A world-first road drive of the fire breathing dragon.

For the first year or so after launching Boss Hunting in 2012, I was as happy as larry to receive literally any sort of invitation to a press event. Craft beer launch? Yep, I'll be there. Opening of an envelope? See you then. 

Over the years the audience grows, the invitations start piling up, and you start to realise that 9 out of 10 events either aren't relevant or aren't worth your time. Basically, you get pretty good at saying no. Every once in a while though you get an email and you know what the answer is before you even open it. 

SUBJECT: Invitation - McLaren 600LT Launch, California

Six weeks later and I'm en route to Palm Springs for a world first drive of the brand new McLaren 600LT. This was going to be a good one. 

Why Palm Springs, you ask? The underlying theme for the 600LT is The Edge (check out the teaser video below), and the itinerary for our three days was created to explore that theme. The daytime temperature hovered in the mid 40°C's while we pushed the car to its limits, our driving route taking us through Joshua Tree National Park on the edge of two deserts and the San Andreas fault - the tectonic boundary between the Pacific and North American plates. Claire Tracey, Global Brand Manager at McLaren Automotive, our host and the architect of the trip, had quite obviously done her homework.

Before I attempt to describe the 600LT experience, here's a bit of background in case you've been hiding under a rock for the past eight or so years. 

In 2010, McLaren Automotive was spun off from the eponymous McLaren group as a standalone manufacturer, with their first 'purebred' car since the seminal McLaren F1 being the MP4-12C. Eight years and some 15 model variants later, McLaren Automotive is currently producing some of the most exciting cars of any 'mass' supercar manufacturer on the planet (they made 3,340 cars in 2017). The LT sub-category - Long Tail, a homage to the ultimate racing version of the original McLaren F1 – is a suffix reserved for only the most focused variants of each model. In this case, the McLaren 600LT sits at the apex of McLaren's SuperSport range, 'alongside' the 570S and 540C.

The 600LT is the big brother of the 570S, a car which we've previously had a lot of fun with, and a car it shares 77% of parts with. The 23% difference in parts, however, make a big difference to the driving experience. In every single way, the 600LT is a better car than its predecessor, it's faster, lighter, sexier, and more precise. But the best part? Its aurally orgasmic engine-cover mounted exhaust shoots flames when brought to temperature (see: driven hard enough). How's that for a line I never thought I'd write.

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Getting behind the wheel of the McLaren 600LT for the first time is both an intimidating yet familiar experience, a feeling that is repeated throughout the whole driving experience. It feels, as expected from its Formula 1 DNA, a lot like a race car, with race-mode switches, an abundance of carbon fibre and, should you choose race-mode, a guttural roar that makes you want to keep the car in second gear at all times and test out the claimed 0-100 time of 2.9s (the best attempt in our group did it in 2.7s). Flick the switch to normal, though, and it instantly turns into a car you could legitimately use as a daily driver. It's reasonably quiet, relatively comfortable, and handles incredibly easily at low speed.

While we were given rough driving itineraries for the three days, the McLaren team basically said to us, have fun - so we did, and threw it at everything Palm Springs and the surrounding desert could offer. Freeways, mountain passes, urban roads, dirt roads, gorgeous winding national park roads where we most definitely stayed below the 30mph speed limit. Short of snow and rain, we gave the 600LT a good old pounding and it passed literally every test with flying colours. The engine gives and gives and gives, from the second you put your foot down right up until 7th gear feels like it has nothing left. The car goes exactly where you point it, at all times and at all speeds - a refreshing upgrade from the nagging mild understeer you'll find in a 570S.

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In the past few months, off the top of my head, I've driven a Ferrari 488, a Nissan GT-R Nismo, the new Bentley Continental GT, and a 991 Porsche Carrera T. Sure those cars sit across a range of price brackets, but when you weigh up price, comfort, sound, speed, handling, and most importantly, the pure enjoyment factor - nothing really compares to the LT. Plus, did I mention it shoots exhaust flames so close to your head you can almost feel the heat?

Here's the good news, if you've got around half-a-million dollars to spend on a sports car (the 600LT starts at $455,000), look no further, the McLaren 600LT is, in my opinion, the best bang-for-your-buck sports car money can buy right now. It's got the inimitable flair of a McLaren, the head-turning ability and raw acceleration of a Ferrari 488 GTB, the highway poise and comfort - well maybe not quite the comfort - of a Bentley Continental GT, and the track stickiness of a Porsche Turbo S.

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The bad news? The car has a limited production lifespan of around 12 months with a production capacity of around 500 cars (an educated guess on my behalf), and almost all the cars are already accounted for. If you want one you've got two choices; a) don't buy one now and expect to pay a hefty premium for a second hand car down the track, b) pick up the phone, call your local McLaren dealer and put down a deposit on one, the McLaren 600LT is not a car you want to miss out on.

Oh, and if you ever get the chance to visit Palm Springs' Thermal Club racetrack - I wholeheartedly encourage you to do so.

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