2020 McLaren 720S Spider first drive: World-class performance with a view

Arizona State Route 87 is filled with stunning views of mountains and rolling desert terrain. The blue skies, sunshine and 65-degree temperature are a welcome change of pace from the cold, snowy, dreary winter I've been dealing with at home in Michigan. The only thing better than the weather is that I get to enjoy it from the driver's seat of the outstanding McLaren 720S Spider.

Open world

This 710-horsepower droptop arrives just a couple of years after McLaren launched the 720S Coupe, and brings a few other updates aside from its new, folding roof. Spider-specific fenders, doors and wheels help set it apart from its hardtop sibling, and the result is a car that looks spectacular, top up or top down.

Speaking of which, the top is an electronically folding bit, which retracts in just 11 seconds, and can be operated at speeds up to 31 miles per hour -- convenient if a rainstorm happens to catch you off guard. But even when the top is up, the 720S Spider offers a wonderful view outward. An available electrochromic glass panel goes from tinted to transparent at the push of a button. Of course, this is also a $9,100 option.

Cabin surroundings are nice, with stitched Nappa leather covering the dash, door panels, center console and seats. The seats themselves are comfy and possess enough adjustability to give me a just-right driving position. Refreshingly, the steering wheel is free of any buttons or knobs, letting drivers focus on driving -- the way it should be.

The Spider's low rear deck and glazed flying buttresses give it better outward visibility than the 650S Spider that came before. Getting in and out is slightly more elegant, as well, with thinner dihedral doors that open at an increased angle. The frunk has 5.3 cubic feet of cargo capacity, which isn't much, but it's enough for a weekend's worth of luggage.

Nice Nappa leather with frustrating infotainment tech.

Jon Wong/Roadshow

If you're into parlor tricks, the 720S Spider has a standard folding gauge cluster that, in Track mode, flips down to display tachometer, speedometer and gearbox information. Personally, if I was hoofing my six-figure supercar around hard, I would like to see other details such as water and oil temperature. Luckily, you can fold the display back up for all the readouts if you so desire.

Where the McLaren may continue to disappoint some is its lack of cabin technology. The Iris infotainment system uses an 8-inch, vertically oriented touchscreen, but the software is slow to start up, possess a confusing menu setup and remains laggy at times. The 720S Spider does have Bluetooth, two USB ports and is available with a 12-speaker Bowers & Wilkins audio system, but features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are missing.

Topless thrills

On the not-so-thrilling highways around Phoenix, Arizona, the Spider's comfort takes center stage. At 70 mph with the top down, wind buffeting is minimal, allowing me to carry on a conversation without screaming, and without my hairdo going haywire.

The Spider's ride is capable of being shockingly comfortable.

Jon Wong/Roadshow

Flipping the dials on the center stack to Comfort gives this supercar a relaxing ride. Here, the adaptive suspension smoothes out small to medium bumps with ease, with lighter, but still responsive steering behavior. Dynamically, my only gripe involves the longer brake pedal travel before the six-piston front and four-piston rear calipers begin really biting down on the carbon ceramic discs.

There may be a twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 mounted amidships, but it's easy to manage in traffic and while cruising at sedate speeds. But open it up and dig deep into the throttle, and McLaren says the 720S Spider will accelerate to 60 mph in just 2.8 seconds and will keep going all the way to 212 mph (or just 202 mph with the top down).

Moving off the highway and onto more engaging roads, entering corners reveals near-instant turn-in on the Pirelli P Zero tires as the Spider's body gives way to hardly any lean. The feel through the steering wheel is tighter and more direct, while mid-corner bumps don't disturb the car in the slightest. With the exception of the longer brake pedal bite point, chassis tuning is truly impressive in that it always feels eager to do whatever you ask of it without harsh ride comfort.

With the top down, you'll be able to hit 202 mph in the 720S Spider.

Jon Wong/Roadshow

The Spider weighs some 108 pounds more than a 720S Coupe, all because of the roof mechanism. The super-stiff carbon-fiber foundation doesn't require any additional bracing for convertible duty, and because of that, most drivers will not really notice any handling differences between the Spider and its fixed-roof kin.

Instead, you'll just notice the incredible 710 horsepower and 568 pound-feet of torque from the blown V8. Laying into the right pedal hard is accompanied by manic thrust getting you to posted speed limits at an alarming rate. The Graziano-built transmission completes right-now gear swaps when told so via the giant carbon steering wheel paddle shifters.

Without question the Spider is a grin-inducing machine. My only gripe is that the exhaust note is more of a high-pitched whine than an ear-pleasing symphony. It's hard to tell there's a big V8 right behind you.

A more thunderous exhaust note for the 720S is on the wish list.

Jon Wong/Roadshow

A $22,000 view

When the 2020 Mclaren 720S Spider goes on sale in March, it'll start at $315,000, excluding $4,100 for destination. That represents a hefty $22,000 premium over the Coupe's $293,000 base price tag. But to someone who believes supercar motoring is always better with an open sky above -- and especially while enjoying all this car has to offer on a sunny day with the top down -- the steeper cost of admission will likely be worth it.

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