• Drop-top version of the 600LT Coupé
  • Minimal weight gains to maximize performance
  • Carbon-fiber tub and power-operated roof
  • 592 horsepower twin-turbocharged V8
  • Base price of $256,500

 

Slice the roof off most coupes and the results are tragic – rigidity is compromised, weight goes up, headroom is reduced, and driving comfort decreases. Due to this laundry list of concessions, most driving enthusiasts prefer a closed-roof coupe over a drop-top. But that’s not the finding with the 2019 McLaren 600LT Spider, a high-performance convertible that appears to break all the long-established rules.

McLaren’s 600LT Coupé was introduced last year hot on the heels of the company’s celebrated 570S Coupé. The “LT” stands for Longtail, which the British automaker defines as, “The most extreme expression of a McLaren you can get... the purest distillation of the sheer driving pleasure embodied by all our cars.” In a nutshell, the 600LT is an enthusiast-tuned variant of the 570S, boasting optimized aerodynamics, reduced weight, more power, and performance-tuned suspension. The 600LT Spider, fresh on the scene, is nearly identical to its Coupé sibling except it is fitted with a power-operated retractable roof.

Lightweight carbon-fiber platform and an innovative motorized roof

All of McLaren’s Sport Series vehicles share the same MonoCell II carbon-fiber chassis. Engineered without a roof, the lightweight composite tub – it weighs just 165 pounds – is reportedly 25 percent stiffer than a comparable aluminum structure. It is so rigid that no additional bracing was required for the Spider variant (in fact, it was initially designed to be open). Covering the understructure are body panels crafted from aluminum alloy, composites, and carbon fiber — stiffness and low weight were the primary engineering objectives.

A foldable fabric roof was ruled out by McLaren’s engineers when designing the Spider — a solid roof provides better protection from inclement weather, plus it proves more security in terms of deterring theft or break-ins. Instead, they chose to craft a three-piece retractable carbon-fiber folding hardtop with fully electric operation (it may be opened in just 15 seconds at speeds up to 25 mph). When open, the roof tucks invisibly away to maintain the sleek lines of the 2-door. When closed, it seals tightly to be quieter than any fabric counterpart — plus it looks great.

An exhaustive, best-in-segment weight loss program

Convertibles are heavier than their closed-roof counterparts because the added machinery, electric motors, and structural bracing add weight. Challenging convention, McLaren’s engineers fitted the 600LT Spider with lightweight electrical harnesses, thinner glass, forged aluminum suspension components, ultra-lightweight forged wheels, titanium wheel bolts, and carbon-fiber fenders. Even the exhaust was re-routed, now exiting on top of the mid-mounted engine to reduce the length of the exhaust plumbing (don’t worry, the engineers put drain holes in it, so it won’t flood when it rains).

McLaren’s efforts are commendable – the 600LT Spider tips the scales with a dry weight of just 2,859 pounds, which is only 110 pounds heavier than the 600LT Coupé. For a bit more perspective, compare the McLaren’s weight to that of the 3,131-pound Ferrari 488 Spider, or the 3,322-pound Lamborghini Huracan Performante Spyder — its two closest rivals. The McLaren is upwards of 463 pounds lighter than its direct competitors! In a world of heavyweight fighters, the McLaren 600LT Spider is a svelte featherweight.

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Twin-turbocharged V8 for immense power

After dotting the i's and crossing the t's with regards to the chassis and mass, McLaren finalized the package with an ultra-responsive, twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter V8 powerplant. The 592 horsepower (457 lb-ft of torque) engine, which features dry-sump lubrication and a flat-plane crankshaft, is mid-mounted and very low in the chassis. A 7-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox sends power to just the rear wheels – all-wheel drive is not offered – with an intensity and aggressiveness based on the driver-selected setting (the powertrain is configured through the Active Dynamics Panel on the dashboard).

It doesn’t take a physicist to realize that the 600LT Spider boasts a jaw-dropping power-to-weight ratio. According to McLaren, the Spider will accelerate from 0-60 mph in 2.8 seconds. The sprint to 124 mph takes just 8.4 seconds. Top down, it will run to 196 mph — raise the roof and the top speed climbs to a blistering 201 mph.

Mesmerizing performance – top up or down

The cockpit is intimate – think fighter jet accommodations — as this is a genuine sports car, not a grand tourer. Top up, the cabin is sealed remarkably well and conversations with the passenger are effortless. Top down, there is a bit of buffeting at speed, but rolling up the three windows (there’s a small power-operated wind blocker in the rear) helps immensely.

Driving McLaren’s 600LT Spider is both a physical and audible joy, thanks to a very responsive throttle, the prodigious power of the forced-induction V8, and a blissful soundtrack from the top-mounted exhaust pipes. Mash the alloy accelerator pedal to the floor and an afterburner-like roar — as if the air is being ripped apart by a jet engine — emanates from just aft of the passengers' heads (which are simultaneously plastered into the head restraints). It’s the characteristic note of a turbocharged engine with a lot of boost, and it sounds wondrous. McLaren raises the bar with Ignition Cut, whereby the spark is retarded momentarily to reduce shift times – the action causes a theatrical aural concussion during the upshift. Downshifts are equally exuberant, with boisterous booms and pops during deceleration. To an automotive enthusiast, the effect is both thrilling and hypnotic.

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On-road and track impressions

The 600LT Spider is civilized on the road. The gearbox is smooth, the engine docile at low speeds, the steering perfectly weighed, and vision out of the cockpit from the low driver’s seat is reasonable for a supercar (there are predictable blind spots on each rear quarter, but large exterior mirrors improve sighting down each side). An available power-operated nose lift, which raises the front end for more clearance, is a must-have option for those who encounter steep driveways on a regular basis.

As expected, the McLaren’s dampers are firm – mission-focused – with tuning on the extreme side of the performance calibration. On smooth roads the ride is perfectly acceptable, but on broken pavement or rough aggregate the 600LT Spider can be harsh. Dropping the top and basking in the sun (and taking in the sweet exhaust note), is the preferred way to travel.

Any concerns about the firm suspension damping are immediately dismissed when the sticky Pirelli Trofeo R tires on the McLaren roll onto a racing circuit – this is the 600LT Spider’s natural habitat. At racing velocities, the drop-top is immensely stable – the automaker says its tuned aerodynamics provide more than 220 pounds of downforce at 155 mph. Turn-in is instantaneous with an enormous amount of grip from the front end, and very little understeer. The rear end is easy to toss – lift mid-corner and it obediently comes around until you mash the throttle to aim and stabilize it. Use a careful touch on the throttle coming out of the tightest corners, as putting the power down to the pavement is this McLaren’s greatest challenge — wheelspin and oversteer comes quickly. Blame that torquey V8. Carbon-ceramic brakes reign in triple-digit speeds with ease. Right off the showroom floor the 600LT Spider is one of the world’s greatest track cars.

Final thoughts and pricing

After a full day with the new McLaren, we part ways smiling and categorically impressed. After endlessly complaining about convertible-centric shortcomings – compromised rigidity, weight, headroom, and comfort – we’ve finally found a supercar that is seemingly unaffected by these deficiencies. The 600LT Spider appears to be every bit as capable, enjoyable, and engaging as its closed-roof sibling. Toss in the joy of open-air driving, and it’s no surprise that the Spider — not the Coupé — is our enthusiast-preferred choice between the two.

As a bespoke automaker, McLaren offers a variety of common options and option packages to enhance the performance and appearance of the 600LT. McLaren Special Operations (MSO) allows even further customization of aerodynamics and weight reduction, with the most discerning customers – those choosing a tailor-made creative process – working through MSO Bespoke. The 2019 McLaren 600LT Spider is on sale now with a base price of $256,500 (plus a destination fee of $2,500) — U.S. deliveries begin in April.

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