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TEST DRIVE: McLaren 600LT Spider

David Haueter samples the McLaren 600LT Spider in latest Sportscar365 Test Drive series…

Photo: David Haueter

There are many great sports cars available today, but most of them are compromised when it comes to driving in its purest form.

The luxury and comfort features that need to be added to make them attractive to buyers as a car that can be driven every day add weight and place more filters between the driver and the road.

When you drive a car without all these filters it’s a revelation.

The McLaren 600LT Spider is one such car.

It’s clear before you even drive the 600LT Spider that it’s made for one thing and one thing only – to deliver a performance driving experience that removes most of those filters that are in other cars.

It has a purposefulness and presence that is more at place on a race track than on a public road, with a low slung body optimized for aerodynamic efficiency, a big diffuser at the back and those big exhaust pipes that exit through the engine cover.

Photo: David Haueter

Weight is the enemy of performance and McLaren focused on keeping weight down in the 600LT Spider to optimize the driving experience.

With carbon fiber used for the chassis and bodywork, the 600LT Spider weighs just 3,095 pounds, which is just 110.2 pounds more than the sister 600LT Coupe and 219 pounds less than the 570S Spider.

It’s also 165 pounds less than the last Porsche 911 GT3 RS and 179 pounds less than the Ferrari 488 Pista Spider.

Mounted behind the driver is a 3.8-liter twin-turbocharged V8 that produces 592 horsepower and 475 lb.-ft. of torque, which can take the 600LT Spider to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds and to 124 mph in 8.4 seconds.

If you had the room to do it, this car would top out at 201 mph with the roof up or 196 mph with the roof down, which is a testament to the aero design on this car.

Once you get past 155 mph, the car generates 220.5 pounds of downforce and getting it all back down to sane speeds are carbon ceramic brakes with 15.3-inch rotors up front and 15-inch at the back.

The three-piece hardtop folding roof may seem like a concession to a bit of luxury, and maybe it is, but it doesn’t change the silhouette of the car when it’s up and doesn’t change the aerodynamic properties of the car.

It also makes it easier for taller people like me (at 6-foot-5) to drop myself into the driver’s seat.

Photo: David Haueter

Yes, I was able to fit into this car, but that was one of the challenges in spending a weekend with it. The challenge was more from the optional Super-Lightweight carbon fiber racing seats ($6,240) than anything else.

Shared with the Senna, the seats look cool and really hold you in place once you get in them, but the shell of the seat is rigid carbon fiber, which makes it difficult to get in and out of the car – especially if you’re as tall as I am.

Inside, the 600LT Spider is also focused on performance.

With most of the features that involve climate control, audio or mobile accessible from the touchscreen interface, the steering wheel doesn’t have a single button or dial on it, which is a rare thing to see these days.

Driving information is available on the digital display that sits behind the wheel, with the tach front and center. Pretty much everything inside is covered in alcantara and there’s not much in the way of storage, though there is a small cupholder that’s hard to reach.

Photo: Ingrid Kretschmann

Climbing over the wide still and dropping into the carbon fiber is akin to climbing into a race car, and though the cockpit was a bit tight for me (especially with the fixed seat backs of the Super-Lightweight seats), the position of the steering wheel and the controls were ideal and the view over the short hood makes you feel closely connected to the road.

Being tall, I also have large feet (size 13 U.S.) and had to pay real attention to where my feet were on the pedals, which are very close together.

Driving the 600LT Spider is, in a word, thrilling. From the moment you get situated into the seat and push the starter button, you feel like you’re in a race car that was given just enough concessions to make it street legal.

I had to pick the car up in Manhattan, so my first miles were driving it through the Lincoln Tunnel and down the interstate into New Jersey.

Yes, you can drive this car on pockmarked roads in traffic, but it’s not something I would recommend given its firm ride and the low stance.

The car has a feature that allows you to lift the nose when going over things like speed bumps or parking lot entrances with sharper angles if you need to, but this car is clearly made for smooth twisty roads and race tracks.

Photo: David Haueter

Once into the back roads of northwestern New Jersey where I live, the 600LT Spider came alive.

Running up through the gears with the dual-clutch gearbox and hearing the rifle crack of the exhaust was a visceral experience and the speed of the car was awesome, especially in the midrange.

There are plenty of other cars that can hit 60 in under 3 seconds, but it feels a lot more dramatic and involving in a 3,095-pound  McLaren than in say, a 4,295-pound BMW M8 Competition.

That feeling of speed is enhanced even further by the exhaust sound right behind your head and the close view of the road through the windshield. You forget all about other stresses and worries in your life when you drive this car in Sport mode with the rear window or the roof down.

That crack of the exhaust is from the ignition cut, which also makes for faster gear changes, and it’s intoxicating. Whoever thought of this at McLaren is a genius.

I was able to take the 600LT Spider out for a few laps at Monticello Motor Club and the car felt truly in its element there.

It’s great to drive on a twisty back road, but its power, handling prowess and overall balance is best exploited on a wide-open track like Monticello.

Photo: Ingrid Kretschmann

Handling and balance are superb, and there’s great feel through the steering wheel and the seat.

McLaren offers a Track mode for the 600LT Spyder, but the car feels just about perfect in Sport mode. Braking performance was also fantastic, with a nice progressive pedal and zero fade.

The ride home from Monticello with the top down was almost just as much fun as the track, as the route covered some smooth and twisty back roads where I could revel in the performance of the McLaren in a more sedate manner while enjoying the open air.

It was a memorable weekend driving this car and it brings home how good a performance car can really be when there’s few compromises.

This all comes at a price of course, as the 600LT Spider has a base price of around $256,500 and our test car had a sticker north of $300K with options.

Still, that’s well under the price of the Ferrari 488 Pista Spider, which is one of its closest competitors, and the McLaren is so good that it may make you rethink how much house you really need.

David Haueter has been an automotive writer and photographer for the past 20 years. His writing and photos have been published in Roundel, Bimmer, Forza and Excellence and SportsCarInsider as well as other automotive and racing magazines.

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