We have owned our McLaren Senna for just under two years now. It is very much a car that I am still learning and bonding with. Its capabilities are immense, and I feel like I have yet to get anywhere near its limits. If there is one word to sum up the Senna its focused. Driving a Senna is intense, there is nothing relaxing about it, but is completely engaging. An hour behind the wheel in a Senna is a hugely rewarding experience that leaves you feeling alive and your petrolheart fulfilled.
Bonding with a car is something that I find takes both time and a range of driving experiences. I’ve often said the McLaren 675LT Spider is my favorite of all the McLarens we have owned over the past decade. A large part of this is the amount of time we have spent together in a range of different environments from the wide-open highways of Wyoming to a number of private mountain roads in Montana. We did over 1,000 miles together one day driving from Montana to Texas and crossed the Nevada desert in triple digit heat with the passengers kept at a cool 68 F. The bonding process is still on-going with the Senna as we just haven’t had a lot of these opportunities yet, although 1,000 mile in the Senna in a day would likely be the end of me. One thing I really enjoyed doing when we lived in Europe was immediately taking off on a long road trip every time I could when we acquired a new car. I still remember my first road trip in the F40 very fondly. It is one of the reasons I learned the nuisances of driving an F40 and bonded with it so quickly. On the flip side, I never had the opportunity to do anything remotely like that with the P1 and so we never developed the same sort of relationship. These initial road trips definitely accelerated the bonding process although in a couple of cases it turned out to be an accelerated realization that I had made an acquisition mistake.
With Covid having put a complete kibosh on road trips for the last year, all the drives I have done in the Senna have been local backroad jaunts with the occasional blast down the highway. A good back country road is actually a great place to challenge a Senna’s capabilities. Just walking around the car, you know it will be great on a track, the question therefore is can it handle roads that aren’t perfect with corners that are random and irregular. My experience so far has been it certainly can, but you need to adjust your driving style to fully respect the Senna’s capabilities. For normal road driving, I tend to set the traction control to comfort and gearbox to sport. The ride is fairly hard and setting the traction control to anything but comfort on normal roads will rattle you brains pretty thoroughly.
The Senna piles on speed unlike any other car we have owned with the possible exception of the McLaren P1. While you felt like the P1 was rearranging your brain cells at full throttle, the Senna just throws the speedometer to the right effortlessly. If you are not right on top of it, that needle goes a lot further to the right than you intend. Turbo lag is nearly imperceivably, there is this very brief moment when acceleration feels normal and then the Senna just hurdles forward madly throwing itself at the horizon. It’s a wondrous sound hearing the turbos spin up behind your head. The gearbox, even in comfort mode, is quick and the cogs change almost instantly when you pull the paddles. Do this when pushing a bit and you get a nice bang out the back with every tug. Fortunately, the brakes are as good as the power delivery. There is a turkey alive around here today that owes its existence to those massive carbon ceramic brakes. The bird in question decided to take an ill advise walk across the road on the far side of a blind corner. A free meal was only barely avoided by the mashing of the left hand pedal.
The Senna is as much an event to drive today as the first time I sat behind the wheel. It’s not a hard car to drive, which is a credit to the engineers at McLaren. Unlike the McLaren 675 LT or Ferrari F40 which feel like they shrink around you at speed, the Senna does not. It’s not like the Koenigsegg CCR that actually feels like it gets wider the faster you go, but you continue to feel like there is a lot of car both ahead and behind you when moving quickly in the Senna. The long nose and massive rear wing are probably the key contributors to this. The Senna is definitely a fair weather car, cold, rain, and snow are not its friends. Of all the cars we own, the Senna would be my absolutely last choice to drive in the snow. At least with the F40, you can slot it into 3rd or 4th gear, keep the torque and revs down and you have a good chance of staying on the road. The Senna’s just got too much power and the Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R tires, while great on a summer day, really aren’t designed for anything but perfect dry conditions.
Everything in the Senna has a purpose. Every ounce or gram of weight has a reason for being included. While the Senna shares the same dashboard and control layout logic with all the other 21st century McLarens, about a third of the controls sit in new locations, starting with the door releases, window controls, and starter button which are mounted above the rear-view mirror. Given the Sennas track first focus, the location of the controls makes sense. We have both normal road seat belts as well as the six-point track harnesses mounted and the later tuck away conveniently behind the seats when not needed. To keep the track harnesses from rattling annoyingly, the trick is to wrap them together using elastic hair bands. Luggage space is extremely limited and two very small duffle bags fit on the shelf behind the seats. This is probably the Senna’s biggest limitation in terms of different possible uses, as a single overnight road trip is probably the most two can do in the car if one is fond of clean clothes very day.
We are really pleased with the way the spec turned out. Kyanos Blue suits the car and the limited use of orange on the brake caliper, door struts, and front splitter works well. I particularly like the orange pin holes on the seats and the orgy of carbon fiber everywhere in the passenger cabin. The seats in the Senna are easily the most comfortable carbon fiber racing buckets I have ever sat in. Given the thin pads, high tight seat sides, and hard carbon fiber shell, the level of comfort defies logic. The only challenge is getting in and out of the seats gracefully given the high sides. If driving the Senna brings out your inner child, exiting the Senna brings out the harsh reality of aging.
In an earlier article, I compared the McLaren Senna & Ferrari F40. I have driven both cars back to back multiple times now. My initial impression that the Senna is a 21st century F40, still very much holds. Both cars are built around a single very focused brief that prioritized performance above all else. Neither is a car that you master quickly and both demand your full concentration to drive well. This makes both hugely engaging as you learn something new about the car each time you drive it. When it all comes together, no other cars flow down the road with quite the same feeling and level of engagement.
The Senna has already established itself as a long-term keeper. It’s a proper limited edition hypercar that embodies everything McLaren knows about making a car go around a track quick while still being thoroughly rewarding to drive on the road. The Use Case for the Senna is clear and it has a unique role in our garage. The more I drive it, the more I am both understanding, appreciating and bonding with the car. I can’t imagine another car like it being produced anytime soon by any of the other supercar manufacturers.
Thoughts and comments? Please see the comments section below.
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A great review of your thoughts and approach to the car. Absolutely agree that it demands your focus and is not easy to drive. The upside is that getting out of it and into any of our others (675, 570, 720) makes them seem so much more ‘relaxed’ and friendly!
Whilst it goes with the territory, driving/owning the car comes with a solid rule. When performance is seen by observers – that’s because it’s a Senna! When a result is not there – you are obviously a poor driver!
A very enjoyable read – thank-you.
Other people will disagree with me on this. Let them. The Senna is a beautiful car.