2021 McLaren 620R first drive review: Unapologetically brutal

McLaren 620R
It just looks so cool.Drew Phillips/McLaren

Loud and proud, raw and emotional, the McLaren 620R brings race track excitement to the road.

The McLaren 620R is a race car for the road. Literally. Derived from the 570S GT4, the 620R is raw, emotional and unapologetically brutal. It’s a car that turns the demerits of noise, vibration and harshness on their heads and proudly wears them like badges of honor. It’s a pain in the ass to live with and a firecracker when you push it hard. You guys, seriously, it’s great.

Like any good race car, the 620R is wildly styled and just the right amount of ugly, with functional aero bits everywhere and little scoops and ducts to direct air where it’ll do the most good. The front bumper, dive planes and hood are all GT4-spec parts and provide 143 pounds of front downforce. Out back, the huge rear wing is adjustable and made of carbon fiber, just like the one on the GT4 race car. It has three different settings allowing for a maximum downforce of 408 pounds at 155 mph. And it even has an integrated brake light because, you know, road car.

The extremely cool roof scoop is a no-cost option for the US-spec 620R and I can’t imagine ordering one of these McLarens without it. In addition to just plain looking awesome, it aids with powertrain cooling, channeling air into the engine bay. It also makes the absolute best whoosh-and-suck noise when you lift off from hard throttle, one that’s so hilarious and intoxicating and absurd that it has me going on and off the throttle for no real reason other than to hear that ridiculous noise.

The McLaren 620R is one extreme sports car

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McLaren 620R

McLaren 620R

McLaren 620R

From every angle, the 620R looks insane. The rear buttresses, the slim headlights, the huge air ducts in the doors — they all totally work. The center-lock 19-inch front and 20-inch rear wheels almost seem a touch too pedestrian against the otherwise overstyled 620R, but their meaty Pirelli P-Zero Trofeo R tires definitely say, “We mean business.”

The 620R is powered by the same 3.8-liter twin-turbo V8 McLaren’s been using for years. The 570S GT4 has this engine, too, but since the 620R isn’t bound to the regulations of motorsport, the road car is actually more powerful. Here, 611 horsepower and 457 pound-feet of torque get down to the rear wheels through a seven-speed gearbox and, in a car that weighs 3,067 pounds when it’s full of fluids and fuel, that’s a stupid amount of power. But like, the good stupid.

Hit the gas and you’ll break the rear tires loose every single time, but thankfully there’s Launch Control, which will help you rip off 2.8-second 0-to-60-mph blasts. Acceleration is accompanied by a whole bunch of whooshes and roars. The steering wheel vibrates, the engine sends murmurs through the door panels and side mirrors. And once you’re off, holy smokes are you off.

McLaren 620R
In case you forget the car’s name, I guess.Drew Phillips/McLaren

The 620R is deceptively fast and its level of cornering grip is staggering. Lots of credit goes to those Trofeo R tires (you can also spec racing slicks, by the way), but the chassis and aero play key roles here, too. The immense downforce is something you can genuinely feel, pushing the 620R onto the pavement with greater force the faster you drive. The 620R doesn’t have active aero bits, either — like any good race car, they’re fixed and set up for success from the get-go.

The standard suspension setup includes the same adaptive dampers as McLaren’s other Sport Series cars, and indeed, they’re as fantastic here as they are in a 600LT. Yet they don’t sterilize the experience one bit. You will have to make midcorner corrections. The 620R will give way to oversteer easier than you think. The stability control will be fully engaged and you’ll still need to work to keep the 620R straight-on heading out of a hairpin.

Real track rats can option the 620R with the two-way manual coilovers from the GT4 racer. With 32 different levels of compression or rebound per corner, this is definitely not for the casual weekend cruiser. But then again, neither is the 620R.

McLaren 620R
Serious seats for a serious car.Drew Phillips/McLaren

Lay into the brakes and six-piston forged calipers clamp down on 15.3-inch carbon-ceramic front discs, providing tremendous stopping force. Once again, aerodynamics play a big part here, too, with all that downforce mitigating skittishness under braking. That means you can dig into the brakes later and harder without upsetting the car’s balance. It’s all in the name of faster cornering, which is definitely what the 620R does best.

McLaren’s road cars are usually pretty amicable to long stints of highway driving or even commuting in the city, but the 620R is… yeah, no. Sure, I could dog the 620R for being way too stiff, or I could harp on the transmission for constantly delivering dramatic bang-bang shifts, but you know, I’m actually glad the car is this raw and this focused on performance. No one’s buying one of these so they can drive it to Walgreen’s (though if you are, get the hydraulic nose lift option). I’m totally OK with the 620R being lousy to live with considering how wonderfully entertaining it is on a winding road. Yeah, there’s something cool about the “everyday supercar,” but the 620R does not need to fit that bill.

The cabin is a similar story. Sure, it’s lavishly lined with Alcantara suede and the optional 12-speaker Bowers & Wilkins stereo has no problems cranking out the jams. But this is a track car with racing seats; are you really expecting long-haul comfort? The full bucket seats are super supportive once you’re in them, but getting there is a process, no matter how short, tall, fat or thin you are. Getting out is even worse: Even when I slide the seat back and push in the telescoping steering column, I still can’t get out of this thing without honking the horn, falling on my left leg or — more often — both. I suppose if this car was designed for graceful ingress and egress, it wouldn’t need bright-freaking-red pull straps attached to the doors.

McLaren 620R
This one’s really special, y’all.Drew Phillips/McLaren

There’s a small cubby between the seats big enough for a water bottle and the little door pockets will hold your wallet or keys — until you lift the butterfly door and everything falls out, anyway. Outward visibility is crap in every direction except straight-ahead. Cup holders? Heated seats? Adaptive cruise control? Apple CarPlay? I’m sorry, did you not see the wing?!

McLaren is only selling 225 examples of the 620R globally, with 70 earmarked for the US. The cost of entry is $278,445 including $3,195 for destination and with only a few customization options, it’s easy to crest well into the $320,000s and beyond. Trying to determine whether or not a car is “worth it” at this price is useless. You surely don’t need one, but I promise, you definitely want one.

Crucially, the 620R marks the end of the road for McLaren’s current Sports Series, which will soon be replaced by the new Artura plug-in hybrid. I’m sure there will be a million and one reasons to fall in love with McLaren’s electrified newbie, but for now, the Sports Series goes out with a bang, whirr, rumble, shout and a “god damnit” when you stumble upon exit. Blessed are the sports cars so laser-focused on driver enjoyment. Here’s hoping McLaren gives us another one like the 620R.

All Rights Reserved for Steven Ewing 

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