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2021 McLaren 620R: Racetrack Savagery for the Street

Elana Scherr
·6-min read
Photo credit: McLaren
Photo credit: McLaren

It's the wail of the west wind. It's a storm on the Bering Sea. It's ghosts, the wuthering of spirits lost on the moors. Beneath that, the crack and crash of battling robots, the pssssh of a hull breech in outer space. The 2020 McLaren 620R is a cacophony of intake noise and dumped boost unmuffled by fripperies like sound-deadening or carpet. Those things are for street cars. The 620R is a race car that just happens to have a license plate.

Every supercar is a fantasy, a sueded, high-revving way to get closer to an imagined lifestyle of parties in places where people's yachts have yachts. Then there's the street-legal race car, a brutal, stripped-down version that will shake all the bubbles out of your champagne. In this fantasy, you live near enough to a racetrack to pop in whenever the urge to overtake overtakes, and you roll your eyes at such unnecessary luxuries as cupholders and seat padding. There are no unnecessary luxuries in the 620R. There are no luxuries at all. This car is a street version of the track-only 570S GT4, which was itself a track version of the road-going 570S.

Photo credit: McLaren
Photo credit: McLaren

In this hall of mirrors we must also include the 600LT, which was another track-tuned option in McLaren's Sports series of models. But if the 600LT was the Arnold Palmer of track and race in a 50/50 ratio, the 620R is far heavier on the track tea, stripped of anything that might weigh it down. It starts sans carpets, stereo, a glovebox, or air conditioning—the latter can be added as a no-cost option. Customers who commit to the leanest cut of this car are rewarded with a curb weight around 3100 pounds. Our test car, prepped for needy journalists who love comfort, packed on some price tag—it's a fast way to spend $312,605—and some poundage in the form of air conditioning, a Bowers & Wilkins audio system, and McLaren's three-position adaptive suspension with front-axle lift for easier speed-bump navigation.

A true track rat would forgo the ease of swapping modes from inside the car and equip their 620R with the two-way manually adjustable coil-overs from the GT4 car. That setup saves 13 pounds and confers the ability to set the suspension to the exact track feel you prefer. The downside is that you can't make those changes with a single click of a conveniently placed in-cabin button, but they do have 32 clicks of adjustment for the compression and rebound rates. From a performance standpoint, choosing the adaptive suspension doesn't come with a huge lap-time penalty, according to McLaren chief engineer James Warner. It's all about track feel. "The extra tunability and the rigid mounting of the manually adjustable dampers are more about the driver confidence to get the most out of the car," he said, "rather than ultimate lap time." So, go ahead, get the axle lift. You'll still have a fast car.

Photo credit: McLaren
Photo credit: McLaren

The 620R is a boon to the insecure. Even in its softest setting with the adaptive suspension, no driver will lack the confidence to attack a corner. Maybe it's the red slash marking the 12-o'clock on the steering wheel or the six-point racing harness that makes you feel just a helmet away from a Le Mans win. More likely, it's how the Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R tires stick so well they feel more likely to pull up the pavement than roll over it or how the carbon-ceramic brakes bring the car to a stop so quickly you'll expect the wing to come through the back window. Don't worry, you can outrun it. The 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-8 happily puts the power down in the straights and cracks like a whip when you shift. Unburdened by pesky race regulations, McLaren upped the engine tune to 611 horsepower, the most of any car in its Sports series. Should your closest track be a dragstrip, McLaren says the 620R can dispatch a quarter-mile pass in 10.4 seconds, and even with its big wing, it will reach a max speed of 200 mph.

So, racetrack. Yes. Canyon carving. Absolutely. Head-turning at the cruise night? Have you seen this thing with its white-eyeliner accents around the door inlet and $12,080 carbon-fiber fender vents? Every eye will be on you, even if there are 20 other McLarens in the parking lot. With a production run of 225 cars, it's unlikely any of them will be another 620R. Just don't get out of the car in front of a crowd. The seats, lightweight carbon buckets designed for the Senna, wrap around you like a full-body Alien face hugger and with similar malice. Exiting the 620R can be accomplished through a tuck and roll ejection or a slow-speed stretch and straddle, but neither is elegant. Best to just stay inside, raise the doors, and let everyone admire the red, webbed pull strap on the door handle, which tells the world, "I need this to shut the door when I am fully strapped into my racing harness in my race car, which this is, in case you didn't notice the wing."

Photo credit: McLaren
Photo credit: McLaren

That wing, by the way, is the same airfoil the 570S GT has, only with an embedded brake light in its underside for street legality. In its most aggressive setting, it helps push the 620R to the ground with 408 pounds of downforce. On the street, it mostly just blocks your view, but it does offer a handy place to rest a beverage or, during our drive, a take-out carton of Red Lobster cheddar biscuits.

We could tell you that the 620R is a pleasant dual-purpose machine, equally suited for comfort on the street and performance at the track, but that would be a bald-faced lie. This is a tornado on gloss-black wheels. It will pummel you like a grade-school bully and mock you when you cry. The seats have just enough padding to keep you from going numb, and that's no kindness. Even in the most mild setting, you'll feel not only the imperfections of the pavement but every tiny stone you kick up from driving over them. This is a high-heel shoe of a car, all sharp pinch and blisters, but as the poster over the treadmill says, "No pain, no gain." If you want to strut, you'll look good wearing it, and you won't see anyone else in the same outfit.

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