► How does the McLaren GT actually perform as a Grand Tourer?
► And is there any point in GT trips at all?
► The 2000-ish mile verdict
Even with a wider, single-track ticket, getting a McLaren GT onto the Shuttle is a stressful experience. Still, I’ve got something of a mental checklist together: wing mirrors pointed down, sunglasses and music off, seat as high as possible to see its carbonfibre corners – and then concentrate, concentrate, concentrate. After the longest 5 metres in my life – besides the time I got my breaststroke badge – it’s engine off and lights on, and time to explain what’s happening here.
I need to be in Zamek Valtice – a town near Brno, Czechia, in four days, but rather than opting for Wizzair and a rental, I’ve decided to do the unthinkable, and use a GT car do a trip many cars claim they’re good at – but one we rarely get to test. And why the McLaren GT? Because it’s one of the most intriguing GT cars around. It looks and sounds like a supercar – but Woking’s engineers insist it can handle the miles with ease, while giving you the performance of the brand’s other out-and-out weapons. Think the four-piped 765LT for instance, combined with Continental GT-ish comfort and you’re not far off.
Engine off, lights on and I set the dials set to km/h rather than mph. Next I program the first stop into the McLaren’s sat-nav (CarPlay is incredibly not an option here) and check I’ve got enough water (the heat is blistering on the continent too). The entire trip will take around two nights, with one stop in Cologne and the other in Prague before arriving the night after in Zamek Valtice – my final destination. It can be done quicker, but what’s the rush?
That’s when the beauty of this trip first becomes clear: this is the simplest, A-to-B trip I’ve ever undertaken. I need to end tonight in Cologne, but that’s where the requirements begin and end. No additional checkpoints, no fixed routes or shortcuts, just a final destination with lunch and petrol stops on the way. All doubts about the McLaren GT’s routing aside, this is the most clarity and peace I’ve had in months. In or out of a car.
Day 1 – destination Cologne
Rewind a few hours, and the trip to Folkestone has taken just one hour twenty minutes – but it’s hard yards. The UK almost seems reluctant to let the McLaren go, with countless speed limits, poor roads and traffic slowing my progress.
The Shuttle, usually quick, seems to be suffering from delays too today; checking in takes a little while, and the beating sun just makes the whole process feel longer and more stressful than it should. Thankfully, the GT’s A/C is useable and works; not always what you get from a car with butterfly doors and this much performance.
Just an hour later, and I’m crossing over the metal grates of the Shuttle. That’s when it hits me; this is the first time I’m navigating the continent entirely on my own – and my very first solo holiday. It’s far too late to weigh up whether doing it in this car is a good or a bad thing – as soon both me and the GT are flashing along the French and Belgian coast; past Dunkirk before heading south under Bruges.
The 130kmh speed limit isn’t remotely exercising the McLaren’s V8, but it’s fair to say the car doesn’t feel impatient or awkward at these speeds. Even on the slower stuff, the V8’s twin turbochargers work with the rather intelligent gearbox to provide just enough power. In the most docile mode, the McLaren can add speed in a pleasingly smooth way, with the V8 directly behind me (and under my luggage) only making itself known when I push the throttle a little further.
Progress to Germany is remarkably easier, borders are marked by discreet road signs, and although the style of road signs change between Belgium and Holland for example, the quality of roads does not. That’s one huge factor on this trip; the roads on the continent make motorway driving far less fatiguing and suit this car too.
Nowhere is this more obvious than the German autobahn, where I get to scrape at one aspect of the GT’s performance: the 612bhp V8 that’s dormant underneath half of my luggage. Making the McLaren angry enough is a needlessly complex two-step process – but it is very cool. First you preset the ESC and transmission settings to their most extreme, and then confirm your settings with the ‘Active’ button – which also bathes everything in a papaya glow. With that, it’s time to indicate to the far left, check there are no fast-approaching BMW X6s, Mercedes GLA or Kia ProCeeds in the distance (these were always doing Mach 3) and then floor it.
The result? The McLaren GT simultaneously proves its usefulness as well as its pointlessness in about 4.0 seconds. A flash of green on the outside, inside it’s still serene but now with the roar of the V8 that’s been pretty silent until now. The speed arbitrarily increases from 150kmh, 160kmh to 170kmh and the acceleration is incessant. All thoughts of GT are gone, and the whir of the GT’s twin-turbochargers and V8 underline the GT’s latest performance.
The McLaren has been compliant in the UK, in France and throughout the continent, but it’s only when I cross into Germany that I finally feel as though I’m using any of it potential. The Autobahn won’t test the dynamics of its carbonfibre chassis, nor the steering feel – but after cruising at around 160mph for 35 minutes, I feel like I’ve tapped into something this car can do that other GTs can’t. However, McLaren does make one GT faux-pas, it’s got a pretty small tank for a car designed to cover long distances.
As I near Cologne, the speed limits reduce, but the McLaren remains just as at home doing the slower stuff. Surprisingly I’ve found the sat-nav to be proficient too; it’s not the best looking but it’s clear enough and telling me everything I need to know in good time.
- Miles 307
- Time driven 314 mins
- Total miles 307
Day 2 – Cologne to Prague
The next day is the most challenging, with more miles than most others. According to my Google Maps, Cologne to Prague should take just over eight hours, but that’s probably with a pragmatic use of the derestricted motorways – not an approach we’ll be taking in the McLaren. As became obvious yesterday, it’s these bits of road that have so far extracted the most out of the GT’s £160k-odd asking price.
With that in mind, the trip to Prague is fast, thirsty but relatively uneventful, but it’s only when we get to Prague itself that the problems begin. Great for Instagram and tourism, the old town’s cobbled streets are pretty much hell for the GT’s stiff suspension. Holding onto the wheel isn’t particularly fun, while the rearview mirror becomes a blur. And things are about to get worse.
As I approach tonight’s stop, the cobbled street ahead gains some archaic-looking speedbumps – with a medieval clearance of almost half a foot. At this point, using the McLaren’s GT front-nose lift function feels like a drop in the ocean – but it’s my last hope. Click up the stalk, and the McLaren raises its nose by a few centimetres; usually enough for the usual speed bumps you’d find in London – but this? Thankfully, it turns out to be just enough. The McLaren GT may look cool from the outside, but with this much stress, even with the air conditioning on I feel as though my head’s going to melt.
- Miles 421
- Time driven 422 mins
- Total miles 728
Day 3 – Prague to Zamek Valtice
The final day of the outward leg is unlike the others, as Czechia doesn’t seem to have embraced motorways with the veracity of the rest of the continent. The offshoot is that progress to Zamek Valtice is inefficient – but beautiful – and an opportunity to test out the dynamics of the McLaren.
On these flowing roads, the GT’s supercar lineage is more obvious. The road-holding hinted at when cruising on the autobahn is front and centre here – with the precise but light steering providing ample feel and feedback to the driver. Not that you’d need much; regardless of how reckless I get with the steering, or how proddy I get with the throttle on exits, the McLaren wants to be leant on and is planted throughout. On these roads, the McLaren’s firm brakes complete the equation, giving plenty of feel and modulation potential – but with overall stopping power.
- Miles 146
- Time driven 163 mins
- Total miles 874
Return and verdict
After two nights at the venue, the next morning I set a course for home. The journey back is more of the same, though this time I take just one night’s rest; in the German town of Idstein in Hesse. Famous for its witch trials, it’s around 450 miles from Breclav and about 9 hours away; another test of the McLaren’s comfort.
The next day I set off for home, and another 400-ish miles later, I’m rolling back onto the Shuttle. After making sure not to scratch the McLaren’s concept-car-like alloys, there’s a chance to reflect on the McLaren GT as a true grand tourer, and the whole trip in general.
The verdict? After some 1800 miles in in total, it’s been a pleasant surprise. When Woking first took the covers off the McLaren GT back in 2019 – it was easy to say they’d redefined the GT car by simply making a supercar and calling it a grand tourer car – but around two thousand miles later I can say that’s not the case.
Luxurious inside and with enough space for several days’ worth of clothes and bags, the McLaren GT did everything you’d expect from a GT car – and its sat-nav – while lacking the polish or familiarity of CarPlay, rarely put a foot wrong. But the whole point of the McLaren GT is what it can do on the other side of the spectrum.
It can’t out-comfort or out-range of a Bentley Continental GT, but certainly can outperform one on a proper road – and it’ll do so with the howl, and drama you’d expect from a supercar. Driving a Bentley or even an Audi S8 would’ve probably been a bit less fatiguing, but the GT was close enough – and combined it with a level of performance far beyond the reach of Crewe’s finest.
It ended up being the perfect companion on a journey that provided clarity, peace and the ability to really get lost in driving again. The simplicity and freedom of a trip like this can’t be over emphasized, and it’s something I’ll certainly be doing again. The only question: where next?