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McLaren Speedtail: A supercar for sharing

Two’s company — three’s an adoring crowd in the three-seater hypercar concept with its central driving position configuration

Only 106 of these carbon-fibre shelled Speedtails will be built, with each customer exchanging about Dh8 million for the privilege of owning what promises to be the ultimate expression in automotive engineering excellence.

One of the aspects of travel that is part privilege and problematic is having to drive in different countries — and having to drive on different sides of the road. Most of the world follows the UAE’s driving protocol, where you drive on the right and have cars configured with the steering wheel on the left. About a third of the world does it the other way around.

It would be a great deal less disorienting if the cars we drove all had a steering wheel in the middle, providing a symmetry of spatial awareness from the cockpit. The pinnacle of motorsport, Formula One, provides an argument for a steering and seating position halfway between the opposing wheels, yet nobody has been keen on replicating the proven benefits of an F1 driving position for high-performance road cars.

Well, nearly nobody. When the second-most successful Formula One racing team in history decided to celebrate its heritage by building the most spectacular supercar of the previous century, they divorced from convention and designed it with a central driving position. History has been kind to McLaren’s F1, and 20 years after the last of these legendary supercars were built, the British brand has announced a new hypercar project that finally revives the central driving position philosophy.

Only 106 of these carbon-fibre shelled Speedtails will be built, with each customer exchanging about Dh8 million for the privilege of owning what promises to be the ultimate expression in automotive engineering excellence.

The car in question will be known as a Speedtail when it’s delivered to customers in 2020, and one glance at the accompanying images confirm evidence of its naming convention. The shape is a study in extreme aerodynamics and elegance, two design features that are difficult to marry but a combination that McLaren has previously executed perfectly, in the guise of its F1 road car.

Measured bumper-to-bumper, the Speedtail is a limousine-like 5m in length. Spreading its teardrop shape over such generous dimensions means incredible high-speed stability and unparalleled cabin comfort. With trunks at both ends of the car, the Speedtail has a cumulative luggage capacity of 162 litres, which shames most other hypercars.

Only 106 of these carbon-fibre shelled Speedtails will be built, with each customer exchanging about Dh8 million for the privilege of owning what promises to be the ultimate expression in automotive engineering excellence. Although the Speedtail is a collection of hardly believable statistics, what defines it is an amazing adaptability of purpose.

The Speedtail will be the first of 18 new derivatives of McLaren, which are set to carry the British manufacturer into a future where the automotive industry is being disrupted and forced into unexpected stages of evolution. Despite leveraging much of McLaren’s F1 racing knowledge, the Speedtail is not purely a hypercar — it can comfortably seat three (like the original F1 road car) and will feature a set of configurables that should make it an adept high-speed touring cruiser, which can effortlessly be driven all day without inducing fatigue.

The three abreast seating arrangement is genius and will offer Speedtail owners the ability to take two privileged guests on journeys with them — something which is impossible in any of McLaren’s rivals.

Comprehensive digitisation is a theme of the cabin architecture, with five screens arranged in the driver’s field of view. Three of these screens display and control traditional instrumentation and infotainment functions, with the other two acting as side-mirror video relay displays. And yes, if you look closely at those electrically powered Speedtail doors, you’ll notice they have no wing mirrors — McLaren deleting these in the interest of aerodynamics and replacing them with small camera pods to achieve the all-round observation function compulsory in a road car.

The Speedtail is powered by a 4-litre twin-turbocharged V8, augmented by electric motors, to generate a peak power output of 1,036hp. McLaren’s placed the engine and its battery packs amidships to realise optimal weight distribution within the car’s total mass of 1,430kg — a number that remains remarkably light for something of its size.

Performance promises to be epic, with the teardrop-shaped car designed to obliterate conventional acceleration and speed parameters. McLaren claims the Speedtail will run from 0-300km/h in 12.8 seconds, before slimming out of its aerodynamic profile at a top speed of 403km/h. The automotive giant has ensured these dramatic data will be easily achievable for Speedtail owners thanks to a raft of active aerodynamics.

A collection of control surface and active winglets manage airflow symmetry over the car’s bodywork at speed. The most noticeable aero trickery is the Speedtail’s front wheels, which feature full carbon-fibre covers to reduce unstable air in the wheel wells. You might think wheel spoke turbulence is a bit much of muchness, but when you digest the speeds this McLaren is capable of, the importance of balancing and taming airflow at every possible corner, kink, crevasse and hollow on the car’s shape becomes apparent.

The Speedtail is an extraordinary hypercar and one burdened by exceptional expectations. McLaren built a supercar many believed would never be equalled for its purity of execution in its original F1. With the Speedtail, the British high-performance automotive brand has illustrated that its quest for technological excellence and innovation is aimed at an ever-evolving horizon.

McLaren’s P1 hybrid hypercar was a reference point for what the company’s engineers were capable of, but dedicated followers of the brand pined for a revival of the classic F1 road car’s three-seater configuration. With the Speedtail, that desire is close to reality and currently there is a prototype named Albert tallying mileage to complete validation testing, which should ensure McLaren remains true to its 2020 production car delivery promise.

The revival of McLaren’s three-seater hypercar concept is a joyous occasion for those who thrill at the logic of a central driving position and true race car performance for the road.

The Speedtail is an amazing creation of astonishing components and clarity of resolve and none better illustrate this than its sound system. In the early 1990s, when McLaren required the lightest possible in-car hi-fi system for the F1, Kenwood was commissioned to develop a bespoke solution. With the Speedtail, it is much the same case, with Bower & Wilkins providing the tech. When even the best catalogue sound systems don’t match your hypercar design standards, and you require a bespoke speaker solution, you know the Speedtail will truly be something very special.

And best of all, with two passenger seats flanking the driver, it’s an experience that can be shared with more than one.

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