I’ve been a bit of a skeptic about hybrid Supercars for quite a while. About two and a half years ago I wrote an article on the “Coming of the Hybrids” where I basically stated I wasn’t particularly excited about the evolution and summarized it:
All this having been said, I don’t have a philosophical objection to hybrids any more than I do to turbo vs. normally aspirated engines. What doesn’t appeal at all about the hybrids is the added weight and increased digitalization. The further you’re removing the driver from a direct connection to the engine, brakes, and wheels the less of an engaging, involving, experience it is going to be to hustle that car down an empty country road on a sunny weekend afternoon. It will be interesting to see if any of the major supercar manufacturers can make the transition to hybrids while preserving those critical elements that make these cars great to drive.
These concerns were largely driven by my experience with the BMW i8. It left me completely flat (BMW i8 report). The 3-cylinder engine sounded anemic, acceleration was just average, the car was overweight, and it showed in the handling. To make matters worse, it was a car I actually wanted to like as I thought it was the best design I had seen from BMW this century. Smaller engine, more weight, and a narrow front track is never going to be the formula for improving the herd.
So, when McLaren very graciously offered me an Artura for 4 days, I was both quite excited and a bit pensive. Would the Artura confirm my biggest fears, or would it school me in the art of the possible, leaving me both relieved and feeling a bit silly to have been so concerned. The Artura is also the first truly “new” car McLaren has launched since the 12C. All the key components including the carbon fiber tub, gearbox, hybrid system, V6 engine, and software, are new for the Artura.
A representative from McLaren NA, kindly meet us at Los Angeles Airport where we collected the Artura. In terms of a blood pressure raising, trial by fire experience, hopping into a borrowed supercar, that you have never driven before, at LAX on a Friday night, has to be near the top of the list. Fortunately, like all the McLarens I have driven, all the controls were well placed and quite intuitive. While the driver interface is definitely a step forward, it is an evolution and did not feel foreign at all. Within minutes, we had all the mirrors adjusted, seat comfortably positioned, drivetrain and suspension modes selected, climate control set, and for the 1st time in a McLaren, ApplePlay connected. All this was done before we even got on the concrete jungle that is I405 winding through Los Angles. After 20 minutes of threading ourselves through Friday evening traffic on I405, we exited the highway and made our way to our hotel for the first night. After a bit of negotiation with the valet, he agreed to move a Mercedes and a Lamborghini out of the way so we could park the Artura securely right in front of the hotel lobby for the night.
A few initial takeaways, the Artura is the 1st McLaren I have driven where the electric seat controls are both intuitive and easy to use. The infotainment system and climate controls are a giant leap forward. It’s great to finally have Apple Play and the touch screen is both sharp and bright. The gear shift paddles are LT size which I personally far prefer the the smaller size ones that are standard in the 720S and 650S. The nose lift, door lock, parking sensor, and frunk (front trunk) release buttons all in row on the dash to the lower left of the steering wheel are another welcome change. In particular the nose lift activation was always far too complicated on past McLarens. The seats are quite comfortable and in terms of shape a nice evolution vs. those in the 720S. The frunk is slightly smaller than the 765LT but with a bit of creative placement, we were able to fit one soft carry-on bag, one hard carry on bag, one backpack, and one large tote bag in the nose.
Our 2nd day with the Artura was a very good day. We got up early and were in the car, rolling away from the hotel by 8:00AM. Our goal for the day was to put the car through its paces and find out just how clever the wizards of Woking were this time. Leaving the hotel was the first time I actually started the Artura (it was already running when we picked it up at LAX). The Artura starts in fully electric mode and stays in electric mode until you hit 40 mph. For driving in LA (or anywhere else where the speed limit is 35 mph), its brilliant. Every 2nd block seems to have a motorcycle cop hiding behind a tree with a radar gun. So given the speed limit is 35 mph in many areas, as long as you are in electric mode, you know you are keeping close to the limit. The other attribute I found pleasantly surprising leaving the hotel was the turning radius, it is remarkably tight. What would have been a 6 point turn in a 675LT was dispatched with one sweep of the steering wheel in the Artura.
Within 10 minutes we were off Wilshire Blvd and back on I405 heading north towards Ojai for breakfast. Right before the on ramp the petrol engine came on and after a brief warm up, we set gearbox to manual, the powertrain to “Sport” and handling to “Comfort” as I405 isn’t quite baby bottom smooth. In “Comfort” the ride was very smooth despite the less than ideal road surface. For cruising, I mostly kept it in 6th gear, dropping into 4th when I needed to dispatch a slower moving object. The Artura does come with a 8 speed gearbox but I found 7th and 8th just too lazy for use at normal US highway cruising speeds. After about an hour, we exited the highway at took Rt 33 up into the hills towards Ojai. This was my first chance to push the Artura a bit and it did not disappoint. With the powertrain now in “Track”, gearshifts bang off in milliseconds. The Artura feels smaller than the 7 series McLarens which makes it very easy to place on the road. That wonderful precise beautifully weighted hydraulic McLaren steering provides both a huge sense of confidence while providing constant feedback.
After a quick breakfast in Ojai, we were off to Montecito (for the record, in our 2 days in Montecito we had zero Spare & Meghan sightings). RT 150 from Ojai to Montecito would be the Artura’s first real test as it winds up through and across the mountains overlooking the Pacific. For this stint, we kept the powertrain in “Track” but moved the handling to “Sport”. The straight bits on RT 150 are few and far between, and with little traffic, this was a great place to begin to really explore the supercar side of the Artura capabilities. With the constant changes of direction, the Artura remained both flat and composed. Handling was excellent and on par with what I would expect from a super series McLaren. The ceramic brakes are excellent, and a quick dab was more than enough to scrub off speed before turning into the next corner. The Artura is a quick car, press the accelerator and it trusts itself forward smartly. With the hybrid system, turbo lag is imperceivable which gives the Artura a feeling of earnestness that I always found lacking in the 570 series McLarens. I guess I should not be surprised by this as the Artura has more horsepower than a 675LT. The drive down to Montecito turned out to be quite an exciting one as we did have to dodge a few rock slides and the road was taken down to one lane in a few areas for repairs.
Once we reached Montecito, it was a quick stop at the Honor Bar for a couple of expressos and then off to our home for the night. We dropped our luggage off at the house and then headed immediately to Via Vai for lunch. We have been coming here for over 20 years and the food is always consistently good. After a quick bite it was back up into the mountains overlooking Santa Barbara as we put the Artura through its paces. The Artura seems to really enjoy changing direction and even on narrow winding mountain roads was very easy to place. The sightlines are excellent, and I did not notice any awkward blind spots. Brake feel in these situations is critical to inspiring confidence and allowing for rapid progress and the Artura did not disappoint. A bit of pressure on the left pedal was all it took to get the desired amount of speed off going into a corner. After a good hour of dancing along the ridgelines, we dropped back down and headed to a local supermarket to pick up a few things. The Artura’s frunk will easily hold a week’s worth of groceries for two.
If Day 2 was a first date that went well, Day 3 would be all about, is there a chance this could develop into a long term relationship. It was another early start to the day and by 8AM we were in the Artura headed down the Mission Caynon Road toward Los Olivos for breakfast. Our route took us up and through the Santa Ynez Mountains on RT 154. This stretch of road is a great place to get to know a car well as it has major elevation changes, lots of both high and low speed corners plus a few select passing areas to dispatch slower moving traffic. On this morning it was in the passing areas that the Artura really shined. These are normally 1-2 mile stints where the road widens to 2 lanes going north and you have a short opportunity to get around slower moving lines of traffic. These lines tend to be 4-5 cars long, so it takes a bit of work to get around the lot and back in line before the passing lane ends. The benchmark in this case was the 675LT Spider which is simply brilliant in these situations, and we had taken up this road a few years back. I have to say, the Artura held its own. It piles on velocity smartly and remains highly composed as you earnestly dispatch the moving roadblocks. The cadence was, two pulls on the left gearshift paddle, close the gap to the car in front swing the car to the left as the passing lane opened up, and then bury the accelerator, moving up the gearbox when you approached the redline. When we reached Los Olivos and parked, Mrs. SSO mentioned for the 1st time that she quite liked the Artura and really enjoyed the drive.
After a couple of coffees and very doughy croissant, it was time to head back to Montecito for lunch. The original plan was to head back the same way we came and find a spot or two to stop and take pictures. The first place we picked for pictures turned out to be less than spectacular so for the second, we were looking to pull down a side road where we could stop and get a few great shots. Our choice of side road turned out to be spectacular as we quite by accident ended up on the North San Marcos Road. The North San Marcos Road would not be out of place in the Swiss Alps; it is 4 miles of banked S curves as you descend rapidly from the mountains to the coast. If I made a mistake here, it would be highly unlikely that McLaren would ever lend me a car again, then again, if I made a mistake, I doubt I would ever be in a position to need a car again. Given the banking on a few of the corners, I raised the front nose as the angles were quite acute. This was exactly the type of road I was hoping to find as you discover very quickly how much trust and confidence you have in the car. By the bottom, the Artura and I had really bonded. The whole way down was an exercise in brush the brake pedal, turn in, begin to accelerate as the corner opens, shift up, shift down, brush the brake and repeat for the next 4 miles. The only disappointment is we didn’t have any spare time to go run the San Marcos a few more times.
After a delightful lunch in Montecito, we pack up and headed back to Santa Monica. For a bit of a change, we decided to take the Pacific Coast Highway all the way into Santa Monica. It was a lovely scenic drive until we approached Zuma Beach. At this point, he hit bumper to bumper traffic and with the exception of a few brief opening, it would remain this way until we got to our hotel in Santa Monica. In this situation the Artura transformed itself again. It became a docile city car quite happy to slowly roll along. Both the powertrain and handling modes were in “Comfort” now and the Artura switched into electric mode for most of the remaining journey. I didn’t think I would ever say this, but when you are inching along in LA traffic, being able to do so in relative quiet, and carry on a conversation, is quite pleasant. I was far more comfortable driving the Artura in this sort of traffic that I would have been in the 650S Spider. It was also during this stint that Mrs. SSO opened a discussion on whether we should consider trading the 650S Spider for an Artura as its capabilities as a “daily driver” are truly on a whole new level. We agree for now to wait to make a final decision until the Artura Spider is launched.
Our final day with the Artura was spent driving around Los Angeles. The Artura truly is an easy car to drive around a city as the visibility is excellent, the 360 Parking Assist makes getting into and out of tight parking spaces easy, the ride in comfort mode is excellent, plus using the electric mode helps keeps speed down and you out of trouble. I think I saw more speed traps driving around LA in a few hours than I have seen in months in Montana. Using Waze via AppleCarplay made getting around the city easy and it was great to have this capability finally built into a McLaren. After a few hours of driving around and doing a few errands, it sadly was time to drop off the Artura at the McLaren dealership in Beverly Hills. After handing over the keys to the valet, I found myself stopping to get one last look at the car I had developed a deep sense of respect for over the last several days.
A Few Final Thoughts
The Artura is really the 1st McLaren Supercar designed to be a daily driver. Others can be used for daily driving, but the Artura is just that much better at it. At the same time, switching among the different handling and powertrain modes transforms the Artura in a much more dramatic way than any of its predecessors. It truly goes from docile city car to feral supercar with a few turns of the dial. The hybrid system works brilliantly and doesn’t compromise the driving experience, in fact it enhances is it. The only negatives I found were the driver’s display graphics were a bit on the ordinary side and the frunk isn’t quite as generous as the one on the 765LT Spider. The steering, sightlines, braking, and acceleration were all very much up to what I would expect from a McLaren Supercar. Overall, it’s a brilliant piece of engineering and design that exceeded my expectations.
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