2019 McLaren Senna First Review
- Powertrain: 4.0-liter V8
- Output: 789 horsepower
- Acceleration: 0-62 mph in 2.8 seconds
- Price: $958,966
OK, so very few can afford the requisite $958,966 that the latest Ultimate Series McLaren, the Senna tested here, is expected to cost. That means this is going to turn into a bench-racing discussion, which by definition, must be replete with proof positive of the Senna’s bona fides.
And said numbers speak volumes. For the record, the Woking-based, Formula One-racing automaker claims the Senna is the most extreme, engaging and responsive road car it has ever produced, not to mention the lightest and the fastest around a racetrack. Considering that said Ultimate Series is also responsible for the legendary F1 and the hyper-kinetic P1, that’s saying something. So, without further ado, let’s get down to some hard facts.
Highest-powered turbo V8 McLaren ever
Yes, the P1 hypercar officially boasts 903 brake horsepower, but its 3.8-liter twin-turbocharged V8 "only” produces 727 ponies, the rest of its prodigious oomph arriving via the 176-hp electric motor attached to its engine block. The Senna’s 4.0L version of the same engine, meanwhile, produces 789 horses thanks to more displacement, unique inlet and exhaust manifolds and a bit more boost. Nonetheless, you’re thinking, how can it be the most responsive McLaren ever if it’s 114-hp in arrears?
Indeed, at just 2,641 pounds, that means the Senna has a power-to-weight ratio of, as the Brits say, 659 bhp per tonne, which is, astonishingly, superior to the 647 bhp per tonne of the admittedly more powerful P1.
Said featherweight status is the result of some truly conscientious dieting. The front fenders -- carbon fiber, naturally -- weigh less than 1.5 pounds. The single-piece racing seats -- again, carbon fiber -- weigh barely more than seven pounds. Indeed, so persnickety were the Senna’s engineers about weight that they changed all the bolts from hex head flanges to a button head design to save a few grams per fastener.
0-63 mph in 2.8 seconds
That, since I’m trying to save you time of looking up data, is the same as the P1. Ditto for the 6.8 seconds it takes the Senna to hit 124 mph. Only as it stretches for 186 mph does the Senna slow down compared to the P1. The 18.8 seconds it takes is about two seconds slower than the hybrid supercar, but for the record, faster than the Porsche 918 and Lamborghini Aventador LP750-4 Super Veloce.
Now, here’s the thing; those aren’t the Senna’s most impressive numbers. No, that honor rests with the fact that, at 155 mph, the Senna produces 1,763.7 pounds of downforce. Again, for context, that means that at 155 mph, the rear wing and front splitter increase the force pushing the already super-sticky Pirelli Trofeo Rs -- 305/30ZR20 in the rear and 245/35/ZR19 fronts -- into the tarmac with the extra 1,763.7 pounds. That’s an astonishing 67 per cent of its own curb weight. Can you say traction?
That’s why, as intoxicating as the Senna’s acceleration is, it’s the brakes that are, by far, the most impressive thing about this “most extreme” McLaren. The first time you roar down Estoril’s long front straight -- as I was lucky enough to do during our test -- at nearly 175 mph, you’ll hammer on the brakes, the huge rear wing tilts forward its maximum 35 degrees, the big six-pot front calipers latch onto huge, 15.35-inch carbon ceramic disc with tenacity and then...at about 150 feet out -- an eternity on a racetrack -- you realize you’re going so slow that a Camry could clip the apex.
If not quite the proverbial brick wall, the Senna’s aero package and CCM-R carbon ceramic brakes are the very next best thing. So yes, the Senna can accelerate like the dickens, but eventually you will become blasé about even that much turbo boost and wish for more. But, take my word for this, you will never, ever need more brake than this stopping power than this car generates.
All that downforce also means that the new Senna is capable of over 2.0 g’s of lateral acceleration in high-speed corners, this according to Andy Palmer, McLaren’s vehicle line director for the Ultimate Series (i.e. the Senna and the incredibly fast P1). Like so many supercars, the Senna has those one-piece form-fitting seats. But, unlike so many others for whom this is but a poseur’s affectation, the Senna really does need them.
Indeed, the single-piece seats are offered in just one shell size but use various cushions to be customized to the owner. In one of my track session, I got into a Senna with seats one size too large and it was all I could do to stay in my seat, despite a) being buckled in tight with a 5-point racing harness and b) engaging every single core muscle I have.
More is not better
What’s perhaps most interesting about all this downforce-enabled traction is that the Senna could have even more. In fact, after 155 mph, McLaren programs said wing and front splitter to start bleeding off some of its aerodynamic energy because it would put too much strain on the Senna’s suspension and those ZR-rated Pirelli tires. And since, in Race mode, the hydraulic, cross-linked RaceActive Chassis Control II suspension is lowered some 1.5 inches (in front; 1.2 inches in the rear), more downforce would risk bottoming out.
The final lesson of this bench-racing session is that the Senna does not suffer fools, one that does not involve numbers. It’s a rough car, brutal in its comportment and, dare I say it, violent, in its actions. If you want to go as fast round a race track in a car that you can and if you’re willing to put up with the noise and lack of creature comforts driving it on the street, then the Senna is for you. As McLaren takes pain to point out, it may be road legal, but it’s primary purpose, despite all the poseurs who will use it otherwise, is as a track weapon.