McLaren Senna Year 1

Exactly a year ago we collected our McLaren Senna from the McLaren Dallas Service Center.  I had asked for the handover to be done at the service center as it was a more private location than the dealership.  I wanted to avoid the spectacle of doing the handover in public.  Whereas all of our other McLaren handovers, excluding the P1, where quick five-minute affairs, the Senna handover was a very detailed hour long undertaking. Everything in the Senna has a purpose or it wouldn’t be there.  Every ounce or gram of weight has a reason for being included.  There is nothing superfluous on a Senna.  Even the mounts for the tow hook are hidden behind the vertical fin covers on the front splitter.  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.  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. 

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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.  Forward and side visibility in the Senna is excellent and the Senna is quite easy to place on the road.  Rear view visibility is limited but, in this car, not that relevant. The combination of gorilla glass in both the roof panels and the lower doors adds a huge amount of light to the cabin giving it a feeling of spaciousness despite the tight confines.  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 micro duffle bags (or six lobsters) fit on the shelf behind the seats. 

I find the Senna as much an event to drive today as the first time I sat behind the wheel. The Senna is almost disconcerting in just how easy it is to drive, despite its huge intimidation factor.  Right foot firmly on the brake pedal then a quick stab of the starter button brings the twin turbo V8 to life.  The engine settles immediately into a deep rumble, there is no hunting like in the F40.  Next step, check and adjust the side mirrors, turn off the hated auto start/stop, activate manual mode, and adjust the temperature control.  Once all the controls were set, a tug of the tall right-hand carbon fiber paddle puts the car into drive and off you go.  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.

On the road the Senna is mind-bendingly quick.  Plant your right foot and it instantly takes off.  Turbo lag is nearly imperceivable, there is this very brief moment when acceleration feels normal and then the Senna just hurdles forward madly, chasing 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.   The brakes are massive and as effective at retarding progress as the V8 is at creating it.  The minimal sound deadening means that you get to hear exactly what’s happening behind you.  It’s also a constant reminder of the seriousness of the beast and that you need to be full engaged at all times. If the Ferrari F50 sounded operatic and polished, the Senna is more raw heavy metal.  In the Senna you feel glued to the road at all times which just builds your confidence to push it harder.  The amount of speed you can carry though a corner is almost unnerving at first.  Getting heat into the tires does take time and a bit of effort though. Pushing the car before you do so will likely have expensive consequences.  Steering, as per all the McLaren’s, is nicely weighted and provides excellent feedback.

In the year we have been together, the Senna has gone back to the service center for two recalls, one for an issue with the wiring harness and the second to have insulation removed from below the fuel tank.  The second resulted in even less sound deadening and has made even the occasional usage of the radio a rather pointless exercise.  Otherwise the Senna has been a poster child for reliability.  Build quality on ours is excellent and I have yet to see even a single random warning light. 

In terms of usage, recently I have been trying to get out in the Senna at least once or twice a week.  The Senna’s mileage is much lower than I would have projected a year ago but still significantly higher than the P1 at the same point in time.  The combination of a complicate move shortly after delivery which resulted in the Senna going into storage for several months, winter (shockingly, Pirelli does not make winter tires for the Senna) and then Covid-19 have put a damper on a number of our plans for the Senna.  I have yet to track the car, but when opportunity permits Club Motorsports up in New Hampshire looks like an interesting place to try.  It’s impossible to get anywhere even remotely near the Senna’s true capabilities without being on a track. 

In an earlier article, I compared the McLaren Senna & Ferrari F40.  Recently I have had the opportunity to drive both cars back to back.  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.  They are both race cars that have been compromised as little as possible to make them road legal.  Neither is a car you master quickly.  This makes both hugely engaging as you learn something new about the car each time you drive it.  It’s like a close old friend who always shows up with a new interesting story to share.  While the F40 & Senna become familiar, boring is not a characteristic either ever exhibits.  The only major difference I can see between the two is that while we have done many wonderful long road trips in the F40, I can’t see us ever doing the same in the Senna.  Whereas the F40 can fit two large duffle bags under the front clamshell, the Senna can fit a pair of toothbrushes and a couple of pairs of underwear behind the seats.

In what has been a very short year together, 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 quickly.  The Senna was created with a single-minded focus on performance, it is unlike anything else on the road, and it was built is relatively small numbers.  I can’t imagine another car like it being produced anytime soon by any of the supercar manufacturers.  With the move from internal combustion engines to hybrid and electric, it’s quite possible that we will never see anything like the Senna again.

Thoughts and comments? Please see the comments section below.

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June 2020

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9 Thoughts on McLaren Senna Year 1
    Sean Reynolds
    16 Jun 2020
    11:26pm

    Fun article. 4 typos you might fix, fyi.

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    Gareth
    17 Jun 2020
    1:32pm

    Really interesting ‘real world’ review, great photos, and interesting to hear you compare it to an F40. Just looking at the McLaren’s in your garage is an amazing collection, let alone the rest of the stable !

    Couple of tiny amends, it the first paragraph you say ‘sulfurous’ instead of ‘superflous’, and in the F40 comparison section you say ‘The only major difference I can see between the two is while we have done many wonderful long road trips in the F40, I can see us ever doing the same in the Senna’. I assume that’s meant to be ‘The only major difference I can see between the two is while we have done many wonderful long road trips in the F40, I can’t see us ever doing the same in the Senna’

    look forward to future articles (765 etc)

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    Greg H
    17 Jun 2020
    11:41pm

    Great write-up, thank you. My favorite line; “ Rear view visibility is limited but, in this car, not that relevant.” Bravo.

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    Craig L
    20 Jun 2020
    7:00pm

    Excellent article – this sentence sums it up; “I find the Senna as much an event to drive today as the first time I sat behind the wheel.” – the sign of a true long-term/keeper and that its truly got under the skin. I still can’t work out how those seats are comfortable however as they anything but!

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    Robb Edge
    18 Jun 2020
    8:55am

    Another great article.

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