2019 McLaren 600LT first drive review: Senna alternative


Braking at the same point in turn 1 of Budapest’s Hungaroring circuit as when driving the 570S, the 600LT stops well short and then has to be driven to the turn on the throttle. It's not exactly the fastest way around, but I’m keeping my instructor happy with a conservative early-braking approach that still lets the 600LT demonstrate its vast superiority.

Both the new 600LT and the 570S are part of McLaren’s entry-level Sport Series, but the 2019 McLaren 600LT’s upgraded brake system is the key to its track day capabilities.

Yes, the 570S has carbon-ceramic brake rotors and fancy many-piston aluminum brake calipers, but for the 600LT, McLaren engineers have reworked the master cylinder to eliminate wasted travel at the beginning of the stroke. And the 570S depends on engine vacuum, which varies depending on engine load and speed, to power its brake booster.

The 600LT borrows the electric vacuum pump used in the Senna to provide a consistent source of vacuum for brake boost. This combines with the retuned master cylinder to produce a completely different braking experience on the track and shorter stopping distances according to the tape measure.

2019 McLaren 600LT

2019 McLaren 600LT

2019 McLaren 600LT

2019 McLaren 600LT

2019 McLaren 600LT

2019 McLaren 600LT

The firmer pedal and its reduced travel are both readily apparent and provide the all-important confidence needed to push hard on a racetrack. By comparison, the 570S’s pedal is spongy and vague (by supercar standards). McLaren achieves this without the aggressive grabbiness of Ferrari’s carbon ceramics, so it's easy to lightly brush the brakes to bleed a little speed without inadvertently upsetting the car.

McLaren engineers are plenty proud of their work on the brakes, so it comes as no surprise that the binders are superlative. What is a bit unexpected is how well the 600LT changes direction and tolerates driving on the apex curbs and corner-exit rumble strips.

These Sport Series models make due with conventional steel coil spring suspension and adaptive shock absorbers in place of McLaren’s signature linked hydraulic suspension employed to amazing effect on its Super Series and Ultimate Series models.

McLaren’s ability to produce these results with lesser suspension components is impressive because this is a key attribute of the Senna that is now available for a much lower price.

2019 McLaren 600LT

2019 McLaren 600LT

2019 McLaren 600LT

2019 McLaren 600LT

2019 McLaren 600LT

2019 McLaren 600LT

Slightly less rich man’s Senna

McLaren Automotive rolled out the Senna a few months ago. A limited-production, million-dollar, track-focused weapon meant to satiate the would-be racers among the company’s exclusive clientele, all 500 Sennas are already sold.

The thing is that limited-production, million-dollar hypercars have become investment vehicles more than actual vehicles. This makes the Senna a touch precious for track use, and creates the opportunity for the 600LT as a more affordable alternative.

ALSO SEE: 2018 McLaren 720S first drive review

The “600” portion of the name is a reference to the car’s metric horsepower (it is rated at 592 SAE net horsepower), and "LT" is a hat tip to the company’s legendary F1 Longtail, a track-focused version of McLaren’s first production sports car. Today “LT” is more a track-oriented philosophy than an actual extension of the car’s posterior, though the 600LT is incrementally longer than the 570S upon which it is based because of the use of a longer front splitter and rear diffuser.

The car’s $240,000 base price is attractive, especially in comparison to the Senna’s seven-figure price. However, my test car is dressed in another $62,000 worth of options.

For the true mini-Senna experience, buyers will want the optional carbon-fiber rooftop engine intake snorkel, a signature feature of the original McLaren F1 that costs a breathtaking $30,000.


 
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