If you spend a lot of time in new cars, steering feedback is one of those things that - after a while - you simply forget about. With the advent of electric power steering, it’s been - a select few exceptions aside - all but eradicated.
Right now, however, I’m reminded exactly how steering is supposed to feel. It’s a nostalgia hit that ranks as high as your first bite of a Pop-Tart in years, and hot damn, is it glorious.
It’s all thanks to the McLaren GT, which is giving me actual kickback through the wheel, as the setup lets me know exactly what’s happening on the tarmac below. It’s also utterly linear from lock to lock, so I know how to place the super-sharp front-end. Yes, it’s lighter than you might expect, but it’s supposed to be - this modern trend of super-heavy sport mode steering (cough BMW cough) needs to do one, frankly.
Woking’s insistence on sticking with hydraulic power steering really does pay dividends when you’re on a good road. And that’s not the only place you get feedback from, because there’s also plenty coming from the carbon tub, transmitted straight through your bottom cheeks.
The engine does the McLaren GT’s wonderful chassis more than enough justice. It’s a 4.0-litre V8 related to the M840T found in the 720S, but quite a lot of it has been changed. There’s a higher compression ratio, the turbochargers are smaller, the pistons have redesigned crowns and the exhaust manifold is a little smaller.
The result is that the ‘M840TE’ delivers 612bhp and 465lb ft of torque, which is a deficit of near enough 100bhp and over 100lb ft versus the powertrain in the 720S. But that’s not exactly pedestrian, is it? You will still struggle to get all of that down in anything other than perfect conditions, and if, as is the case now, it’s greasy, the car’s electronic aids will be doing more than you might realise.
The ESP doesn’t go into panic mode as soon as you go near the throttle pedal. Rather, it lets you make decent but slower progress while you’re left thinking ‘hmmm, that doesn’t feel like 612bhp’. One press of the ESP button puts the system in a semi-off state, allowing for a little slip.
This hands more control back to you. Now I’ve done this, I’m finally - by bringing the throttle in gently - able to get all the power down. There is still turbo lag, but not as much as in the 720S. It’s also smoother and less boosty in the mid-range than not just the 4.0-litre in the 720S, but the less powerful 3.8 used by the 570S and 600LT.
It sounds brilliantly angry approaching the 8500rpm redline and has stacks more character than Ferrari’s line of turbo V8s. Each shift from the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox - via the lovely push/pull carbon shifter assembly - is fast and brutally effective. And yes, it feels very, very fast. You don’t need the extra power found in the 720S, trust me.
"There's a reason why grand tourers aren't usually mid-engined, carbon-tubbed machines with aggressive steering"
So far, so good, but there’s a reason for the car’s impressive report card - I’m judging the GT as a supercar. But here’s the thing - the ‘GT’ designation is supposed to mean something here. Granted, it doesn’t always in the supercar world (see the Carrera GT and Ford GT), but McLaren insists that this car is a grand tourer. But it isn’t.
There’s a reason why grand tourers aren’t usually mid-engined, carbon-tubbed machines with aggressive steering. Those things are great in the right environment, but for a wafty GT car? Not so much. Even with both the powertrain and chassis set to ‘comfort’, this McLaren is too firm and too loud - both in terms of engine and tyre noise. If you’re sitting at 1700rpm for instance (you may well be, since that’s 60ish in seventh gear), there’s a boom that reverberates through the cabin.
Speaking of which, the interior is one of McLaren’s plusher efforts, but it still feels just like a 570S with a little more leather. Much like the 570GT, which this feels like a replacement for, although last time we asked, McLaren insisted the waftiest Sport Series car would remain on sale beside the GT.
And thus enters our confusion. Neither the 570GT nor the GT is McLaren’s most comfortable car, as they don’t have the hydraulically-linked dampers that give the 720S its spookily good ride. Softer seats might have offset that, but the GT’s chairs are in pure supercar territory.
The GT does have a USP in the McLaren range, however - luggage space. And indeed on paper, it sounds very impressive - a total of 570 litres of capacity is better than most C-segment hatchbacks. But there’s an issue here too - 420 litres of that is essentially on top of a glorified parcel shelf under a glass canopy.
It’s an awkward shape you’ll struggle to fill unless you’re happy only carting stuff around in the GT’s luggage accessory pack. Either way, anyone who’s not Mr Tickle will struggle to load and unload without leaning against the car, risking a load of grime being transferred from the car onto your fancy supercar owner clothes. Although it’s a lot smaller by capacity, the frunk is where you’ll want to load your gear most of the time - it’s a much more useful space and you won’t have to fiddle with luggage straps to stop your stuff becoming a bunch of projectiles the first time you brake hard.
Judged purely as a very useable supercar, the GT does fare very well. If anything, it hits a bit of a sweet spot in the McLaren range - you get the engine from the more expensive 720S, but with a much more sensible power output and a considerably lower starting price. It’s certainly the one that catches my eye out of the many other cars in Woking’s stable.
I’m not a supercar buyer, though - numbers are important to those who are, so wouldn’t the all-powerful 720S be the one to go for? Or the sharper, perhaps more interesting-looking 570S? There’s a lot that the GT does well, but at this stage in McLaren Automotive’s history, it seems like an unnecessary complication.