McLaren Elva roadster is a worthy successor to the Senna

An open-air two-seater, this is the lightest roadgoing car McLaren has ever built.

Craig Cole Former reviews editor
Craig brought 15 years of automotive journalism experience to the Cars team. A lifelong resident of Michigan, he's as happy with a wrench or welding gun in hand as he is in front of the camera or behind a keyboard. When not hosting videos or cranking out features and reviews, he's probably out in the garage working on one of his project cars. He's fully restored a 1936 Ford V8 sedan and then turned to resurrecting another flathead-powered relic, a '51 Ford Crestliner. Craig has been a proud member of the Automotive Press Association (APA) and the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA).
Craig Cole
5 min read
McLaren Elva
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McLaren Elva

This is it, McLaren's latest Ultimate Series car, the Elva.


Automotive unveiled its new, ultrahigh-performance model on Wednesday, and it's called the Elva. The lightest roadgoing machine this boutique British brand has ever built, it joins the company's hallowed Ultimate Series of cars, a super-rare collection that includes models like the Senna and the Speedtail.

From its construction to the powertrain, feature set to design, the Elva is cutting-edge in every way except one: the name. This thoroughly modern machine is an homage to a series of cars designed by Bruce McLaren himself back in the 1960s. Decades ago, McLaren-Elvas were produced as customer versions of the company's high-performance Group 7 racing machines.

Now, the automaker has acquired the rights to this name and applied it to a car that should more than live up to its forebear's pedigree. The new Elva is an extreme two-seater and the first open-cockpit model offered by McLaren.

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The new is clearly inspired by the old.


A high-fiber diet

As mentioned, this is the lightest roadgoing car ever built by the brand. Not unexpectedly, engineers got the weight as low as possible by going high -- switching to a high carbon-fiber diet, that is.

The Elva's bodywork, chassis, doors and seats are all made of this featherlight material. Even its brake rotors, which measure more than 15 inches (390 millimeters) in dimeter, are fabricated of a sintered carbon-ceramic material. These binders are based on the Senna's, but further improved by the addition of titanium calipers, a change that cut about 2.2 pounds from the vehicle.

Connecting the Elva's interior and exterior, its carbon-fiber bodywork wraps over the door tops, spilling into the cabin. A spar made of the same material runs between the front seats where it supports a central armrest and a variety of controls.

For customers who want to use their Elva in anger, a six-point racing harness is available. These restraints should keep the driver locked firmly in place during even the most extreme maneuvers. For appropriate protection in severe crashes, a deployable rollover-protection system is included.

Another reason the Elva is lighter than other McLarens is because of what it lacks. A true, open-air exotic, this car has no windshield or roof, nor are there any windows. Of course, for those well-heeled customers that would prefer a little protection from the elements, a fixed windshield will be offered -- something that'll be required in the US.

Enough aerodynamic tuning to make Boeing jealous

But this really shouldn't be necessary because engineers have created a clever system to shield passengers. McLaren's Active Air Management System, AAMS for short, carefully channels airflow through the Elva's nose from an inlet above the splitter, directing it in front of the occupants, where it's then guided over the passenger compartment to create a calm zone. This system engages at higher speeds; it need not activate at lower velocities, such as when driving around town, since both airflow and overall noise are low.

Further playing with wind, the Elva also features a fully active rear spoiler. It automatically adjusts for both height and angle as required by driving conditions. This wing can also function as an airbrake, helping the car shed speed when driven in anger, saving some wear and tear on the brakes, which are, nonetheless, undoubtedly powerful. This machine also has a fully flat underbody for enhanced aerodynamics.

McLaren Elva
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McLaren Elva

Loads of work was done fine-tuning the Elva's aerodynamics. 


Even though it's less than 0.05 inch thick, the front clamshell plays a major role in the Elva's overall slipperiness. Not only does it enable AAMS, it also aids in cooling. At the leading edge of each door are special ducts that direct air toward the car's duet of intercoolers, which are mounted ahead of each rear wheel. They keep inlet temperatures under control and are absolutely necessary in a machine this powerful.

Such power, much speed

If you're familiar with any of McLaren's other Ultimate Series cars, you've already got a good idea of what powers the Elva. Mounted behind the passenger compartment beats a 4.0-liter heart, an awe-inspiring, twin-turbocharged V8 that delivers an 804-horse stampede and 590 pound-feet or torque. This engine is from the same family as the powerplant used in the Senna and Senna GTR models.

Delivering those staggering figures, this V8 is fitted with a flat-plane crankshaft, low-mass reciprocating components and a dry-sump lubrication system. It exhales through a special exhaust system made from titanium and Inconel, a special nickel alloy. The finishers are of a quad-tip design and were 3D-printed.

With a seven-speed transmission capping this drivetrain off, the Elva will sprint to 62 mph (100 kph) in less than 3 seconds. It will also blast from a dead stop to 124 mph in a claimed 6.7 seconds, meaning it should be even quicker than the legendary Senna. With all this speed, the car's linked-hydraulic fully active suspension and electro-hydraulic steering systems seem almost like afterthoughts.

Odds and ends

Further eliminating unwanted mass, an audio system is not included, though customers can opt to get one at no extra cost. Given the Elva's open-air body, the available stereo comes with marine-grade speakers to withstand moisture and other adverse weather conditions.

McLaren Elva
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McLaren Elva

This car's high-tech interior neatly matches its incredible engineering.


Several vehicle functions are controlled via a touchscreen infotainment system. Its 8-inch display is large enough that users can run multiple applications at once.

Naturally, customers can spec their Elva exactly the way they want it. McLaren Special Operations, the automaker's bespoke division, provides a wide range of interior materials and colors. The list of available exterior hues is nearly endless, though you may want eschew paint altogether. McLaren offers a Gloss Visual Carbon Fiber Body, which essentially leaves the carbon fiber exposed so you can see the weave pattern. This can also be tinted in various colors for an undoubtedly cool look.

If you have to ask…

As American banker J.P. Morgan is quoted as saying, "If you have to ask the price, you can't afford it." Indeed, you won't be able to buy a new McLaren Elva with the loose change trapped between your couch cushions. The car starts at $1,690,000.

The Elva should be homologated for all major markets. Like its P1, Senna and Speedtail siblings, production is capped at just 399 units.

This is it, the McLaren Elva!

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