The hills surrounding the Ascari Race Resort are saturated with history. First settled by early Celts, the area became fortified at the height of the Roman empire and has since been haunted by oversized personalities ranging from eighth-century Moors to Ernest Hemingway. This ancient landscape is a dramatic place to launch the 2023 McLaren Artura, one that puts its future-forward design into stark historical perspective.
Don’t let Artura’s subdued bodywork fool you: beneath the wing/fender louvres, big side scoops, and flying buttresses is a hybrid powertrain that plays a key role in the survival plan for the embattled Woking brand. Rather than sitting atop the lineup like the late, great hybrid P1, Artura fills a gap between the roadtrip-friendly GT and the exuberant 720S.
And though it appears to bear a remarkable amount of similarity to the Ferrari 296 GTB — a mid-engine/rear drive 120-degree hot-vee 3.0-litre V6, axial flux e-motor, eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, and sub-20-mile EV range, for starters— the Artura is nearly a 911’s worth more affordable than the monster from Modena, starting at £241,550. As such, the Macca puts out a more terrestrial 671 bhp and 530 lb-ft compared to the 296’s 830 bhp and 546 lb-ft. Not just a different league, but nearly an entirely different sport.
McLaren has long prioritised lightweight construction, and Artura’s nearly flat-laying V6 takes it a step further, measuring 190 millimetres (7.5 inches) shorter and 50 kilograms (110 pounds) lighter than the brand’s V8. That helps deliver a curb weight of 1,498 kg (3,303 lbs), despite hybrid components that include a 7.4-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack. As with the Ferrari, Artura’s dual-clutch adds another cog for eight total forward gears, ditching reverse since the electric motor now handles backup duties.
Though it appears to bear a remarkable amount of similarity to the Ferrari 296 GTB, the Artura is nearly a 911’s worth more affordable than the monster from Modena.
A new carbon fibre chassis further saves weight by incorporating an ethernet network that trims mass that would have been taken up by conventional cables. As such, McLaren claims the body structure is some 10 percent lighter than equivalent predecessors. Left in EV mode, the two-seater can lazily cruise up to 81 mph; in full-bore track mode with launch control, it’ll see 62 mph in a claimed 3 seconds flat and accelerate ‘til it hits an aerodynamic wall at 205 mph.
Lift the dihedral billionaire doors and climb inside to find plenty of subtle updates for those familiar with McLaren’s well-utilised supercar playbook. Handling and powertrain controls have been moved to either side of a new instrument binnacle, which adjusts in unison with the steering wheel. Move the switches to change modes, and the display reflects the adjustment with a small graphic and/or a change in layout, depending on mode. There’s a slight lag between input and display, though the engine fires up instantly when switching out of pure EV mode.
Driving in electric mode is stealthy, if a bit limiting when in a hurry. Silent motoring is a great way to leave a minimal impact when driving through small towns or quiet neighbourhoods, though the lack of exhaust din does allow some subtle, high-frequency electronic sounds to enter the cabin. Dialled into Sport, the engine runs until the catalytic converters are warmed up, then goes silent until acceleration demands aren’t met by battery power alone— which is most of the time, unless the throttle is operated super gingerly.
There’s a seamless interplay between EV and internal combustion, producing a massive torque plateau between 2,500 and 7,000 rpm. The straightforward regeneration strategy leaves no choice to the driver— there’s no “high regen” button, and tapping the paddle shifters will only change gears. But that’s not a bad thing; the system works, while respecting the sanctity and consistency of pedal feedback. The brake system is a conventional, non-brake-by-wire setup which has a heavy-ish, race car-like feel with linear feedback and good initial bite that starts near the beginning of the pedal stroke.
Speaking of feel, McLaren thankfully retains its old school electro-hydraulic steering setup, which delivers enough information to depict a clear picture of front-end grip. It’s not as transcendent as Ferrari’s, but it’s good enough to feel natural and accurate.
The Track powertrain setting lays the tachometer out into a linear graph and delivers a sharp but intuitive throttle response, as well as a charging tactic that flows enough charge back into the battery to assist with over 10 laps at the Nardo test track, which covers more than 60 miles of tarmac.
Though not as gobsmackingly quick as the 296 GTB’s 819 bhp powertrain, the Artura feels plenty fast around Spain’s rural backroads, climbing valiantly through the 8,500-rpm rev range as the transmission swaps smoothly through gears. The engine sounds are never boomy or annoying. Instead, the cabin fills with an exhaust note that’s both refined and authentic, avoiding the tactic of getting piped in through sound tubes or stereo speakers.
The new 8.0-inch, portrait-oriented touchscreen is easy to use and offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, though its volume knob is somewhat awkwardly positioned on the right side of the screen. At least the home screen is easily accessible by tapping the button within the volume knob, recalling a series of icons that can be customised by holding and dragging.
We were told that some of our tester’s software parameters were not yet finalised, so we weren’t surprised when the digital instrument panel displayed a high clutch temperature message after some athletic driving. Some time later, we successfully performed a couple hard launches, knocking off aggressive acceleration blasts uneventfully.
Road Ready, Track Focused
An unplanned wrinkle: our track drive was postponed a day due to a supplier issue that required parts to be swapped out on all cars at the track. The following day, we scooted up to the Ascari track from Marbella, gobbling up the miles in expedient ease that reinforced the Artura’s status as a quick, comfortable grand tourer that’s content to cruise along at 90 mph in top gear with the engine humming at a relaxed 2,500 rpm. There’s a bit of on-centre touchiness on the road at around 120 mph, which feels like the front end could use a touch of toe-out alignment.
That hint of uncertainty wasn’t present on the track, where more aggressive Pirelli Corsas replaced the Pirelli PZeros we tested on the road. Incidentally, this McLaren features Pirelli’s first-ever Cyber Tyre technology, which uses a sensor mounted on the inside centre of the rubber to more accurately communicate temperature and pressure.
Unlike more aggressively configured McLarens, brake vectoring on the Artura is only used during low speed corners, which removes some of the clichéd “on rails” turn-in that typifies some of the carmaker’s higher-end models. As such, Artura relies on a more conventional driving style that respects the simple laws of momentum and forethought. Think of it as an analogue way of driving lines, in spite of the platform’s digital underpinnings.
The Ascari circuit features a grab bag of highlights, from sharp right-handers and banked corners to wiggly chicanes and gently curved high-speed transitions. The blend of internal combustion and electric power helps make quick work of the straights, with the dual-clutch offering cooperatively quick, smooth shifts.
Six-piston carbon ceramic brakes and aluminium callipers sourced from LT models deliver excellent stopping power, and in their stiffest setting the adaptive Tenneco dampers work with the carbon monocoque to feel sharp and responsive. No, the Artura isn’t as mind-blowing on the track as some of McLaren’s more exotic offerings like the 765 LT, and it doesn’t offer sky-high downforce to encourage bonkers corner speeds. But given its positioning within the lineup, it holds its own with a communicative interface and buttoned-down performance.
As McLaren’s first serial production hybrid, Artura is one of the most critical releases yet from the brand’s still relatively young road car division. Its path to production was problematic and the launch somewhat bumpy, but McLaren’s vision appears to have been executed with a typically assiduous attention to detail, maintaining a strong vision of purity that prioritises linear feedback, predictable dynamics, and lightweight construction. These fundamentals of a successful supercar are necessary to compete against rivals that include the clinical-but-capable Maserati MC20 and what promises to be an outstanding Lamborghini Huracán Tecnica.
From that perspective, Artura is more a glimpse of the brand’s future than it is a vestige of the past. Consider that the MC20 platform is configured for a fully-electrified iteration, and the next-gen Huracán will incorporate a hybrid drivetrain. All factors considered, we hope the trials and tribulations that have led to this critical moment in history will pay off handsomely for McLaren. Time will tell whether the Artura proves to be as intriguing an ownership proposition as its competitors; until then, this thoughtfully executed hybrid is an ambitious and encouraging sign of life from our favourite British supercar manufacturer.
Gallery: 2023 McLaren Artura: First Drive
2023 McLaren Artura