How it feels to drive a P32.5 million McLaren 620R

Botchi Santos

Remember the McLaren 620R that got confiscated at Customs a few months back?

That got me really interested in McLarens as I have never driven any of their cars yet. Well, what do you know? I finally got to bust my McLaren cherry with, of all things, another super rare McLaren 620R, number 52 of the 350 units made worldwide arranged by Richard Dy of RDy Premium Autos, an importer and reseller of high-end exotic sports cars.
The McLaren 620R is based on McLaren’s 570S GT4 race car, made road legal thanks to tweaks to the engine, suspension and interior. The chassis McLaren’s Monocell II carbon-fiber tub which underpins McLaren’s Super Sport series of cars. Power comes from a mid-mounted twin-turbocharged V8 displacing 3.8 litres, producing 612 horsepower and 620 Newton-Meters of torque. This is delivered to the rear wheels via a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission from Graziano.

This particular McLaren 620R had an interesting options list: fixed carbon bucket seats with the 6-point racing harness, Bowers and Wilkins surround-sound audio system, air-conditioning, racing style coil-overs with manually adjustable height and 32 clicks of damping settings. There are red fabric for pulls to close the dihedral opening doors that match the red sightline on the steering wheel, all covered in black suede. A few rotary knobs and dials adjust drive modes, while the infotainment system is a large touchscreen LCD affair as is the main instrument cluster. The Richard Mille inspired livery is optional but a regular 620R comes in McLaren’s iconic papaya orange hue.

Other talking points include the rear wing that generates 185kg of downforce at 250km/h, balanced out by a splitter and dive planes or canards up front, and a functional roof scoop that feeds cold air to the hungry engine nestled behind you. For such a massively powerful track-focused car, the 620R rides on modestly sized tires: double staggered 225/40R19 front tires and 285/35R20 rear Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R road-legal race tires. Massive 390mm front and 380mm rear carbon ceramic brake discs, clamped down by forged aluminium six-piston front and four-piston rear callipers bring the speeding bullet down to a stop real quick. If you’re a serious track rat, the 620R comes with McLaren’s Track Telemetry System which monitors your driving performance and lets you compare your laps to find areas of improvement.

Getting in and out is a real challenge: the dihedral doors, tall, thick and wide door sills, sculpted bucket seats and my size conspire against graceful entry and exit. I wiggle myself in and out ingloriously. Surprisingly, even with the racing style seating position, it’s comfortable inside and the bucket seat isn’t as tight as I thought it would be. I opt for the regular seatbelts, adjust the rear and sideview mirrors and pull the seat closer to the flat-bottom steering wheel, close the door and finally we’re off through Pasig City traffic. A reverse camera helps maneuvering in tight spots.

The first thing you notice inside is the noise: the carbon fibre interior rattles incessantly, the turbochargers constantly make swooshing, sucking noises, exaggerated by the large roof scoop above your head, and you feel everything on the road thanks to the stiff suspension and firm tires. It sits so low to the ground, visibility is somewhat compromised so motorcycle riders look down on you in traffic, and your head is beside the wheels most SUV’s. Nerve wracking when you’re driving someone else’s 32.5 Million Peso car.

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As traffic opens up. the McLaren gathers speed effortlessly. The interior vibrations stop after 2,000rpm, the electro-hydraulic steering comes alive and the throttle feels linear. I rev it to 4,000rpm as the engine is so new, shifting seamlessly in automatic mode. Later, I switch to manual mode and pull on the paddle shifters. The paddles themselves are unique: pivoting off a common fulcrum, pull the right paddle to upshift and the left paddle moves away from you, vis-a-vis. That’s how real Formula One cars and other race car paddle shifters work, connecting you further into the mechanical equation.

Even at 4,000rpm through the first three gears at 50% throttle, the 620R is crazy fast. It will easily land you into jail territory with one more gear, or a thousand more RPM. And I still have another four gears, 50% of throttle and almost the same number of revs to play. On sweeping corners, put in more steering, add more throttle and the McLaren leans into the curve confidently, the tires finally heating up and hurtling you through. On track, the 620R will be epic, even for drivers with modest skill-levels like myself. With Launch Control engaged, McLaren claims a 0-100km/h sprint time of 2.9 seconds, all the way to a 322km/h top speed.

 The only thing that requires getting used to are the carbon-ceramic brakes. We are taught to brake progressively. The McLaren 620R on the other hand, because of its race-bred intent, requires the opposite. Approach the corner hard, stand on the brakes, and release slowly to avoid locking up the tires just as you apply more throttle and steering input. Left-foot braking is essential to get the most out of the experience, but having wide clumsy feet makes it difficult for me. Thus, I found myself stopping either much sooner, or a bit later than what I expected braking as I normally would.
Finally, after trying out everything possible without risking my life, limb, police record or already bleeding bank account, I return the McLaren home. It was hard work controlling my urges to just floor it with reckless abandon and be a complete hooligan on the road. The McLaren feels so sorted, so smooth, a perfect benchmark for what a properly fast, well-designed car should feel like, focused for serious track work. I feel relieved, and at the same time sad, knowing that I won’t be bringing this car home. Maybe it’s time I actually bought that lotto ticket.