The Senna is awesome, but please stop calling it a “hypercar”

The new McLaren Senna is sure to be many things, but I really don’t think it should be considered a “hypercar.” Yes, that’s right, while most others are writing the same sort of ass-kissing articles about the Senna, I’m over here with my critic hat on.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the Senna a lot, and I’m sure it will be fast in ways not thought possible, but performance alone doesn’t constitute what makes a hypercar a hypercar. In fact, I’d say it’s traditional for the next generation of track-focused supercars to exceed the performance of the previous generation’s hypercars. I mean, the Porsche GT2 RS just shattered the 918’s Nürburgring time, but does anyone consider that a hypercar?

To me, the Senna seems pretty much the 720S equivalent of the 675LT in the previous generation, an ultra hardcore track-focused version of the McLaren Super Series car. Now, it does seem as though the Senna is an even more of a step up over the 720S than the 675LT was over the 650S. They’ve definitely raised the stakes here, so if the 675LT was the 650S turned up to 11, then the Senna is the 720S turned up to 12. But, faster lap times or not, that sure as hell doesn’t put it at the relative level of a P1, let alone the legendary F1.

The issue for me is that the Senna is still very clearly based on the 720S. I mean, if we’re just being blunt here, it’s effectively a 720S with a crazy body kit and a little more boost in the same 4.0L V8 engine. I imagine there will be upgrades in every area of the car, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Senna is “just” an upgraded 720S platform and not its own bespoke car. That is the difference between a hypercar and a supercar.

Now, many of you may be saying, “well what about the McLaren P1?!” That’s a great point because the P1 did share much with the 650S. It too had an upgraded version of the same engine as the standard car, and from the front, most people would confuse one for the other. The P1 had its unique hybrid drivetrain, though, and that drastically changed both the level of performance as well as the driving experience. The P1 also had a new generation of active aerodynamics not seen in the standard McLaren models. Also, despite looking similar to the 650S from the front, from the side and the rear the P1 had its own very distinctive design. For me, the P1 raised the bar and used enough of its own unique technology to be considered a hypercar over the 650S supercar.

Where the power rose from 641hp to 903hp between the 650S and P1, the Senna only goes to 789hp up from the 720S’s 710hp. 80hp isn’t a huge difference at all in cars at this level, it’s a marginal increase of around 11%. For comparison, the new Porsche GT2 RS sees around a 21% increase in power over the Turbo S. The aforementioned P1 to 650S?… around a 41% increase. So the gain in power from 720S to Senna is hardly the performance jump to justify going from supercar to hypercar. In fact, the proportional difference is exactly like adding 17hp to a Mazda Miata. Just saying…

But what if it handles really, really, really well?

I mean, does handling even factor into the hypercar equation that much? Was the 4,000+lb Bugatti Veyron SS ever the last word in handling or lap times? Hell no! Such things are the concern of track-focused versions of supercars, you know, the Ferrari Speciales, Lamborghini Performantes, and the Porsche RSs of the world. That’s exactly where the Senna belongs in my eyes. It’s hardcore as hell, but it’s clearly based on the McLaren Super Series.

Does it significantly raise the bar in the class of the track-focused supercars? It would sure seem like that’s what McLaren is going for. But this sure as hell isn’t the successor of the McLaren F1, it doesn’t even seem cut from the same cloth. If that’s what they were going for I say they missed pretty badly, but I don’t think McLaren is that careless. Supposedly there is still a bespoke 3 seater hypercar on its way that will carry on the torch of the mighty F1, so we’ll see.

As for the Senna, and anyone who disagrees with me here, I ask you this: If the Senna is not the equivalent of a 675LT for the 720S, then what exactly would a “720LT” model be? Is there even room for a “750LT?” If someone had asked me a few weeks ago to consider an upcoming the LT-equivalent for the 720S, the Senna is almost exactly what I would have imagined.

Funny enough, McLaren is building 500 Sennas, just like they built 500 675LT Coupes and 500 675LT Spiders. The difference is that I hear the Senna will have a million dollar price tag, which may be why so many people are calling it a “hypercar.” Well, I think McLaren is a very clever company, and I think they understand how the supercar market reacts to the hype as much as anyone. Why sell 500 cars for $500,000 each when you could sell the same 500 cars for $1,000,000+ each? The supercar market is such right now that people will pay insane prices just to be on “the list.” It’s about that, as much, or more, than it is about the car’s lap times, performance, etc. – at least for many buyers. The price doesn’t make it a hypercar, it just McLaren taking full advantage of supply and demand.

As I said before, I really like the McLaren Senna a lot, but I like it for what it is, and I don’t try to make it what it isn’t. I think the Senna may redefine the level of performance in the track-focused supercar segment, and I definitely think the new “Speciale” version of the Ferrari 488 will have its work cut out for it trying to keep up. I’m not bashing the Senna at all here, I’m correcting what I see as a lot of ignorant hype around the car by people who seem to have the wrong expectations. It’s like we just got a new dog, and everyone is saying, “oh my god, what an adorable kitten!” It’s not worse, it’s just something different than what they are saying.

And if McLaren really is marketing the Senna as their new hypercar, then I have a bit of a bone to pick with them. Look at the F1 in its day, then look at the P1 two years ago, and ask yourself if the Senna really fits where either stood. I think it’s definitely more of an LT sort of car, just one that raises the bar for that class.

-Nick Walker


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