McLaren Senna – how fast do you want to go?

Even if you want one, you can’t have one. The full allocation of McLaren’s new hypercar sold out ages ago – long before the first delivery to customers start next month. The latest model in the company’s ‘Ultimate Series’ is loaded with an uprated 789bhp version of the 4.0-litre V8 that powers the remarkable 720S. Just 500 will be built, each costing £750,000 BEFORE taxes and options. 0-62mph in 2.8 seconds and a top speed of 211mph. Just how fast do you want to go? CarCouture visits the track in Portugal where Ayrton Senna won his first grand prix to find out…

When the clock struck midnight last night, the internet was awash with embargoed reviews of the new McLaren Senna. It had to be amazing to be worthy of the Brazilian champion’s name – and it is.

Unlike the forthcoming Brabham BT62 track car, McLaren insist their machine is for the road as well. However, unless you own a large slice of England, don’t expect to enjoy the full performance of one of the world’s greatest cars.

That’s because the McLaren Senna is so fast it really needs a racetrack – and possibly a tame racing driver – to exploit its potential to anywhere near full capacity. For the rest of us, this hugely powerful McLaren is a sharp learning curve.

I recently drove McLaren’s top of the range 720S – a car that’s so easy to live with you could use it to sit the driving test. How could the Senna be that different?

Monstrous power has been squeezed from the same 4.0-litre V8 but it’s much more than that. The car codenamed BP23 relies on incredible, track-focussed technology to get it around the track faster than anything I’ve ever driven.

This isn’t a hybrid like the P1 but it is incredibly light at 1200kg. A whopping rear spoiler that outdoes anything from the 1980s also produces 800kg of downforce at 150mph. The result? The Senna feels stable and responsive at crazy speeds.

Through the corners the grip is staggering, thanks in no small part to some Senna tuned tyres. And strapped in to the cockpit with a HANS device and six point harness, the driver feels completely at one with the McLaren.

In truth, your nerve will go long before the Senna lets go. The shove in your back on the straights is quite brutal – how on earth this car could be used on the road is beyond me!

 

Ayrton Senna’s first win came at this Estoril track in a turbocharged Lotus. What you don’t need to enjoy this McLaren is quite the same level of ability…

 

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Mercedes-AMG E63 – a wolf in wolf’s clothing

The BMW M5 has been the class-leading performance saloon since time began. Mercedes’ answer is the E63 – another brutally efficient machine with a 4.0-litre V8 lump under the bonnet. Churning out 612hp, the Merc offers supercar stats, racing to 60mph in 3.4 seconds and on to a limited 186mph.

Passengers are unaware of the drama in a suitable luxurious cabin. Our S model with ‘drift’ mode can even revert the E63 to rear-wheel drive, instead of permanent four-wheel drive. The price is £88,035 but with options such as ceramic brakes, our test car topped £102,000. As good as an M5? Read on…

The E63 is the most powerful Mercedes saloon of all time. It’s the sort of car you can imagine Lewis Hamilton driving when he has kids – ridiculously fast and very ‘Mercedes’.

What makes the Merc so special is the twin-turbo V8 engine. It gives Stuttgart’s finest tons of character and a mid-range punch that is irresistible. Overtaking is a total thrill.

This is achieved with little drama, apart from a thumping bass track to the enhanced exhaust pipes. The accelerator responds from any speed and just keeps on going.

Most of time I pottered around in Comfort setting by the E63 has a variety of drive modes to explore. Sport is the obvious choice for a country road, Sport+ turns the Mercedes into a snarling monster.

4MATIC four-wheel drive is standard – and very useful considering this is such a big car. However, our S model allows deactivation, so the E becomes effectively rear-wheel drive in Drift mode. I wonder how many executives will be using that…

Handling is kept together with ride control air suspension, enhanced to offer neutral cornering and greater traction, even at higher speeds.

Inside, it’s pure Mercedes. Ironically, that means the navigation system isn’t the easiest to navigate, the scroller and mouse control is simply too fiddly. Not sure we need the silly mood lighting either.

There’s intrusive noise in the cabin from the 20-inch alloys and even in Comfort mode, the ride is on the firm side.

But that aside, the Mercedes is a remarkable car. It’s not as quick as the BMW, or as comfortable but brims with character and appeal.

For most people, it will come down to the badge on the bonnet because there’s not much else to choose between them.