They’re coming fast now, one after the other: electric and hybrid performance cars, so inevitable and unforgiving that weary traditionalists hardly bother to shake a fist or grit their teeth.
The McLaren Artura is the latest, a 671-hp, 205-mph plug-in hybrid supercar that underscores every recalibration and strategic recalculation in the industry: if an automaker somehow doesn’t use electricity, it can’t compete, whether it’s comes to performance, in the regulatory arena, or soon, for customers. That’s the unfair advantage of powerful, efficient and zero-emission electric motors, which will soon eat any combustion engine and spit it on the scrap heap. The V12 is essentially dead; V8s are taken from showrooms with frogs, no matter how much we like them. Cars such as the Artura, the Ferrari 296 GTB and electrified Porsches, BMWs and Corvettes are the bold letters on the wall.
The good news is that, for now, the energy-guzzling gas-electric hybrid is the state-of-the-art, from Formula 1 to road-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 the heady Ascari circuit. I didn’t miss the 570’s V8.
The Artura’s downsized V6 (codenamed M630) stuffs a couple of turbos into the valley of its engine block, the increasingly popular “hot cattle” configuration. It delivers a beefy 577 horsepower from just 3.0 liters of displacement and spins up to 8,000 rpm. It also weighs 110 pounds less than McLaren’s V-8 powerplant, and is several inches shorter and narrower, allowing it to sit lower in the engine bay. The engine doesn’t sound that great, but neither does McLaren’s noisy V8. (The V6’s soundtrack is rich and harmonious, but shy of power and drama).
But 577 horses don’t deserve entry to the snooty supercar club alone. So the Artura has an electric motor with axial flux between the mid-engine and the new 8-speed dual clutch automated gearbox. The engine is powered by a 7.4 kW battery, safely tucked into the new McLaren Carbon Lightweight Architecture (MCLA), the company’s new hybrid platform.
That engine weighs 34 pounds, half that of the McLaren P1’s hybrid engine, and makes 94 horsepower and 166 lb-ft of “torque fill” to close any power gaps the V6 has, especially between 2,000 and 5,000 rpm. The resulting 671 horsepower and 531 lb-ft let the Artura scorch every Spanish road and mountaintop in sight. The company estimates that the Artura will do a 3.0-second launch to 100 km/h, 8.3 seconds to 124 mph and a quarter-mile of 10.7 seconds. The throttle responds faster than Brad Pitt’s Tinder matches, the Artura rides on 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-litre twin-turbo V6, the market leader in horsepower-per-litre. It’s faster than a who’s who of supercars powered solely by internal combustion. It also costs significantly more, starting at nearly $86,000 more than the Artura with a base price of $237,500. As such, McLaren doesn’t view the 296 GTB as an outright rival – the British automaker views its latest as a competitor to similarly priced models such as the Lamborghini Huracan Evo and Maserati MC20.
The Artura was born for twisty circuits like the newly re-paved Ascari, with its roller coaster elevation changes, blind tops and 26 corners. Where the Ferrari integrates all-electric steering and by-wire braking into its sci-fi matrix of F1-derived systems, the McLaren sticks to the familiar electro-hydraulic steering that communicates every movement and intent to the driver’s fingertips.
The philosophy is underlined with a slim steering wheel without superfluous controls. The digital instrument panel on top of the steering column gets a pair of analog rocker switches to control powertrain and adaptive suspension settings. But McLaren’s decision to completely forgo regenerative braking is curious. McLaren engineers claim that a purely friction-based braking system (with carbon-ceramic brakes as standard) is the way to superior braking feel. After some blistering laps in Ascari, I can confirm that the Artura is capable of deep braking into the most devilish corners, but the decision leaves potential efficiency gains on the table. Instead, the McLaren recovers up to 24 kW of energy from the electric motor on light throttle, and by adjusting the Sport or Track powertrain, some engine power is diverted to the battery. This ensures consistent supercar performance even on long tracks. McLaren engineers say the Artura can run 40 laps on Italy’s tough, fast Nardo circuit without sacrificing hybrid-assisted performance.
At start-up, the Artura defaults to silent, zero-emission EV mode. It can cover 11 miles on electricity alone, at speeds of up to 131 mph. Comfort mode is the most efficient hybrid setting, sidelining the V6 until a lot of power is needed, say to get that guy in the Mustang to chew your dust. A firm push on the throttle brings the V6 to life (not always seamlessly), and there you go. Sport and Track modes run the engine full time.
Though cut from the same stylistic fabric as other McLarens – cab-forward, high-tailed, with scissors-style “dihedral” doors – the Artura has a more fashionable figure than the departed 570S. The mold starts with some 500 bits of carbon fiber that make up the MCLA, the automaker’s first all-new production monocoque since it started building road 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: to reduce weight enough to fully offset 287 pounds of hybrid hardware, including a 194-pound battery. The Artura tips the scales at 3,303 pounds, about 100 more than a 570S and 164 less than a 720S.
Aside from the new monocoque, which makes everything from the battery compartment to the door hinge mountings in carbon fiber, the weight savings includes a carbon fiber windshield framing. The rear clamshell deck panel weighs just 33 pounds, super formed from a single aluminum sheet. Superheated air from the engine compartment escapes through a black “power chimney” on top of that aft deck. A new electrical Ethernet system reduces wiring by 25 percent and weight by 10 percent. The new multi-link rear suspension is stiffer and lighter, as are aluminum substructures. As this is a McLaren, innovation is expected: the eight-speed gearbox adds one cog for wider, more flexible acceleration, but there is no reverse gear: the engine cuts out and the e-motor spins in the opposite direction to send the Artura backwards.
Performance aside, the Artura advances the modern supercar trend towards more accessible, day-to-day machines. Ride quality through the adaptive suspension is quite amazing, almost Porsche 911 good. Like most mid-engined vehicles, the Artura’s only real luggage storage is in the frunk, but at least McLaren has added door pockets to the interior.
More importantly, where previous McLaren interiors have consistently chased the competition in technology, features and craftsmanship, the Artura takes a giant leap forward. The maddening old infotainment system “Iris” has been banned. McLaren’s new Android-based system works with reasonable confidence 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 enhanced five-year warranty (six on the hybrid battery), which buyers can extend for up to 15 years – and most importantly, transfer to the next owner, which should bring strong resale prices for the final used Artura market.
McLaren warned us that certain software has not been finalized on the pre-production cars we have driven, and that some early customer cars that will be delivered in July also contain incomplete software. Prior to our ride, on an earlier wave of British journalists, several Arturas were beset by software-based electronic problems, including faltering infotainment screens and bogus error messages. (It should be noted that our group of American journalists drove the cars without a hitch.) McLaren reported similar software problems in the Artura last fall, delaying the car’s arrival at the showroom (and media event) by several months. The pandemic and its effects have hit everyone hard, not least a spirited British supercar company.
This Artura looks like a very impressive entry into the supercar world: blazing fast, striking, well-rounded and bursting with cool technology. Let’s hope McLaren can fix the Artura’s software issues in time so owners can enjoy this great piece of hardware.