IT’S cold, breezy and there’s an almost invisible film of grease on the road surface.
The 4.0-litre twin turbo V8 snarls into life and an instant later 720PS of seismic wallop thrusts the McLaren supercar forward.
Foot fully to the floor, the needle flicks to 60mph in just 2.8 seconds, touches 125mph in 7.8 seconds and has already edged east of 140 when it’s time to hammer the brakes.
Well short of the car’s extraordinary maximum speed of 212mph but swift enough to induce a few palpitations.
There are few venues outside of a racetrack where this kind of driving is permitted, even possible, and the Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire is one of them.
Providing custom-built tracks to simulate the world’s toughest terrains, a feature of Millbrook is its straight mile acceleration zone – and we’ve just completed the first run in a McLaren 720S coupe, the British performance brand’s benchmark supercar.
It hasn’t come without a moment of apprehension though. When the sharp right-hander at the end of the straight looms large – and the car feels close to take-off – you fear for a split second whether there’s time to slow down.
But the 720S is no ordinary supercar, its stopping power is phenomenal, boosted by brakes developed for McLaren’s F1 team and the fact that the car is blessed with a carbon fibre structure ensures it’s lighter than most.
Having the opportunity to drive a car like this – it costs from a cool £222,000 – is a rare treat, with every aspect of the model’s design aimed at stirring the senses.
Its radical shape is apparently inspired by nature’s perfect aerodynamic form, the teardrop, and every detail honed to enhance performance, intensify driver engagement and sharpen handling.
Lift the car’s butterfly doors, which open upward and forwards, and you are greeted by a comfortable, classy environment for driver and passenger plus space behind the seat backs for two holdalls or carry-on airline bags in addition to the 150 litres under the front panel.
Press the start button and the V8 engine pulses and percolates as we head for Millbrook’s Alpine Hill route which mimics some of Europe’s most challenging mountain roads.
And wow does the 720S perform; its traction is sensational along with its comfort and visibility, and when you brake hard for a bend those downshift plips really resonate.
Against the grain McLaren has shunned the more popular electrically assisted power steering, instead preferring an electro-hydraulic design for its degree of feel.
It works closely with the car’s active dynamics that basically allow owners the driving experience they want, so you can switch from the Comfort mode created for the open road to the Sport or Track settings that drastically heighten responses.
It all adds up to a supercar of outstanding ability and design, though it is understandable some drivers may prefer something that’s still capable of delivering the shiver shakes but remains a little less focused.
Enter the McLaren GT, another stunner of a supercar but more geared towards everyday driving and, dare I say it, practicality.
The GT is an awful lot less expensive with a starting tab of £136,000 but shares the million dollar looks of its 720S stablemate.
Like the 720S it features a 4.0-litre twin turbo powerplant but develops slightly less volcanic punch, its 620PS enabling 0-62mph acceleration in 3.2 seconds, 0-124 in 9.0 seconds and a top speed of 203mph.
To suggest it is more ‘genteel’ to drive would be to not do the GT justice because it is still one hell of a powerful and engaging car, with the catwalk looks to match the 720S.
It is also a perfect example of the everyday supercar, as we discovered on Millbrook’s two-mile High Speed Bowl where the GT cruised comfortably and effortlessly in Grand Touring manner at a steady 100mph.
As for practicality there’s also a flat rear luggage space – ideal for a couple of golf bags or jackets/coats/suits – accessed via a front-hinged tailgate, in addition to the front stowage area. Both areas combined give a capacity of 570 litres.