By on August 16, 2017

2017 McLaren 720S - Image: McLarenOn the one hand, you have Horacio Pagani, founder of Pagani Automobili, who builds some of the world’s most exotic supercars but says of the Porsche 918, “Porsche is the greatest — beyond a doubt. I own a 918.”

Speaking of his own Ferrari F12 tdf’s arrival, Pagani says, “When I uncovered the car and saw the Ferrari logo, I had the urge to kiss it.”

“I was the first to order it in Europe,” Pagani says of the new Ford GT. “I like the fact AMG is making a car with F1 technology,” Pagani says of the Mercedes-AMG Project One. “I will buy one.”

Pagani’s openness toward competing supercars is refreshing.

On the other hand, McLaren’s chief engineer for the brand’s “entry-level” Sports Series cars, Paul Burnham, tells CarAdvice, “At McLaren, we like to think we’ve got the only authentic sports car setup in the market.”

They wear their Union Jacks with pride in Woking.

McLaren’s case for such an audacious claim rests on four characteristics. First, there’s an all carbon-fiber tub, which knocks just about every historical sports car out of the running for authentic sports car status.

Second, McLaren’s a believer in hydraulic steering. Fair point, but McLaren may end up eating those words if the company ever follows the EPAS route of most automakers.

Third, McLaren credits its cars’ V8 engines. Retroactively and futuristically cross the Lotus Elise off your sports car list. Also remove the new Ford GT that Horacio Pagani paid for with his own money.

Finally, McLaren associates authentic sports cars with midship engine placement, as if the Chevrolet Corvette needed another reason to stand outside McLaren’s sports-car sheepfold.2017 McLaren 570S Spider - Image: McLarenMcLaren’s Burnham made these comments while discussing the separation of Sports (570S and 540C, for example) and Super Series (720S) cars. McLaren has generated such high performance with the Sports Series cars that distinguishing the upper-tier cars is a challenge. “It’s one of the reasons why the 570S gets slimmer tyres than the new 720S Super Series car, otherwise there isn’t a lot that separates these two cars, as far as grip levels go.”

McLaren’s aim, Burnham says, is to have a lower level of car that’s “more exploitable at road speeds,” and a higher level that’s “about pure performance.”

McLaren may feel the company is in a league of its own when it comes to a level of sports car purity that’s clearly unobtainable by the humble Porsche 911 GT3 RSs of the world, but at least the company’s not so presumptuous as to believe its cars are perfect. Asked about decreasing turbo lag, Burnham speaks of improvements but acknowledges, “It’s still a turbo car and there is a limit to how far you can go, but there are things you can do to improve either the reality or the perception of lag.”

Ah yes, McLaren can improve the way you perceive turbo lag. It’d be hard to do any more than that when you’re already the builder of the only authentic sports cars in the world.

[Images: McLaren]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and and the founder and former editor of Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

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26 Comments on “McLaren Believes It Has the “Only Authentic Sports Car Setup in the Market”...”

  • avatar

    I always thought that the phrase “Sports Cars” if rigidly applied meant machines like the Spitfire, MBG, TR6, Z3, and Miata.

    I am surprised that “midengine V8 with carbon fiber tub” is now considered to be an essential part of the recipe.

    • 0 avatar


      IOW, cars that encourage driving in a sporty fashion on public roads.

    • 0 avatar

      Except for the carbon fiber tub, the Vette is a V8 with a mid-engine. I’m tired of the “mid-engine” term incorrectly excluding front-mounted mid engines.

      • 0 avatar
        S2k Chris

        My S2000 is theoretically “mid engined” but no one would ever describe it as such except the worst pendant/fanboi.

        • 0 avatar


          The engine sits way up front, pretty much entirely in front of a firewall that sits in front of the driver’s legs. Which are extended, like in all low sportscars, almost entirely horizontally.

          Whether the front edge of the engine happens to reside a millimeter in front of, or behind, the front “axle” doesn’t, within several orders of magnitude, influence driving, handling and feel nearly as much as moving the engine from in front of, to behind, the driver.

          There is much, much, much more commonality between how a 911 and a Cayman drives, than a Cayman and a ‘Vette. Despite the latter two, according to one particularly pedantic classification, having the same layout.

          • 0 avatar

            I very much enjoyed your breakdown. However, pedantic or not, the real distinction is weight distribution. It is possible with almost any realistic configuration to set up a car for under, neutral, or oversteer. The fact is that the physics involved in both positive and negative acceleration depend on the weight distribution of the car. Bearing in mind that I am only talking about rear wheel drive. One could easily have a mid engine fwd, but I think that would be the worst of all possible layouts. Front-mid may not be the same thing as rear-mid but it is a real thing that has some real-world handling benefits. To equate an understeering modern rear-engine 911 to a mid-rear Boxster is just as laughable as comparing the handling of a Boxster to a ‘Vette. It took 50 years of engineering to prevent the 911 from spinning when you look at it askance.

      • 0 avatar

        On my Cobra replica the steering rack is behind the center line of the wheels and the engine is entirely behind that rack. Only 47% of the weight is up front. The flywheel is nearly at your hip.

        My understanding is the Viper and Vette are both setup similarly. The Vette even has a transaxle.

    • 0 avatar
      Stanley Steamer

      I agree; cars with lightweight engines with not a lot of power that you have to drive hard around the bends because speed is a precious commodity.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed on the classic definition. I also like the supercar and hypercar categories since it seems cars like the McLaren, 911, Z06, Viper, GT and so on just don’t seem to fit the sports car bill anymore.

      Cars like the Miata and Cayman and Boxster seem more like a proper sports car since the focus is more about driving enjoyment and not building a rocket.

      Both have their place but it seems “sports car” has become so bastardized through intention misapplication (looking at you marketing types that were desperate to sell anything with a tape stripe and set of aluminum wheels no matter how big and ungainly it might be).

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    In other news, I have the world’s largest gentlemen’s sausage, according to secret criteria I have made up and involve a specifically placed freckle.

    I’m not even a big traditionalist when it comes to the definition of a sports car (for instance, I think a coupe can be one) but crafting a definition that solely fits Mclaren is just silly and frankly takes away from their awesome cars.

  • avatar

    Is that why all their cars are automatic-only with no driver involvement?

    • 0 avatar


    • 0 avatar

      A sports car should be fun to drive legally on public streets. A self-shifting car just doesn’t doesn’t provide the driver engagement when going at 3/10 in traffic.

      The automatic might make it faster on the racetrack, but that’s not a sports car feature; that’s a race car or track car feature. The people who have a McLaren probably drive something else on a daily basis, which, again, means the McLaren isn’t a sports car–it’s a track car.

  • avatar

    plus all the built-in, required nannies?

    • 0 avatar

      Those are mostly required by law now.

      • 0 avatar

        Indeed also cheap insurance avoiding the need for lengthy disclaimer of what not to do with your minimalist sporting machine.

        The development of traction and stability control has probably saved manufacturers billions of dollars as cars have grown ever more powerful since they neatly avoid unnecessary litigation or make short work of it.

        Just look at the 1st gen Viper – 400 horsepower and 465 pound feet of torque and generally regarded as a widow maker (and on a more personal anecdata level just about every early Viper owner I knew at some point put in a claim to replace the clamshell hood which incidentally is the single most expensive part due to tossing it in a ditch).

  • avatar

    “At McLaren, we like to think we’ve got the only authentic sports car setup in the market.”

    Translation: we haven’t made an SUV yet like everyone else.

  • avatar

    Occasionally PR droids even believe their own emanations to the exclusion of the reality surrounding them. Giving them a good shake and a shot of Screech usually brings them around to a sort of forced normality. But, and its a big but, sometimes they are just too far gone. So this is what happens after they boot Ron Dennis out from his lifetime work – lunacy.

  • avatar

    …i posit that the chassis material isn’t particularly fundamental, that a naturally-aspirated straight-six or V12 are far more foundational than a turbocharged-eight, and that a manual transmission (paddle or stick-and-clutch) is absolutely essential to proper sportscar…

  • avatar

    “Third, McLaren credits its cars’ V8 engines. Retroactively and futuristically cross the Lotus Elise off your sports car list.” I have no idea what the heck they are talking about. I’m not going to dis their fine cars, but really how in the hell can I appreciate a car that costs twice as much as a Evora 400, let alone a Elise that is no longer available new in the USA.

  • avatar

    Perhaps McLaren could make the trip from Woking to Malvern Link and discuss their theories regarding ‘authentic’ sports cars with Morgan.

  • avatar

    Old McLaren; “Let’s build the fastest road car in the world, the F1, because you’ll be sitting in the middle when you drive it”

    New McLaren: “Let’s build one kick ass car and one kick ass engine, then make them slower and softer for each model.”

    In person neat cars, just dull mass produced on paper (offering stick wouldn’t fix this).

  • avatar

    As much as I applaud McLaren for sticking to their hydraulic steering, they’re going to have to find something more interesting sounding ( and preferably normally aspirated) than that turbo V8 and a proper manual transmission rather than flappy paddles if they really want to claim to be an authentic sports car.

  • avatar

    there’s no arrogance quite like British arrogance.

    • 0 avatar

      Gotta love British arrogance, only they can do it properly (see what I did there?).

      It is especially audacious because all their major brands failed and had to be sold off and rescued, but no, only WE can make proper sports cars.

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