What Is It?
Supercar manufacturer McLaren offers an inspired range of high-performance sports cars, and the 2021 McLaren GT is no exception. That said, the GT goes beyond the British maker’s proven formula of creating lightweight, sexy speed demons and into the rarified realm of grand touring. In automotive parlance, a grand tourer typifies a large, heavy, high-performance cruiser designed for comfort while covering long distances — often at high speeds. Since making something weighty runs counter to McLaren culture, the company builds a lightweight sports car delivering extreme performance in concert with comfort and luxury befitting a grand tourer — the GT.
For testing, the automaker provided us with a 2021 McLaren GT painted in Silica White. The vehicle that arrived in our driveway had a number of optional extras installed including an electrochromic roof, carbon ceramic brakes, a sport exhaust, red brake calipers and Gloss Black Diamond Cut wheels for a total MSRP of $241,025. Competitors to the McLaren GT include the Bentley Continental GT, Porsche 911, Aston Martin DB11, BMW M8 and Mercedes-AMG S-Class Coupe.
Longer than any other vehicles of McLaren’s Sports or Super Series, the GT has classic lines that stretch smoothly from the base of the windshield to the edge of the integrated rear spoiler. The bold rear fenders are a prime example of form following function — they also incorporate air intakes to help cool the engine.
Viewed from the side, the 2021 McLaren GT is all smooth curves, with a short hood meeting the base of the windshield over the front wheel. The lines then run smoothly from the windshield to the integrated rear spoiler. The beltline swoops downward at the doors to create a teardrop-shaped cabin.
Working with its tire partner Pirelli, McLaren developed bespoke rubber specifically for the GT. The Pirelli P ZERO tires are designed to handle the rigors of high-performance driving while still providing a comfortable ride. The GT’s exclusive P ZEROs are fitted to 21-inch alloy wheels at the rear — the largest ever on a McLaren — with 20-inch wheels up front. The big wheels add yet another level of luxury to the GT’s overall look.
Sleekly integrating with the engine venting, narrow LED taillights contribute to the high-tech look of the 2021 McLaren GT. Below the techy taillights sit two large exhaust outlets that produce a wonderful V8 rumble.
McLaren’s signature dihedral doors add to the exotic pedigree of this reimagined GT. Well balanced for ease of use, the doors feature electronic latches and open effortlessly. When open, the dihedral doors of the 2021 McLaren GT do not occupy much more space than a standard-opening car door. Once occupants are seated inside, the dihedrals are easy to reach and pull shut.
Like all McLarens, the GT features a carbon fiber structure that exhibits exceptional strength and rigidity while achieving excellent driving dynamics. Weighing in at a mere 3,384 pounds, the 2021 McLaren GT is considerably lighter than its grand-touring competition.
For ultimate performance, the lightweight chassis of the GT gets coupled with a powerful V8 engine. The GT has a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 producing a plentiful 612 horsepower and 465 lb-ft of torque. Positioned behind the cabin, the potent V8 gets paired with a quick-shifting 7-speed automatic transmission.
Sports Car Performance
The GT may be designed for long-distance touring, but it still delivers the performance expected of a McLaren sports car. According to the manufacturer, the GT will sprint to 60 mph in 3.1 seconds, 124 mph in 9.0 seconds and — with enough running room — will top out at 203 mph. Although we had no measuring devices during our time with the GT, the performance experienced gives us no reason to doubt these reported figures.
Quick and Comfortable
McLaren engineers designed the GT to handle like a true sports car should while still providing a comfortable ride. What makes this possible? A lightweight aluminum double wishbone suspension design teamed with hydraulic dampers for McLaren’s Proactive Damping Control. Using software originally developed for the 720S, the system takes input from sensors and adjusts to road conditions in 2 milliseconds — not only smoothing the ride for improved comfort, but also optimizing grip for better handling. The dampers also adjust based on the active handling mode chosen: Comfort, Sport or Track.
Surprising Fuel Economy
When most sports car aficionados contemplate a 612-horsepower supercar, fuel economy is not typically a concern, although the McLaren GT surprises here as well. According to the U.S. EPA, the GT is rated at 15 mpg city / 22 mpg hwy / 18 mpg combined — numbers good enough to cruise up to 400 miles between fill-ups. Over 900 miles of city and highway driving, the test GT averaged better than 17 mpg.
Eclipsing all previous accolades, the interior of the 2021 McLaren GT markedly differentiates the vehicle from other exotic supercars. Although it’s obvious that visibility and controls have been designed with performance driving in mind, GT engineers also prioritized comfort as well. Sport seats trimmed in Nappa leather offer strong bodily support during enthusiastic driving yet remain comfortable even after several hours behind the wheel.
To seemingly underscore the fact that the 2021 McLaren GT is still a driver’s car, designers and engineers kept the steering wheel simple with no integrated controls. A configurable driver display keeps the tachometer front and center and offers an easy view of gear selection for operation in manual mode. Extended paddles of machined aluminum are perfectly positioned for quick gear changes.
The touchscreen display of the 2021 McLaren GT is rather small, although it still functions well. Physical buttons provide easy access to navigation and audio tuning, while climate settings remain visible and are easily adjusted. However, drivers who wear sunglasses with polarized lenses will find it practically impossible to view the small display.
In keeping with the qualities of a pure grand touring machine, the 2021 McLaren GT possesses a reasonable amount of storage space inside — for a supercar. The GT has two cupholders at the center of the vehicle, and slots on either side of the forward cupholder are great places for stowing mobile devices. Additional storage can be found in a small center console.
The 2021 McLaren GT has a carbon fiber roof as standard equipment; however, our test car came equipped with the optional electrochromic glass roof. With the mere touch of a button the roof transforms from clear to opaque, with a range of settings in between. At its darkest setting, the roof will completely block sunlight from entering the cabin.
Unlike most McLaren models that showcase a potent engine behind the passenger compartment, the GT keeps its powerplant well hidden. Instead, the car has a rear hatch with a small (about 15 cubic feet) but usable cargo space. McLaren says a golf bag will fit back there, and we were able to stow a carry-on bag and a garment bag with no issues. McLaren also offers a bespoke luggage set designed specifically for this space.
In addition to the rear cargo space, the McLaren GT features a trunk up front — also known as a frunk. With about 5 cubic feet of space, the frunk could handle an additional carry-on or a few grocery bags with no issues.
Ask any supercar owner to reveal the biggest pet peeve about their exotic wheels and they’ll likely tell you: low ground clearance, and the resulting difficulty to use the car as a daily driver. (No one wants to scrape their baby’s bottom on a driveway apron.) Thankfully, engineers designed the 2021 McLaren GT to ride slightly higher than many exotics, offering 4.3 inches of ground clearance. Although many GT drivers will still feel like they’re sitting on the ground, the car does possess enough draft to tackle the common speed bump. If more clearance is required, the push of a button will raise the front end another inch to avoid any horrible scraping sounds.
On the Road
Thanks to a long career focused on automobiles, we’ve been fortunate to have seat time in a wide range of exotic sports cars. Although these special machines are always exhilarating and a blast to drive, the experiences can also be stressful. Thankfully, the McLaren GT delivers all the excitement without additional anxiety (other than piloting a vehicle that costs as much as a house). With its comfortable cabin, sublime audio system, commendable visibility and ground clearance that doesn’t require constant vigilance for high curbs, the 2021 McLaren GT proves itself to be a proper grand touring car that most would be happy to pilot for long periods of stress-free driving.
Drivers of the McLaren GT can choose to leave the car in fully automatic mode, which provides decent performance although the experience can be a bit less engaging. Pushing the Active button allows the driver to select handling and powertrain settings — aforementioned options are Comfort, Sport or Track — including automatic or manual shifting. For most of our test drives we kept the car in Sport mode, which provides excellent performance without eliminating the safety of stability control — something that should never be turned off before driving someone else’s $240,000 sports car.
Even though the GT exists as a McLaren supercar focusing on comfort and driving ease, it remains an unabashedly powerful sports car. Acceleration is extremely quick — lucky occupants will be pressed into their seatbacks well into triple-digit speeds. Adding to the aural experience is that wonderful sound of spooling turbochargers and a roaring V8 directly behind the cabin. With the windows down, the sound emanating from large air intakes behind the doors is absolutely intoxicating. Conversely, at idle the exhaust emits a soothing rumble, showcasing the GT’s power without being too overbearing.
The GT excels in its role as grand tourer. Select the Comfort drive mode and a cruise down any highway is smooth and solid, even when rolling at speeds in excess of posted limits. Then exit the highway and take a winding back road and the GT remains just as poised and comfortable, holding the road with precise steering and excellent grip.
As the long-suffering spouse of an auto junkie — make that journalist — my wife has much experience riding shotgun in a wide variety of vehicles, and sports cars are typically her least favorite. However, she actually enjoyed riding in the McLaren GT, thanks to the surprisingly easy ingress and egress, the luxurious interior and the smooth, comfortable ride. Although my spouse did enjoy riding in the McLaren GT more than any other exotic car to date, approval to purchase was denied.
With the new GT, McLaren realized a deep-seated vision of what a grand touring sports car could be. With sleek styling that will forever turn heads, the GT brings together a perfect blend of luxury and ride comfort with the performance expected of a McLaren sports car. Add the versatility of actual cargo space and raised ground clearance for peace of mind and the GT embodies the civilized supercar, one we’d be happy to drive every day if we had the means — and spousal approval.