The mountains north of Málaga were on fire during our recent visit to southern Spain, cutting off parts of the driving route McLaren had picked for us and causing much more hardship for residents. Such fires are more common in the region due to the warmer, drier conditions resulting from climate change. Coincidentally, McLaren brought us here to give a taste of its efforts to offset the major contribution that cars make to global warming. We were testing the first hybrid of the orange boomerang, the $237,500 2023 Artura.
The Artura is unobtrusive and weird, something that can be said for the McLaren brand in general. Guided by the same spirit of innovative engineering as in its race cars, the brand is known for its relentless and lively pursuit of new solutions, even if some of these efforts are reinventing the wheel.
With the Artura this is quite literal. For this car, Pirelli premiered its Cyber Tire smart-tire technology: sticky P Zero tires in street, track and winter configurations equipped with an internal “blister” with a Bluetooth-compatible sensor. This allows the car’s on-board computers to immediately recognize the rubber and read the corresponding air pressure and tire temperature. We had the chance to see this in action, when our crimson Artura spotted the P Zero Corsa PZC4s he wore on the challenging 26-corner Ascari track, versus the P Zero PZ4s we burned on the near-burning roads. We knew this because the car had a small checkered flag icon on the dashboard, which saved us from having to look at the sidewalls.
These tires, in staggered sizes 235/35ZR-19 (front) and 295/35ZR-20 (rear), provided intense grip in street or track compounds. The Variable Drift Control feature allowed us to choose how to deploy that grip to go sideways, setting how much slip angle we wanted.
Our fondness for the Artura’s handling is also aided by the brand’s first electronically controlled differential lock, integrated into an all-new eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission at the rear. The box often felt a bit of chasing and pecking in traffic in Auto mode, less so when hammered or broken manual paddle shifts. But the car’s behavior was otherwise predictable and neutral, with strong reserves. Perhaps this is in line with its name, which is Proto-Celtic for ‘bear’.
McLaren kept the weight down to 3400 pounds, which is light by today’s standards, although that’s a few hundred pounds heavier than the previous 570S or 720S coupes. At this weight, the new 120-degree 3.0-liter V-6 would have felt 577 horsepower, 431 pound-feet on its own. But it’s joined by a 94-horsepower electric motor nestled in the transmission, for a total horsepower of 671 horses and 531 pound-feet of torque. In addition to allowing the 18-mile electric motor to provide 11 miles of electric range, the 34-pound electric motor allowed McLaren to get rid of reverse gear in the transmission, with reverse completely handled by the engine. The 7.4 kWh battery can be recharged by the V-6, which should take the worry out of a dead battery and leave your Artura in reverse. To maintain the braking feel, there is no regenerative braking.
Boundaries are predictable and easy to feel through the hydraulically assisted steering, which, coupled with a more than compliant suspension (even in the least forgiving track mode), made the car comfortable on the highway, on mountain turns and on the curvaceous track. It’s not as explosive as the 765LT, but it’s not meant to be. It’s an entry-level supercar, though it’s still capable of zero-to-60 explosions in under three seconds, bursts to its redline of 8500 rpm and a top speed of 205 mph. Top speed in electric mode is decidedly less McLaren-esque, at 81mph, but still high enough for a quick highway stint.
Yet this livability is a blessing and a curse. McLarens have become much more passionate in behavior and appearance since the MP4-12C began its modern day incarnation of the company in 2011. That car was condemned for its prosaic looks and disappointingly engaging engine. And in some ways the Artura feels like a return to these mundane fundamentals. Sure, it’s quick and instantly recognizable as an exotic – it has intake profiles and flying buttresses – but it doesn’t necessarily feel, sound, or look fast. The engine susurrates, and revs without ever erupt. The transmission allows for quick shifts without ever breaking the neck. And in profile, the Artura resembles a Ferrari F430 trying to escape from the mouth of a Noble M400 that was gobbled up by a Lexus SC430 – an auto-turducken. Fascinating? Yes. Exciting? Not really.
Equally frustrating – or enlightening, or just mysterious – is the way the Artura dismantles McLaren’s wacky ergonomic conventions. Just as we got used to the futzy iPad-esque home button in the central display, the Artura’s home button has been knurled and moved to the side, like the crown of a wristwatch. The switchgear for opening the biplane doors is now mounted in a handle rather than hidden in the folds of the vents. The outboard seat controls replace the inboard, the nose lift function is activated with a hard button instead of a lever, and the annoying gear-like buttons that controlled the suspension and performance mapping functions give way to little fist-like rockers which are affixed to the dashboard at 11 and 1 o’clock. We didn’t even have to press an “enable” button for these systems to work, a former bit of arcane redundancy that seemed inspired by mid-century safes. Change is good?
McLaren continues to impress us with its ability to find its own solutions and its willingness to try new recipes, even if they are 85 percent cooked and delivered a little sloppy in the middle. Better that, we suppose, than burnt to a fiery crisp like a Spanish hill. In our transition to our hybrid/electric future, we should expect some flux.
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