McLaren Automotive‘s latest car is Senna, a driver-focused road-legal track car that pushes the limits of vehicle design. It will be built in very limited numbers at the Foster-designed factory in England next year. I was lucky to be treated to a sneak preview of this car earlier in the week, and it really is very, very special. Read my full review here.
There are plenty of new companies joining the car making game. Few will survive. McLaren Automotive is not even a decade old, yet the company operates in a calm and mature fashion, and with the F1 expertise at hand as well as a brave approach to design, the products are hugely fresh and exciting.
I spoke with Mike Flewitt, company CEO, on the future of the luxury performance car marque. Read the full interview here.
‘It is special,’ smiles McLaren Automotive chief executive Mike Flewitt pointing to the latest 720S that proceeds the 650S in the Super Series. ‘It almost feels like a milestone in the maturity and development of the company,’ he told me at the Geneva Motor Show earlier this week for this car represents the first production vehicle to be replaced since McLaren Automotive was born seven years ago. ‘We started out with one car, the 12C, which evolved to be a range of cars. Now that journey is over, we are replacing them one by one with new models.’ This includes 15 cars planned for 2022, half of which will be hybrids.
The 720S design is dramatic – each element almost feels like it could stand alone as a great example of industrial design. The two-seater debuts a bold new face for the Super Series and features an expansive, dramatic ‘fighter jet’ glass roof made possible by the light and tough all-carbon tub that is at core of this car. There is a rawness to its layered look, each sheet teasing us, inviting us in to witness the extreme power that lies beneath – the four-litre twin turbo V8 that illuminates in the engine bay for an extra touch of drama.
I spent some time at the McLaren Technology Centre outside of London last month to understand how design and engineering worked so intimately to achieve these high goals. Chief designer Robert Melville says his brief was to create an awe-inspiring product to ‘visually communicate the intention of the car even when standing still’.
He was inspired by original Bruce McLaren F1 – a road car with an incredible versatility to be a perfect road and track vehicle – and the spirit of company founder is very much evident in the design of this car. McLaren design cannot conform to the norms of automobile design for the brand is committed to advancing technology, working with complex materials and shapes, and crucially ‘taking risks,’ says the designer. ‘We have to be brave and bold with our design and not follow trends.’
Form is very much concerned with assisting performance on all McLaren cars. ‘We removed all the fat, shrink-wrapping and sculpting the body to convey aerodynamic functionality. It is like a three-dimensional jigsaw for us,’ says Melville. The distinctive layered exterior design communicates the passage of air over and through this car whilst forming a nimble visual aesthetic. There are no radiator intakes on the side of the car; instead the ‘double-skin’ aerodynamic form of the doors channel air to the high-temperature radiators that cool the mid-mounted engine.
Step inside and the layered design theme continues this sense of theatre – something that McLaren admits may have been lacking in its past cars. The feel is altogether more polished and more luxurious here with a wide range of tactile and technical fabrics available to order and individualise through the help of the McLaren Special Operations bespoke team of designers and engineers.
Flewitt says: ‘It is nice seeing the reaction of people when they see this car. That’s when it clicks that this isn’t an evolution of a car but a step into something new.’
Speed. There is something at once modern, advanced, superhuman, and utterly sexy about it. It demands a visceral reaction. Speed is about pure emotion. These are now famous words coined by the controversial founder of the Italian Futurist movement F. T. Marinetti who wrote in the 1909 manifesto:
‘We declare that the splendour of the world has been enriched by a new beauty, the beauty of speed. A racing automobile with its bonnet adorned with great tubes like serpents with explosive breath … a roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire…’
Speed symbolises progress, and in the epoch of sustainability, it is perhaps not getting quite the glory it deserves. However, recent products such as the BMW hybrid i8 supercar have proved that you can have an environmentally caring product and still race like they did in the golden age of the automobile.
Last weekend we were at Goodwood Festival of Speed, the annual event that simply celebrates speed in its very rawest of forms. It is beautiful here, set deep in one of England’s most picturesque spots in West Sussex.
The famous Goodwood Hill sees drivers race to complete an uphill course – and it is quite spectacular watching the parade of exotic metal, as RAF Red Arrows perform some stunning air acrobatics over Goodwood House.
This is not a straightforward car show, and it certainly shouldn’t double up as an occasion for carmakers to exhibit their entire range. Sadly, increasingly this seems to be the case, which is why, it was exciting to see marques like Jaguar Land Rover embracing the spirit of the occasion.
The vast JLR pavilion positioned on a hill with great views over the festival blended with its surroundings, and the interactive display, including a Land Rover off road course, seemed to have punters excited throughout the event.
Goodwood saw the first sighting of the production version of the new F-Type Project 7, the 340ps, 3.0-litre XE S, and a selection of the company’s heritage automobiles including the XJ13, Group 44 E-type, Long Nose D-type, TWR XJS and Broadspeed XJ12C.
Jaguar also debuted the latest luxury XJ range and a special version XJR Rapid Response Vehicle (RRV) for Bloodhound SSC. The car has a spacious cabin and it’s 5.0-litre V8 550ps supercharged petrol engine takes it from 0-60mph in just 4.4 seconds and on to a top speed of 174mph – a bit like Marinetti’s machine gun.
This is the latest creation to come out of Special Vehicle Operations, a division within the company specialising in tuned versions of new and classic cars. If this all sounds a little 007, then we suspect this was intentional. As with Goodwood, half the charm of JLR is its association with all things quintessentially British.
‘These are specially developed cars for a very special purpose, showcasing SVO’s ability to design and engineer bespoke vehicles to the highest possible standards,’ says SVO managing director John Edwards, adding: ‘We’re proud to be playing a part in another great British land speed record attempt.’
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The Scottish Highlands is an unusual destination to test the new i8. BMW‘s hybrid performance car is a highly advanced piece of machinery – it’s complex mechanisms hidden beneath an almost futuristic shell. This remote part of Scotland has an untamed beauty where nature is at its purist; and as our small charter plane lands in Inverness, it feels a million miles away from the high-tech world where the i8 was born. This is one of the most daring cars of late – certainly in the sustainable category – and I am seriously excited to step inside and explore.
There has been quite a long prelude to this day. The initial Vision EfficientDynamics study was shown to us almost five years ago. It was revolutionary in design. It broke away from conventional automobile aesthetic introducing non-automotive materials and applications to the exterior and interior. It had a pioneering LifeDrive architecture, looked futuristic, spacey, exciting. The i8 production car retains the drama – perhaps not the full intensity but enough to command attention.
The proportions are that of a classic sports car; elongated bonnet, stretched sexy roofline, short overhangs, long 2,800mm wheelbase, and big 20-inch wheels. The i8 though looks unique with its overlapping and interlocking surfaces and visible aerodynamic aids – especially as you catch sight of the rear fender on the wheel arch from the wing mirrors. It has playful scissor doors that open forwards and upwards, and intricately-designed full LED slender lights at the front and rear.
‘The i8 delivers a lot with very little emissions, but with great if not better emotion,’ says Benoit Jacob. A little while ago I caught up with the head of BMW i design who explained that he encourages his team to take a completely fresh approach to designing the i cars. For the i8, they studied gliders and sailing boats that move with natural energy. He told me it is designed ‘by the wind not the design team; it is dictated by nature’ and as a result this is a highly efficiently aerodynamic sculpture.
Inside is slightly tilted towards the driver in BMW fashion and the occupants sit low as you would expect in a sports car. The leather trim, treated with natural substances, covers the slim seats, extending to parts of the centre console, overlapping instrument panel and interior door panels. Elements of the carbon-fibre passenger cell, so much at the heart of this car, are exposed as you (try to) artfully enter and exit this low car via the scissor doors.
The plug-in hybrid runs on a turbocharged three-cylinder engine-electric motor duo with a combined 357hp and 155-mph top speed, yet the i8 boasts 135mpg efficiency figures. Handling is agile and steering is precise, but as much as this is a performance car, it goes beyond a sports car. Once the doors are shut, you are cocooned in a delicate, quite space where you can then choose how to drive: glide in the city on the electric motor or kick the throttle for a completely different experience on the open road.
The contrast is incredible as you switch from Comfort to Sport mode. The instrument panel switches from light blue to hot red, the roaring engine note kicks in, and you as a driver take on a new role yet the interior environment somehow takes the element of aggression out. Jacob is very much aware of the importance of directing driver behaviour in these i cars. He feels his role here is ‘to design the behaviour of the people driving these cars’. After all sustainable driving needs to be about more than saving energy.
Like many other carmakers, BMW feels there is still a valid case for investing in sports cars; that the desire will not wane. And there should be a place for sports cars in the age of sustainability – carmaker just need to create them more intelligently. We experience very little emission and greater emotion as we drive through the Highlands, reflecting the weather as the sky dramatically transforms from piercing sunshine, to torrential rain. There is hardly a car in sight. We are almost drifting in near silence celebrating the environment.
More about the drive here BMW i8 hybrid performance car.
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