McLAREN 570GT - THE DRIVE: This is an incredibly refined performance smooth, sophisticated, a proper GT for long journeys

‘Normal’ has never been so remarkable: We join the ‘TF-1’ highway that swoops along the south coast of Tenerife (the largest of the Canary Islands, about 180 miles off the west coast of Africa). As we accelerate hard, everything inside the car is peaceful – hardly a sound from the engine, barely any road noise, the cabin is quiet enough to talk without raising your voice. This is remarkable, because we’re driving the new McLaren 570GT, companion in the Sports Series range to the acclaimed 570S. As we’re discovering, if you leave the Active Dynamics Panel in its ‘Normal’ setting for both Handling and Powertrain, the result is far from ‘normal’ for a sports car. This is an incredibly refined performance: smooth, sophisticated, a proper GT for long journeys.

The difference between the new model and the sportier S is perhaps even more surprising given the obvious similarities between the two: they’re both built around the same MonoCell II carbon fibre chassis; they share the same 570PS twin-turbo V8 and the same seven-speed transmission; and they’re clearly related in styling, down to those distinctive dihedral doors.

Related yes, but they’re not the same – that key styling difference in the rear is perhaps the first outward sign of the GT’s unique character. The dramatic buttresses and exposed engine cover found at the back of the 570S are replaced by sleek new glasswork that rolls seamlessly out of the GT’s muscular rear haunches. The buttresses provided an aerodynamic gain for the S, but their loss is rectified on the GT by the smallest of modifications: a marginally extended fixed rear spoiler.

This sleeker roofline gives the new car a classic GT profile – graceful, poised, smooth like a tactile pebble. Parked alongside, the 570S looks like a more spirited, more aggressive character – and that’s exactly how they drive.

That new glasswork extends right over the cabin at the front, working its magic in the GT’s light-filled interior. The standard Panoramic Roof features the same high-tech material found in the McLaren P1 – a special tinted glass, treated with an invisible film to reduce solar radiation and noise.

Towards the tail, beneath the sloping glass hatch (which can be hinged on the left or the right, depending which side is ‘kerbside’ in your territory) you’ll find the gloriously appointed Touring Deck. Trimmed with leather, it provides an extra 220 litres of storage. What you don’t see is the additional sound insulation beneath the Deck; nor the quieter exhaust; nor the special foam layer embedded in the bespoke Pirelli P Zero tyres (Pirelli’s Noise Cancelling System) – just some of the invisible engineering changes that combine to create that refined atmosphere as we cruise along Tenerife’s four-lane TF-1.  

But this international launch wasn’t based on a volcanic island in the Atlantic just to sample a stretch of unremarkable highway. Head inland, away from the rocky coast, and Tenerife offers the kind of roads every McLaren driver surely dreams about. As you climb steeply away from those rubble-strewn lowlands, you pass through a temperate zone of lush timber and vegetation. This ‘cloud forest’ is created by the thick fog that regularly washes over these higher slopes. The result is a road that feels like an Alpine pass, featuring hairpin after hairpin.  Time to play with the 570GT’s Active Dynamics Panel in the centre console. As in the 570S, there are three settings: Normal, Sport and Track. As we’ve already discovered, the new car has been engineered to emphasise long-distance comfort, which means the suspension has been fine-tuned, reducing spring rate stiffness by 15 percent at the front and 10 percent at the rear. The electro-hydraulic steering has also been tweaked, with the ratio reduced by two percent, to smooth out driver inputs at higher cruising speeds.

None of this means the 570GT isn’t a sports car at heart, however – or a McLaren down to its last strand of carbon fibre. Switch the Active Dynamics Panel to Sport and you can immediately feel the car tighten beneath you. With the independent active dampers now ready for those endless hairpins, it’s time to unleash that 570PS of power. The 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 is unchanged from the S, which means neck-straining acceleration between the corners. With a dry weight of just 1350kg (2976lb – 37kg or 81lb more than the 570S, thanks to the extra equipment aboard) this civilised GT certainly has the ability to ruffle feathers if you ask it to, accelerating from 0-60mph in just 3.3 seconds, and pressing on to a 204mph top speed.

After lunging from hairpin to hairpin, that once-muffled engine noise now emerging into a throaty growl, we climb until we break through the tree line onto a ridge of sun-baked rock. The road opens up, allowing longer gears and higher revs. Even in Sport, the GT feels incredibly pliant and elastic over bumps, giving you a sensation of serene control, even at higher speeds. With its evocative noise and transparent steering feel, it’s incredibly engaging.

The road tips down into a huge caldera – a vast, prehistoric crater at the centre of the island, formed by a volcanic collapse. At its centre is the high cone of Mount Teide, the ‘modern’ volcano that forms the very summit of Tenerife – it last erupted in 1909. We’re hoping it doesn’t reawaken today.

Across the base of the caldera we drive, surrounded by charred black lava and glinting obsidian glass. There are plenty of tourists up here, visiting the volcano, and we can only imagine what this dart-like McLaren looks like as it spears across the long straight at the base of the mountain.

Climbing out the other side of the 10-mile-wide crater, we’re soon back on those steep slopes, and through the clouds beneath us we see the ocean again. There’s more traffic on the way down, but no matter, the GT isn’t just about driving flat-out. We settle into a more leisurely return, and enjoy the interior. Although sharing the same basic architecture as the 570S, the GT features a lot more equipment as standard, including the electrically adjusted steering column; eight-way electrically adjustable sports seats; and an eight-speaker McLaren sound system (a 12-speaker Bowers & Wilkins upgrade is also available). The GT is also the first McLaren to feature door pockets and a glove box.

But the star feature of this cabin is undoubtedly that Panoramic Roof, and the bright sunshine that fills the interior with light – never heating it, because of clever technology, just lighting it to make it feel airy and spacious. Soon we’re back on the motorway, and the Active Dynamics Panel is returned to its ‘Normal’ setting. The car relaxes beneath us.

Normal? Volcanoes, prehistoric craters, alpine passes, and a sports car that can play both the thrilling supercar and the calming, long-distance GT – could you call any of today’s drive ‘normal’?