I Wore The Perfect Shirt For Driving The McLaren 675LT

     I normally dress in pretty neutral colors; a lot of blacks, grays and whites - very dull as some might say. But one of my all-time favorite shirts is a pale blue, almost periwinkle-colored, t-shirt with a large picture of the infamous Shiba Inu internet meme, “Doge,” on the front. Below the picture of Doge is text that simply reads “WOW” - fans and followers of the Doge meme will understand. I was wearing that shirt just the other day. I also thrashed a McLaren 675LT on miles upon miles of windy, two-lane highways through the Sierra Nevada Mountains that day. My shirt summed up my thoughts on the car: WOW. 

     To car people, very few things are as enjoyable as tearing up some twisty backroads through canyons and forests in a supercar with your buddy on a sunny Sunday afternoon - especially when said supercar is the McLaren 675LT. The 675LT (“LT” being short for long tail) is McLaren’s weapon of choice against other hardcore, driver-oriented cars on the market such as the Ferrari 458 Speciale and the Porsche GT3RS. It’s a lightweight, track-focused animal with the ferocity of an angered Honey Badger and looks that could kill, yet it still maintains a ride quality that makes even the most supple of Bentleys feel like a wooden horse-drawn carriage.

     Upon climbing into the McLaren 675LT, the differences and improvements over its predecessor, the 650S, begin to show themselves. The driving position of the 675LT is truly perfect. The seats, which are the same carbon fiber shells as found in McLaren’s hypercar, the P1, hold the driver perfectly in place while offering superb support and comfort. The seat backs, although in a fixed position, are raked absolutely perfectly. The alacantara steering wheel and large carbon fiber shift paddles are straight from the P1 and have great feel. For a supercar, the 675LT has fantastic visibility in all directions and the view out of the windshield is very broad. With a press of the start button, the engine barks to life with a sense of urgency and eagerness. The exhaust note of the LT is a tremendous step up from the 650S. It has a much more raw and throaty note than previous McLarens and the note transforms into a very Ferrari-like howl as it gets closer to redline. 

      Under regular driving conditions, the powertrain settings in Normal Mode and transmission set to Normal Mode and automatic allow the 675LT to be as docile and friendly as your everyday economy vehicle. Most of my drive, however was spent in Active Mode, which sets the transmission to manual by default, with the powertrain and transmission both in Sport Mode. Sport Mode allows the suspension to be a tad stiffer, but still amazingly compliant, and the gear shifts to be a touch quicker along with some added steering weight. The steering feel in the 675LT is one of the best power-assisted racks I’ve ever experienced. Most modern-day supercars have very light, hyperactive steering to allow for better agility and nimbleness. However, these ultra responsive systems often lack any amount of feedback from the road which makes driving these cars feel sort of like…a simulation or a video game; they feel too synthesized. The steering in the McLaren 675LT has this sort of progressiveness to it which adapts to the driver’s inputs through the wheel depending on how abruptly or gently the driver turns the wheel. This allows the driver to corner with the hairline precision and makes hitting every apex seem like child’s play. Along with its sensational steering, the McLaren 675LT has tremendous front-axle grip which makes for neck-snappingly quick turn-ins. Rear-wheel grip is also improved thanks to increased downforce and McLaren’s brake-steer technology which results in ludicrously fast and precise corner exits. 

     McLaren has not only focused on making the 675LT produce blistering lap times, but also making it the most fun and playful car McLaren has offered since the 12C. While the P1 takes the cake for being the most advanced and fastest car of McLaren’s lineup, the 675LT is undoubtedly a more enjoyable car to drive. This is because McLaren has made it so easy to use more of the car’s power in everyday situations thanks to its remarkable grip and otherworldly traction and stability control systems which seem to break the laws of physics with every corner. 

     First seen in the P1, the 675LT has a stability control mode called “ESC Dynamic” which acts like Ferrari’s “E-Differential.” In layman’s terms, when the stability control is set to “ESC Dynamic,” you can make the McLaren 675LT transform from a grippy, corner-hugging monster to a tire-shredding, sideways-skidding hoonmobile that will give you a taste of what it’s like to be Chris Harris on every corner without letting you crash. It really is like training wheels for anyone looking to learn how to drift a half-million-dollar car. You can also turn the ESC (electronic stability control) off which will completely eliminate any interference from the traction or stability controls; we will get to that in a bit. So, because the “ESC Dynamic” setting allows for such a great amount of slip angle before interfering, what is it like to go sideways through a corner on a canyon road at 90mph while lighting up the rear tires as smoke fills the view in your side mirrors during corner exit in a 666 horsepower supercar? Let me explain. 

     After driving the McLaren 675LT in a well-behaved manor for several miles, (“I’ll behave and drive maturely” are always the famous last words.) I became very comfortable with the car and really got into a groove with it; maintaining a steady momentum through a tight and twisty ribbon of a road outside of Grass Valley, California. The powertrain and transmission settings were in Sport Mode with Active Mode enabled so gear could be changed manually. I also had the ESC in dynamic mode, because, why not? Corners became an addiction to me and I greeted each upcoming curve with even greater anticipation than the one before. The process of taking each turn became a fluid procedure that felt like the most natural and exciting series of events and it all went something like this: 

     Brake moderately into the corner while flicking the left shift paddle to downshift as the exhaust popped and cracked like Zorro’s whip with every gear change. The exhaust crackle, the robust engine note, and a suggestive growl that accompanied every downshift all combined to produce a spine-tingling sound that echoed off the canyon walls. Turn in when the apex is located and let the LT’s gorgeous rear end rotate around you, managing the slide and angle with your throttle and steering inputs. The 675LT will get just sideways enough for the thought, “I lost it,” to cross your mind when it miraculously finds just the right amount of grip to straighten itself out. Bury the long-throw throttle and launch perfectly out of the corner. Lather, rinse and repeat and you’ll find that the 675LT is one of the most capable and mind-bindingly entertaining supercars on the market today. 

     What is so enjoyable about the LT is that even though the driver aids help you and make you look heroic, they don’t hinder the experience of driving. Not once did I feel like the car was doing all of the work for me; it just felt as if the aids were there to give me that little nudge of assistance just when I needed it, but allowed me to be in control while having the confidence to really play with the car. I think it’s also necessary to add that I never, in my whole time driving the 675LT, wished that it was offered with a three-pedal, fully-manual transmission. I’m not sure my mind would be able to cope with this car if it had a manual transmission; it’s just so intense as it is…and that’s saying a lot. 

     As mentioned earlier, it is possible to turn the traction and stability control completely off. Admittedly, I kept it in dynamic mode for nearly all of my drive the sake of safety as this car belongs to a friend of mine. However, at one point, I was stopped on a straight section of empty road. I put the transmission and powertrain settings into Track Mode (which really firms up the suspension, I might add) and turned all of the traction and stability control off to try out what McLaren calls, “Spinning Wheel Pull Away - For the driver who wishes to demonstrate maximum drama on pull away.” Or you can call it Burnout Mode - that works, too. Once the wheels are all pointed straight and the car is stopped, simply pin the throttle to the floor and the 675LT’s rear Pirelli Trofeo R tires suddenly become the world’s greatest smoke machines as two jet-black tire marks are left boldly scarring the pavement as the LT launches into hyperspace. The tires will keep spinning and the smoke will keep billowing for as long as you desire; all the way through third gear or you crap your pants and let off the throttle - whichever comes first. Just be aware that burnout mode could cause permanent and uncontrollable smiling along with occasional random bits of giddy laughter. And tires…it will cost you in tires.

     As a mature driver’s car, the McLaren 675LT is really as good as it gets in today’s animalistic supercar world. It will be as grown up and polite as you command it to be and will impressively conquer every bit of tarmac you put it on, or it will be as childish and as playful as a Shiba Inu, like the one on my shirt. Regardless of your skills or capabilities as a driver, and whether or not you are a boulevard cruiser, a garage-queen collector, or a well-seasoned track day regular, the McLaren 675LT will leave you saying, “WOW.”  

Why The Ferrari FF Is A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing

     When you think of Ferrari, you probably imagine a low-slung, two-seated red sports car that’s as attention grabbing as Donald Trump. Or maybe you picture a much younger Tom Selleck in a floral button-up shirt investigating crime in Hawaii. Regardless of what you fantasize about the Italian supercar marquee, you probably don’t think of something very practical or subtle. In 2011, Ferrari introduced a car that allowed the company to branch off into a whole new market for those who wanted every day usability coupled with racing heritage and extreme performance. It’s called the Ferrari FF and it’s the coolest party trick of the automotive industry.

     I’ve been very partial to Ferrari’s cars ever since I was a child. When Ferrari released the FF, I thought they had lost their mind; seeing as that the FF was going against everything I knew and loved about their cars prior. “Il Commendatore must be rolling in his grave right now,” I thought to myself. Finally, five years after it’s official unveiling, I had the chance to drive the FF and I found myself on the polar opposite end of being disappointed.

     The Ferrari FF is a 2+2 grand tourer with a naturally aspirated, 6.3 liter V12 engine…and a hatchback. It features a 7-speed, dual-clutch F1 gearbox coupled to a four-wheel drive system. Yes, you can now have a Ferrari with four-wheel drive. But before all of the purists get their panties in a bunch and sell their red leather driving shoes, rest assured that the FF has managed to keep every bit of Ferrari’s soul and sense of occasion for all four lucky occupants to enjoy. Another sigh of relief can be had at the fact that Ferrari didn’t compromise in the styling department either. Although it does not have the striking and aggressive look normally associated with Ferrari’s cars, the body is beautifully sculpted and the lines flow organically. I challenge anyone to name a truly useable 2+2 GT as pretty as the FF. The interior of the FF is very posh and oozing with Italian class, yet the driver’s area hasn’t given up any sense of driver involvement and purpose.

     Upon getting behind the wheel of the FF, you’re immediately reminded that this is a Ferrari through and through. A large tachometer is front and center on the dash and the yellow circle with the black cavallino on the steering wheel is sure to make any initial negative thoughts quickly vanish. Turn the key and press the bright red start button on the steering wheel and the FF wakes up with a very throaty bark that causes every nerve ending in your body to tingle with ecstasy. Despite being a rather large car, visibility in the FF is wonderful. While driving the FF, I was pleasantly surprised at the fact that the front didn’t feel as long as I had anticipated. Visibility was not at all compromised by the hood and I didn’t feel that I had to look over the hood to see the road ahead. Also surprising was the weight of the steering. It was very light, but not too much so. Having driven a Ferrari California, in which I thought the steering weight was appallingly light, the weight of the FF’s steering was very good. It did lack feedback, especially in the “normal” manettino setting, but I still felt connected and in control. The rack was very quick, but the input was very direct and precise. Going into the “sport” manettino setting added just a touch of weight to the steering and allowed a bit more feedback through the wheel. For being such a long car overall, it had a very small turning radius and was very nimble and agile. Throttle response of the FF was immediate, but not hyper-reactive, and the brake feel was very solid and linear. At low speeds, the FF is as docile as an economy car, but it still remains involving and rewarding. Below 4,000 RPMs, the engine has a very musical tone that is just audible enough to enjoy without being overbearing on longer excursions. Once the exhaust valves open, the exhaust note goes from a string quartet to a full-fledged concerto as the Enzo-derived V12 screams to it’s 8,000 RPM redline. It is a heavy car, weighing in at just over 4,000 pounds, but it feels very light on it’s feet and will be as playful or as calm as you want it to; that’s the beauty of this thing. The four-wheel drive system gives the car loads of grip, but doesn’t seem to interfere with the car’s handling or stability. The ride quality of the FF is phenomenal. The car is supple, but not soft and boaty; it hides its weight and size very well. All of the controls are within perfect reach of the driver and the seats are snug, but not gripping. Two full-grown adults can sit in the back seats comfortably with plenty of legroom and ample headroom.

     This is a Ferrari that can be driven in any manner, in any condition, and still feel completely at home, all while making the driver feel like a million bucks while grinning from ear-to-ear. It’s truly an incredible engineering feat by Ferrari to make a car that is literally the jack of all trades. It’s subtle enough for those that don’t always want to be in the spotlight, but exciting enough to make even the most stubborn Ferrari tifosi feel like they are the star of Scuderia Ferrari. With the release of the FF’s successor, the GTC-4 Lusso, it’s unfathomable to imagine how Ferrari can improve on how well this car lives up to its purpose. Hopefully I will be able to write a review on Ferrari’s newest family member in the not-so-distant future. Until then, I’m going to go cash in my life’s savings, collect the pennies under my couch cushion and sell one of my organs to go buy a gently used FF.

I Had A Love Affair With The Ferrari F40

     In an era where “ultra-high performance” also means “uber-complex technology” and “space-age materials”, the word perfection has taken on a whole new meaning in the automotive industry.

     Today’s performance cars are posting ludicrously quick 0-60 times and outstanding performance figures, with an emphasis on being the most perfect driving machine ever built. But what if all this modern-day perfection was too perfect? I’ve driven many of today’s latest and greatest supercars: the McLaren P1, Porsche 918 Spyder, Ferrari 458 Italia, and many others. But I just drove the greatest car I’ve ever experienced…and it was built in the 1990s…and it is unquestionably perfect: the Ferrari F40.

     Picture this: it’s a nice, sunny, and mild morning. You’re with your friend and he hands you the keys to his Ferrari F40 and says, “you drive.” It sounds like the beginning of most car enthusiasts’ wet dream, right? Well, this exact scenario actually happened to me a couple of weeks ago. My friend called me one morning and asked if I was free to go for a drive in the F40. Obviously, I obliged and within an hour, he pulled up on my street and the low-slung F40 sat idling with a low grumble.

     Mind you, this F40 is fitted with an uprated cat-back exhaust and sounds as gnarly as Satan himself. I hop in the passenger seat and become re-acquainted with the automatic seat belt that tries its absolute best to strangle anyone that volunteers to be its next victim—I guess it’s the price to pay to experience the F40 from a passenger’s perspective. We are running low on gas, so we pull into a gas station just a short distance away. As we are standing there, admiring the car as it’s being fueled, he hands me the key.

     While the owner tops off the fuel tanks—yes, that’s plural—I hold the key and try to absorb what is about to happen. “What kind of man gives a 20-something the key to his F40?” I asked myself. The answer? A very kind and trusting individual.

     Getting into the F40 is an event in itself. Stepping over the large lip of the carbon fiber tub and trying to sandwich yourself between the seat and oddly angled steering wheel is no easy task. Place your right foot on the floorboard in front of the seat; place your right hand on the steering wheel and your left hand on the seat bolster; drop yourself in the seat and hope you don’t miss your aim—or you’ll find yourself awkwardly (and painfully) straddling the seat bolster on the left or the seatbelt clip on the right.

     Once your backside is in place, lift your left leg over the massive Carbon Kevlar door sill. The seating position takes a moment or two to get used to. Your legs are bent at what seems like a 90-degree angle while your arms are stretched to nearly their full extension. Reminiscent are the days when I drove the 5 mph go-karts at the local amusement park. Why on earth would the pedals be this close to the seat to cause such a godawful bend in your legs!

     Attempt to push the clutch in, and that awkward seating conundrum quickly becomes understood: you could easily fulfill your leg-day workout by pushing the clutch of an F40 in and out three times. Seriously. So yes, engage the clutch, turn the key, and press the start button; the car roars to life with the ferocity of a bear awaken from hibernation. Never have I felt a greater sense of pleasure—please don’t tell my fiancé that.

     At idle, the car growls with intensity, waiting to be unchained on the open road. Engage the dog-leg first gear and let off the clutch, the gas pedal “pops” when first compressed. From a standstill, the car seems…gutless. The revs climb slowly, much slower than I would’ve thought. “Gee, this isn’t so bad,” I thought to myself. However, this car is all about the element of surprise, ladies and gentlemen. A slight hiss of the turbos spooling turned into a banshee roar and a kick to the back that felt like getting slammed by a Freightliner. Redline came before I knew what hit me and the rev-limiter bounced like a basketball handled by Kobe Bryant. It took nearly all my might to press in that awfully stiff clutch and grab second gear. The boost kicked back in as soon as I stepped on the gas for second gear and the car lunged into, what seemed like, another dimension. My knuckles were white and my palms sweaty as I grabbed onto the steering wheel, praying for dear life.

     This car is true sensory overload. You are enveloped in a carbon fiber casing of sound, vibrations from head to toe, and sights that blur past you quicker than your visual cortex can register. The rear of the car hunkers down at speed like a panther ready to pounce on its prey. Striped white lines on the road blur into a continuous stream as I approach fourth gear. I hit redline as the car screams and demands more.

     Do I push harder or do I let off? Logic and reasoning overpowered my emotions and curiosity, so I backed off the gas and tried to apply the brakes. The exhaust burbled and backfired like a fireworks display on the Fourth of July; it sounded like I was in the middle of a back-alley gunfight. The brakes took nearly as much effort to apply as the clutch; never have I experienced stiffer pedals. After only five minutes, I felt physically and mentally exhausted from this car, but there was nothing I wanted more than to just keep driving, and driving and driving. This car gives you such a feeling of occasion that nothing in this world can replicate this side of winning the lottery.

     Upon getting onto the freeway, I maintained composure and drove fairly cautiously to allow myself to process exactly what was going on. At my control is one of the rarest, most iconic cars ever made, and there are no safety nannies such as ABS, power steering or traction control to save me if shit hits the fan. This is not my car; let all of that sink in for a minute. I begin to settle down and truly focus on driving rather than getting caught up in all the terrible “what-ifs.” As a highway cruiser, the F40 is surprisingly good. The seats offer fantastic support and when the car is not being driven in anger and on boost, it’s very docile and manageable. After several miles of highway blasts, we pull off the freeway and head to some twisties to see how the car handles.

     The downforce of the F40 is very noticeable in mid-high speed corners. On low speed corners, the F40 can be a bit tricky upon corner exit as the turbos like to sneak up on you—if you’re not careful, you will end up ass-backwards quicker than you can say “F40.” Because the car has no assisted steering, the input is very direct, and the feedback through the wheel is like rubbing the road with your bare hands. Once the brakes begin to warm up, they grab with great ferocity and the gear lever becomes very fluid if you use just enough finesse. Driving an F40 spiritedly on mountain roads is a religious experience; one that, no matter how detailed one is with words, it will never be able to be fully replicated or described without experiencing it first-hand.

     Before I knew it, over an hour had passed and I had racked up a sufficient amount of miles on the odometer. I get back onto the freeway and cruise home. I park the car and just sit there, trying to comprehend what I had just experienced. I step out of the car as my legs trembled; I wasn’t ready for this. I never thought that something like this, something so “simple,” could have such a major impact.

     Later, after the car was tucked away waiting for its next drive, I looked back on the event and came to these conclusions—I’ve never felt so connected with an inanimate object as I have with the F40, it felt like an extension of my physical being.

     For me, the F40 is the king, it’s an experience like no other. I’ve been very fortunate to experience the cars that I have, but the F40 still reigns at the top. The McLaren P1 is a truly sensational, borderline bat-shit-crazy, car, but it still doesn’t have that extra bit of “rawness” that the F40 has.

     Will these hybrid hypercars be able to steal that top tier that F40 resides on its own? No—but I’ll gladly spend a few more miles in any car to see if there’s a match for my favorite prancing horse.

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