They’re coming fast now, one after another: Electric and hybrid performance cars, so inevitable and implacable that weary traditionalists barely bother to shake a fist or gnash their teeth.
The McLaren Artura is the latest, a 671-hp, 205-mph plug-in hybrid supercar that underscores every industry recalibration and strategic recalculation: If an automaker doesn’t harness electricity in some form, it can’t compete, whether in performance, in the regulatory arena, or soon, for customers. Such is the unfair advantage of powerful, efficient and emissions-free electric motors, which will soon chew up any internal combustion engine and spit it onto the scrapheap. The V12 is essentially dead; V8s are being frog-marched out of showrooms, much as we love them. Cars like the Artura, the Ferrari 296 GTB and electrified Porsches, BMWs and Corvettes are the boldfaced writing on the wall.
The good news is that, for now, the energy-hoovering, gas-electric hybrid is the state of the performance art, from Formula 1 to street-legal cars like this McLaren. I drove the V6-powered Artura — which essentially replaces the 570S in McLaren’s lineup — on the roads of Andalusia, Spain and at the rollicking Ascari circuit. I didn’t miss the 570’s V8.
The Artura’s downsized V6 (codename M630) tucks a pair of turbos into the valley of its engine block, the increasingly popular “hot vee” setup. It makes a beefy 577 horsepower from just 3.0 liters of displacement, and spins to 8,000 rpm. It also weighs 110 fewer pounds than McLaren’s V-8 powerplant, and is several inches shorter and narrower, letting it sit lower in the engine bay. The engine doesn’t sound all that great, but neither does McLaren’s rackety V8. (The V6’s soundtrack is rich and harmonious, but shy on force and drama).
But 577 horses won’t earn entree to the snooty supercar club on their own. So the Artura sandwiches an axial-flux electric motor between the mid-mounted engine and the new 8-speed dual-clutch automated gearbox. The motor is fed by a 7.4-kW battery, safely tucked into the new McLaren Carbon Lightweight Architecture (MCLA), the company’s new hybrid-focused platform.
That motor weighs 34 pounds, half that of the McLaren P1’s hybrid motor, and spins up 94 horsepower and 166 lb-ft of “torque infill” to plug any power gaps from the V6, especially between 2,000 and 5,000 rpm. The resulting 671 hp and 531 lb-ft lets the Artura scorch every Spanish road and mountaintop in sight. The company estimates the Artura will do a 3.0-second launch to 62 mph (100 km/h), 8.3 seconds to 124 mph and a 10.7-second quarter-mile. The throttle responds faster than Brad Pitt’s Tinder matches, the Artura riding a seemingly limitless wave of gas-electric power.
Ferrari’s 818-hp plug-in hybrid, the new 296 GTB, accelerates even more improbably than the Artura, thanks in part to a 654-hp 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6, the industry leader in horsepower-per-liter. It’s quicker than a who’s-who of strictly internal-combustion-powered supercars. It also costs decisively more, starting at nearly $86,000 more than the $237,500-base-price Artura. As such, McLaren doesn’t view the 296 GTB as a straight-up rival — the British automaker considers its latest to be a competitor to like-priced models like the Lamborghini Huracan Evo and Maserati MC20.
The Artura was born for sinuous circuits like the freshly repaved Ascari, with its roller-coaster elevation changes, blind crests and 26 corners. Where the Ferrari integrates fully electric steering and by-wire brakes into its sci-fi matrix of F1-derived systems, the McLaren sticks with familiar electrohydraulic steering that communicates every move and intention to the driver’s fingertips.
The philosophy is underscored with a slim-section steering wheel with no redundant controls whatsoever. The digital instrument binnacle atop the steering column gets a pair of analog rocker switches to control settings for the powertrain and adaptive suspension. But McLaren’s decision to forego regenerative braking entirely is a curious one. McLaren engineers claim that a purely friction-based braking system (with standard carbon-ceramic brakes) is the route to superior brake feel. After several blistering laps at Ascari, I can confirm the Artura’s ability to trail-brake deep into the most devilish corners, but the decision does leaves potential efficiency gains on the table. Instead, the McLaren recaptures up to 24 kW of energy through the electric motor under light throttle, and dialing up the Sport or Track powertrain setting diverts some engine power to top off the battery. This ensures consistent supercar performance even on extended track blasts — McLaren engineers say the Artura can knock off 40 laps at Italy’s taxing, high-speed Nardo circuit with no degradation in hybrid-assisted performance.
On start-up, the Artura defaults to silent, emissions-free EV mode. It can cover 11 miles on electricity alone, at speeds up to 81 mph. Comfort mode is the most efficient hybrid setting, sidelining the V6 until major power is needed, say, to leave that dude in the Mustang chewing on your dust. A firm press of the accelerator springs the V6 to life (not always seamlessly), and away you go. Sport and Track modes run the engine full-time.
While cut from the same stylistic cloth as other McLarens — cab-forward, high-tailed, with scissor-style “dihedral” doors — the Artura has a more fashionable figure than the departed 570S. The shape begins with some 500 pieces of carbon fiber that form the MCLA, the automaker’s first all-new production monocoque since it began building street cars 10 years ago. The new, stiffened monocoque weighs 180 pounds. That architecture, designed specifically for hybrid applications, is the building block for McLaren’s ambitious goal: Trimming enough weight to entirely offset 287 pounds of hybrid hardware, including a 194-pound battery. The Artura ends up tipping the scales at 3,303 pounds, about 100 more than a 570S, and 164 less than a 720S.
Aside from the new monocoque, which renders everything from the battery compartment to the door-hinge mounts in carbon fiber, weight-savers include a carbon-fiber windshield surround. The rear clamshell deck panel weighs just 33 pounds, superformed from a single sheet of aluminum. Superheated engine-compartment air escapes through a black “power chimney” atop that rear deck. A new Ethernet electrical system cuts the amount of wiring by 25 percent, and trims weight by 10 percent. The new multi-link rear suspension is stiffer and lighter, as are aluminum sub-structures. This being a McLaren, innovation is expected: The eight-speed transmission adds one cog for broader, more flexible acceleration, but there’s no reverse gear: The engine disengages and the e-motor spins in the opposite direction to send the Artura backwards.
Performance aside, the Artura advances the modern supercar trend toward more accessible, daily-drivable machines. Ride quality via the adaptive suspension is fairly amazing, almost Porsche 911 good. Like most mid-engine vehicles, the Artura’s only real cargo storage is in the frunk, but at least McLaren added door pockets to the interior.
More importantly, where previous McLaren interiors consistently trailed the competition in tech, features and craftsmanship, the Artura takes a significant leap forward. The maddening old “Iris” infotainment system is banished. McLaren’s new Android-based system works with reasonable aplomb from a tablet-style center screen. Adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability is new, and a Bowers and Wilkins audio system is an option. There’s even an improved warranty of five years (six on the hybrid battery), that buyers can extend to as much as 15 years — and importantly, transfer to the next owner, which should give strong resale prices to the eventual used Artura market.
McLaren warned us that certain software was not finalized on the pre-production cars we drove; the automaker intends to finalize the software and fix remaining bugs before customer car deliveries begin in July. Prior to our drive, on a previous wave of UK journalists, several Arturas were waylaid by software-based electronic issues, including balky infotainment screens and false error messages. (Our group of US journalists, it must be noted, drove the cars without a hitch.) McLaren reported similar software problems in the Artura last fall, postponing the car’s showroom arrival (and media event) by several months. The pandemic and its fallout have been tough on everyone, not least a feisty British supercar company.
This Artura looks like a thoroughly impressive entry into the supercar ranks: Ferociously fast, head-turning, well-rounded and bursting with cool tech. Let’s hope McLaren can solve the Artura’s software issues in time for owners to enjoy this awesome hardware.
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