This past Friday, McLaren North America invited me to test drive their new Elva. It was a typical late July, New England summer day. Sunny with the mercury hovering around 90F, a bit muggy, and the threat of thunderstorms later in the day. In many ways the perfect weather to see just how livable a McLaren Elva really is. McLaren had generously provided not just the “standard” completely open cockpit version, but also one fitted with their “optional” windshield.
I started with the Elva fitted with the optional windshield, prototype XP12W. After a quick briefing on the car from the McLaren Greenwich Marketing Manager, he pulled XP12W through the glass showroom doors and out into the driveway. Out he hopped and in I dropped. The seats are unique to the Elva, quite comfortable, and similar in feel to the P1 seats. You sit quite low and feel a bit cocooned with first the seat and then the car wrapped around you. The controls are all very familiar with the only major change being the traction and transmission settings are now on rocker switches above and behind the gearshift paddles as in the new McLaren Artura.
With my right foot firmly on the brake pedal, I gave the large red start button a committed poke to bring Elva XP12W to life. The engine settled almost immediately into a low rumble while I fiddled with the mirrors and seat adjustment. Two things I immediately noticed, the windowless door on the Elva comes up higher alongside you and the nose does not disappear in front of you the same way it does on most McLarens. In a 720S Spider, you feel like the road is being vacuumed up right in front of you. In the Elva, because of the higher nose needed for the Active Air Management System, the front of the car feels like it is slightly more distant than it really is. The higher front wheel arches magnify this effect. The sensation is closer to a single seat race car than a GT car. It certainly adds to the experience and reminds you that you are in something truly unique and special.
Pulling away in XP12W was drama free. The throttle is easy to modulate, and with 804 bhp sitting behind your head, moving smartly through traffic to get out of the downtown area took little time. I decided to head to the northern reaches of Greenwich where we used to go to “develop and improve” our driving skills when we were teenagers. The roads in this area are quite windy, narrow, and hilly. It’s a good environment to see just how well a car handles.
Most McLarens shrink around you when you push them. The Elva comes preshrunk. Because of this it takes a bit of time to get comfortable with where the front corners are. The steering, like all McLarens, is beautifully weighted and gives great feedback. Once you have learned the front end, the Elva is very easy to place on the road and carve through multiple curves fluidly. The Elva flows and changes direction effortlessly. Unlike the Senna which really isn’t happy at anything under 3500 rpms and 50 mph, the Elva, despite having 15 more bhp, will motor calmly at the lesser speeds mandated by tight very windy roads. This makes it much easier and more enjoyable to use the gearbox and just a dab of brakes to balance the car as you carve through the countryside. The few times the XP12W and I ventured onto major roads and I had the chance to flex my right ankle a bit, the Elva absolutely flies. In bigger, heavier high powered cars, there is always that slight hesitation as the engine strains to get the mass attached to the wheels moving, the Elva’s lightness shines through in these situations as it just immediately takes off for the horizon.
Despite it being 90F out, quite muggy, and in a car completely open to the elements, the very efficient air-conditioning system keep me perfectly cool. The air-conditioning vents are smartly placed lower down in the cabin which allows the cool air to flow up and around you. I didn’t bother trying the stereo. The soundtrack coming from the rear of the car provided the perfect aural accompaniment. If I owned an Elva, it could be years before I bothered checking if the infotainment system even worked. The new dashboard mounted rocker switches for the traction and transmission settings took a bit of getting used to but I put this down more to needing to overcome ingrained habits from driving other McLarens.
I did stop once to get a few pictures of XP12W in what I thought would be a fairly inconspicuous remote spot. Within minutes I had line of cars that pulled over to get a closer look at the Elva with several drivers getting out to ask questions. I was quite impressed that a few knew exactly what it was and commented that they were used to seeing McLarens in the area.
After the short photo session, I headed back to McLaren Greenwich to swap Elva versions. While the first drive was just a solo, this next drive I asked the McLaren marketing manager to join me in the neon orange “classic” “#4” Elva. After a quick helmet fitting (the Elva comes with specially designed helmets), off we went. Despite being 95% the same car, the completely open configuration is a very different experience. A large part of this difference comes down to having to wear a helmet (I would not drive the Elva “#4” without one, I am fond of my teeth) and exposure to nature. The Active Air Management System is quite clever, but you do need to be moving at some speed for it to work. Where a conversation with your passenger in the other Elva version is quite possible, it’s a major challenge with a helmet mounted on your dome. The other major difference I noticed was a greater sensation of speed in Elva “#4” which I put down to being completely exposed to the elements.
So, after two very enjoyable hours spent cruising around in not one, but two different Elvas, there was no question that it each was a very special, highly desirable, car. Can the Elva pass the “Use Case” test though? I think it can for a certain type of supercar buyer. This is the same group that doesn’t blanch at the costs of owning large boats or flying private. While the Elva will never be a first or second car just based on practicality, for collectors with larger stables it makes for a great addition to be able take out on a clear sunny weekend day and enjoy hooning around on great roads for a number of hours. My personal preference would be for an Elva with the optional windshield as I am sure Mrs. SSO (the Karen in karenable) would be happy to join me for a drive which would certainly expand the number of usage opportunities. The need to wear a helmet in the “classic” Elva would be a much harder sell.
In conclusion, the Elva is very cool. I’m glad McLaren is building it and I am absolutely delighted that I was given the opportunity to drive it. The Elva is just brilliantly engineered and wickedly quick. Somehow McLaren was able to add a few more horsepower over the Senna while making it a less highly strung and more real world friendly automobile. My inner 8 year old petrolhead would be happy just staring at it for hours on end.
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