It has been labelled the spiritual successor to the legendary F1, but the Speedtail is something even more inspiring
We’d been on the road for hours. Hours in which I thought I’d come to know and understand the extraordinary, £2.1 million McLaren Speedtail. And if it wasn’t quite what I was expecting, that was just fine. It’s always good to have an element of the unexpected, even with a prospect as interesting as this. I knew it was fast, fast in a way perhaps no other road car has ever been. And fascinating, too, for its engineering, design and significance.But then – and forgive this very necessary opacity – I found myself able to open it up in a way that had hitherto not been possible. That was when I discovered the Speedtail had been toying with me all day. After 30-something years of testing road cars, here was an entirely new experience. Turns out I didn’t know it at all.That’s strange, because it’s not as if someone with a decent level of knowledge and experience shouldn’t be able to take an educated guess. This wasn’t like when, 26 years ago, we first drove the McLaren F1 – a car not only designed like none that had existed before and with performance to boot, but also one that shared no significant part with any other car.The Speedtail has a carbonfibre tub, a mid-engined configuration, a twin-turbocharged V8 engine, a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox and rear-wheel drive so, in such crucial regards, is no different to any other McLaren of the past 10 years. Yes, it has a hybrid powertrain, but so did the P1 back in 2013.It’s easier still to draw comparisons between the Speedtail and the F1, not just due to their arrowhead, three-seat driving positions but also because, by making the same 106 units as with the F1, McLaren is appearing to invite the association. But they’re nervy about it, too. The F1 is as famous for its exploits on the track as on the road, having enabled McLaren to join Ferrari as the only marques to win Le Mans at the first attempt, and the Speedtail is absolutely not a track car. According to McLaren’s staff, it’s a ‘hyper-GT’, whatever that may be.So join me. I don’t usually dwell on cars’ looks, because I’m no better positioned to judge them than you. But how can I ignore this? One can’t. People will crash their tin boxes to get a better view of it. One bloody nearly did. Another on Woking high street was so fixated that, had there been a lamp-post or open manhole in front of him, he’d have stood no chance.For me, it’s more than just achingly beautiful. I find it utterly beguiling, the way it takes a late-1960s sports racer idiom, with its forward cockpit and extravagantly extended tail, and transports those flowing curves to the present day without the result looking hackneyed, derivative or even conspicuously retro.The interior is the best of any modern supercar, period. The central seat is so natural; it’s the driving position of every other car and not the Speedtail that forever after feels awkward and displaced. And for those F1 owners who struggled in and out of their cars, know that access is immeasurably easier here.There are three digital screens: driving data ahead, flanked by a sat-nav touchscreen on one side and an entertainment touchscreen on the other. It’s that simple. When I think back to McLaren’s hopeless original Iris system of a decade ago, well, the mind truly boggles.Buttons are exiled to the headlining for functions you need regularly (engine start/stop, doors and tiny windows), while others are banished out of immediate sight ahead of your knees. If McLaren can reproduce interior forms of such crisp, clean beauty in the less unaffordable cars of its future, they will by themselves provide temptation of a new kind for the company.Passengers fare worse than in conventional supercars and, surprisingly, in the F1. If the driver is short and thus has the seat a long way forward, all will be fine. But if the seat is positioned rearward, there’s simply insufficient space for the inboard shoulder of each passenger. Children and the slightly built will fare reasonably well, but anyone planning on using their Speedtail in its intended hyper-GT role may find their holiday plans somewhat stymied by passenger-seat protests if they don’t do their homework first.Luggage space, by contrast, is fabulous. There’s a load of room in the nose, a load more in the tail and the almost racing certainty of at least one vacant passenger seat. Oddment storage, however, is almost non-existent, unless you count small cubbies beneath each passenger seat.There are no trim levels or equipment packs for the Speedtail. Customers sit down with McLaren interior designers and clothe their car how they want. And if they don’t want any other Speedtail to have all or part of their spec, McLaren will ringfence it for them. How much? Each car is so individual that it’s impossible to say, but when I tell you that one particular paint finish adds £100,000 to the cost of this £2.1m car, you too will believe that transactions of £3m and above have taken place.The visible carbonfibre has threads three times finer than that used in other McLarens and, if you ask, it can be woven and blended with genuine gold thread. The interior leather is 30% lighter than standard yet neither thinner nor less durable. The edges are painted by hand. The badge on the front can be made from gold or even platinum, each bearing its own unique McLaren hallmark stamp.