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    McLaren’s 720S is a glorious nerd-built supercar

    Beauty and brains.

    While cars are technological wonders, it's not very often that automakers tout the nerdiness of any single feature. McLaren is not your typical automaker, and it proudly notes that the Proactive Chassis Control II suspension system was part of a five-year Ph.D. course at Cambridge University. Whatever those nerds were doing during that time, it worked.

    Gallery: McLaren 720S | 17 Photos

    That suspension system sits in McLaren's 720S supercar (starting at $288,845). A vehicle that'll take you from zero to 60 in a passenger-yelping 2.7 seconds. It's quick, handles superbly (thanks to that Cambridge course) and looks outstanding. In fact, my only real disappointment behind the wheel of the 720S was that I was trapped on public roads.

    When you drive a car that's built by a company that's firmly rooted in Formula One racing, you expect something special. The 720S easily serves up a driving experience that matches the sleek exterior of the vehicle. During the few times I was able to find a patch of open road and unleash the twin-turbo 4.0 liter V8, the 710-horsepower and 568 foot-pounds of torque planted me firmly into my seat.

    For a rear-wheel-drive car (which are prone to oversteering), the 720S did an outstanding job sticking to the asphalt of the plethora of cloverleaf on and off-ramps I encountered. I happily returned to those tight turns over and over again to try and unseat the vehicle's ability to keep its tires planted to the ground. Alas, all that Cambridge research made sure I never broke free of the road.

    McLaren 720S

    When not circling back to the two good corners I found, I spent a lot of time on surface streets in Comfort mode. The 720S ships with three self-explanatory modes: Comfort, Sport and Track. Comfort softens up the ride while dialing back the throttle response. Sport opened up the magic of the vehicle for freeway driving (when not trapped in Los Angeles gridlock).

    The modes are available for both handling and power and are independent of each other. So I could be in Sport power mode while also in Comfort suspension mode. That's not a feature that's exclusive to the McLaren, lots of cars do this now. What is nice is that the modes are available via two physical knobs on the dashboard. This ensures quick access, which when you're dealing with a car like this, you really want. Just reach over and twist.

    Sadly, I never got to experience the full breadth of Track mode. Other than a few moments on the freeway, setting the 720S up to demolish a circuit while on the 405 freeway seemed a bit unwise. I definitely never turned on the Variable Drift Control feature. This gives drivers control over the stability control so you can adjust how easy it is to get the rear-end to break free and live out your Fast and the Furious dreams. Not something the highway patrol would be cool with me testing on open roads.

    The inside and design of the vehicle was easier to evaluate.

    McLaren 720S

    The exterior is just simply beautiful. It's a wonderful orchestra of lines and ports, all designed to make the vehicle slice through the atmosphere. A gap in the door (that you can stick your entire arm in), pushes air around the vehicle, reducing drag while creating a nice clean surface for the outside world to see. On first glance, the design of the 720S resembles a slightly cresting wave. Then as you get closer you see it's multiple swells working together. Even while stationary it seems to be gently moving forward.

    The 720S seems light and tossable, and, thanks to the Carbon Fibre Monocage II borrowed from the P1 hypercar, it actually is.

    The thing is, the McLaren is a road-eating machine that's happier on the backroads of your local mountain pass than cruising the highways of the greater Los Angeles area. The automaker tossing me the keys to the Performance version with carbon fiber racing seats only made me wish I had some time outside the metropolitan area.

    The Luxury version with its more civilized heated and electric sports seats might have made me feel less like a man tying a wild animal to a stake so people could come up to it and take pictures. Like the BMW i8, it's an Instagram magnet. But I doubt if even the amenities of a slightly tamer 720S would have made me feel like I was wasting an excellent car driving beside SUVs and sedans.

    McLaren 720S

    Beyond all the performance tech, the 720S does have an infotainment system, but it's pretty bare bones. It's really just media, navigation and adjusting the Variable Drift Control. The climate controls are also there and were the standout feature of the infotainment system. It works, but it's quickly overshadowed by absolutely everything else in the car.

    At $288,000 the McLaren 720S is out of the reach of pretty much everyone. For those lucky enough to have a chance to get behind the wheel, it's an absolute blast even when it's constrained by the realities of city driving. The bonus is that it looks beautiful, and even though the doors that swing up do make you feel a bit self-conscious when you pull up to a restaurant, you're more likely to get compliments about the grace of the vehicle than sneers from folks who find the doors ostentatious. It's tasteful, fast and, thanks to those folks at Cambridge, a bit nerdy which is why I adore it.

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