than ideal supply of brake fluid to the caliper.
Elite paints were available for the 720S at a not insignificant cost, but in all honesty you could spec a 720S in non-metallic Dung Brown and it would still look great.
The shark has been cited as the inspiration for many a car over the years, and McLaren designer Frank Stephenson was happy to acknowledge a connection between the 720S and the great white. Some thought that, in profile at least, it was better proportioned than the 650S. Not every McLaren watcher thought it was a great look from the front end though, one PHer memorably comparing it to Kenneth Williams with his nostrils in full flare. That was apposite actually because the headlight housings doubled up as air intakes. The LED headlights themselves were ‘static adaptive’ which meant that they turned with the steering.
As mentioned earlier in the overview, the 720S had P1-style dihedral part-roof doors that opened outwards and upwards on rotating hinges, meaning that the 720S needed 155mm less lateral space on either side to fit into tight parking spaces. There was some speculation as to how McLaren would door up the Spider when it eventually came along at the end of 2018, the best part of two years after the coupe was released. In the end the Spider got butterfly doors which was a decent consolation.
The roof mechanisms on convertible McLarens are pure engineering artistry and the one operating the carbon roof on the 720S Spider should be very reliable going forward, or indeed backward: it performed either function in a speedy 11 seconds or so and could be deployed at speeds up to 30mph. One neat Spider option was an electrochromic roof that brought in natural light even when it was closed, turning from opaque to transparent at the press of a button
Some external 720S trim pieces could become loose for no obvious reason and some plastic parts could get discoloured. If the first owner of your used 720S hadn’t sprung for the nose lift, replacement carbon front splitters were available from outfits like MCL Spares for £4,500.
The cabin was another area in which the 720S trumped the 650S. Getting into it was easier too thanks to sills that were appreciably lower than those of the 650S. In conjunction with the dihedral doors that moved part of the carbon fibre roof out of the way it meant that owners could enter their 720S in the normal, step-down-into-it fashion.
In the standard S, 720 interiors came in two-tone colour combos of Alcantara or Nappa leather with machined aluminium. ‘Luxury’ themed cars had higher quality leather, iridium brightwork and electrically operated heated seats, while ‘Performance’ spec cars had a darker, more tracky feel with Alcantara and carbon fibre trim throughout, including the air intakes and door mirrors.
Comfort-wise, the fixed-back sports seats were perfectly acceptable even for long trips, but if you wanted a less upright position the regular seats plus the hugely adjustable steering wheel would see you right. MSO extended shift paddles were a well-liked addition.
Don’t mention the word ‘IRIS’ to a McLaren owner unless you deliberately want to wind them up. The company’s attempt to create a bespoke infotainment setup that looked as cool as the rest of the car was entirely laudable and would have been great if it had worked a bit better. Unfortunately, the operating system was somewhat flawed, to the extent that it tainted the enjoyment of the vehicle.
For the 720S McLaren admitted defeat, fitting it with a new system that didn’t look all that different to the old one, which was fine, but which this time was developed with the help of a specialist. It still wasn’t as good as something from a regular sort of Audi A4 or 3 Series BMW, but it was up to par for the class. The digital dash behind the wheel was mounted in a James Bond-style rotating binnacle (the Folding Driver Display) that gave you a simplified Slim Display Mode when you were in Track mode.
For £2,160 you could get a Track Telemetry app to provide lap data (live, if you wanted), detailed sector splits, driver comparisons and post-race logs. The extended warranty did cover you for track days, but only if they were McLaren-organised ones. The key fob needed to be quite close to the car for it to be recognised and the doorhandles on some early cars were slightly off the pace in regard to fit and finish.
Fancy a break? The 720S had a 150-litre front boot and a 58-ltre rear. For comparison, a Mazda MX-5 had one 130-litre boot. Not bad for touring, then, but be aware that 720S can rattle and squeak a bit. Glass panels are well known for cracking, and the cars are not immune to electrical or software gremlins.
The main issue anyone might have with the 720S (as opposed to most other non-Ultimate McLarens) is the performance. There might be too much of it. At least one buyer has sold their 720 because they felt it was simply too fast for public roads.
Another issue might be your perception of McLaren as a brand. Some informed observers – including serial supercar buyers who deal with Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin and the like as well as with McLaren – reckon that the jury is still out on that. Stories of corporate mis-steps vis-a-vis the customer base are not hard to find. Limited editions that turned out to be not quite so limited as buyers were expecting. An overstock problem in mid-2019 when some McLaren dealers had more than 20 cars sitting in their showrooms and owners who were trying to sell their cars back to their dealers were being told ‘no thanks’. To be fair, you could easily say that other premium marques faced with similar circumstances have also been less supportive than they might or ought to have been.
All that aside, if you’re comfortable with the outrageous speed, you don’t mind being asked questions every time you stop, and you enjoy really elegant automotive technology, the 720S is a very tempting proposition. You will have to put up with the odd glitch. You may find that the things you’d like to be covered by the warranty, like suspension accumulators and glass, aren’t, along with a few other things that are excluded on the grounds of ‘wear and tear’.
With depreciation still an issue, buying a 720S new looks a bit risky, but a used one with a good warranty looks like a canny buy. We’re talking about a genuine hypercar here, one that delivers million-pound performance for a fraction of that sum.
In 2019, a two-year old or younger 720S was seen as great value at prices of around £150,000. That initial depreciation has levelled off, but even at starting prices of £140,000 or less, the more you look at it the better value it seems to be, especially when you consider what a big jump forward the 720S represented.
During our research we saw a 19,000-mile 2018 car in Cosmo Black with tan leather for £139,000. The most affordable car on PH Classifieds at the time of writing was this 17,000-mile 2017 720S with Elite paint (Saros Blue) and yellow interior trim highlights for £145,000. Here’s a 9,000-mile Performance in classic McLaren Orange with a sports exhaust and vehicle lift for just shy of £155,000.
Spiders are somewhat thinner on the ground that coupes, and more expensive. You’ll be asked for nearly £220k for this 2019 car in Memphis Red with all the carbon thrown at it. Delivery-mile Spiders can be as much as £260k, like this one in Helios Orange.
Search for a McLaren 720S here
Search for a McLaren 720S Spider here
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