My review and driving impressions of the Mclaren Elva

Although the Elva shares its 4L twin-turbo V8 engine with the Senna, as soon as you start the car, you realize that the powertrain's character is different.

BHPian meta recently shared this with other enthusiasts.

I shared my impressions of the Senna GTR track-only car recently. Staying on the McLaren theme, here is my take on another Ultimate Series McLaren: the Elva.

The following is based on my thoughts from the time I test drove the McLaren Elva a year ago.

I first learnt about the Elva in a secret McLaren presentation during the Pebble Beach Car Week in 2019—or maybe it was 2018: the time before COVID feels like a fleeting, distant memory.

Just as the Ferrari Monza SP1/2 is derived from the 812 Superfast, the Elva shares its platform with the 720S and the Senna. The concept was certainly interesting, but I couldn't get excited enough about the car. My indifference arose partly from it feeling like a rehash of a familiar platform: I do have several McLarens, including a P1 and a Senna.

The aforementioned perceived rehash wasn't quite as egregious as an Aventador rehash, but still. Furthermore, it looked like it would not be possible to register the Elva for road use in the United States. Sure enough, McLaren had a hard time finding enough takers for the car: the initial planned production run was 399 units, which was first reduced to 249 units and then to "no more than 149 units."

Eventually, McLaren added the option of a windshield, which made it properly road-legal everywhere in the United States while removing the ugly Active Air Management System (AAMS) from the front clam. Although the car decidedly looks better without the windshield, the weirdo AAMS ruins the front. It's a compromise either way. I thought of giving the car another chance with an open mind. Conveniently enough, McLaren had a windshield-equipped factory car available to test drive, so I decided to do just that.

The visual feel of the Elva is quintessentially modern McLaren: There is a certain sinewy, shrink-wrapped look McLaren body panels have. (The Senna is an exception in this regard with linear, sharply angled panels, whereas the P1 exemplifies the style).

The most striking visual aspect of the Elva is the way the exterior seamlessly melds into the interior: McLaren calls it the "blurred boundaries design principle." The interior is significantly more spartan as compared to other McLarens, which is also necessary because the interior has to be able to withstand the elements far more. In fact, the cabin's stylistic feel is quite like what you see in concept cars. The controls and vents are also uniquely positioned. The "handling" and "powertrain" switches are integrated into the sides of the instrument binnacle, which itself is capped by an organic-looking pebble-shaped component that does double duty as a wind deflector.

Although the Elva shares its 4L twin-turbo V8 engine with the Senna, as soon as you start the car, you realize that the powertrain's character is different. At idle, it is closer to how a 720S feels than a Senna: There are none of the butt-tingling vibrations felt in the Senna's hardcore cockpit. Indeed, the Elva's recipe for providing ultimate driving thrills is different: it has a tiny bit more power than the Senna (815PS instead of 800PS) but the same peak torque, it is open air (even with the windshield), and it is a bit lighter with a best-case DIN weight of 1,289 kg for the windshield-equipped version (the Senna is 1,309 kg).

Now, I do have experience with fully open air cars—no roof, no windshield, and no side windows—albeit they are super old-school cars. Think vintage (pre-war) race cars from the 1920s and 30s. When driven properly, such cars are indescribably exhilarating. They require a level of driver engagement and attention that most modern drivers will not relate to, and it takes true dedication to learn to drive them. I knew that the Elva, being a technologically advanced car, would be relatively easy to drive, but I was nevertheless curious to experience what a modern take on an old school concept would be like. Will the anachronism work? A particularly remarkable thing about the Elva is the lightness: so little weight but so much power in a McLaren-designed all carbon fiber car!

The Elva drives like a more powerful and more agile 720S, which is what it is, although the delta isn't night and day, which is a testament to how capable all McLarens are. Of course, the open air bit is exciting, but to a point. Without a windshield, you would really need to be wearing closed face head protection or impact-resistant eyewear at the very least. The AAMS is not magic and it can't help much at higher speeds, or at all at any speed against any incoming opposition that's not air. With a windshield, it basically feels like a convertible with the roof and side windows down.

Unsurprisingly, it handles great. The chassis is set up for comfortable agility, rather than Senna-like lap times. It's not meant to feel like a racecar and it doesn't. Going up and down mountain roads, it is a joy to have so much automotive capability at your disposal while being close to nature. Compared to a 720S Spider, one would be forgiven to conclude that it's diminishing returns if you factor in the respective price points. But then again, with these things, a part of the appeal is the exclusivity that comes from the price-of-admission and the production numbers.

The noise is, well, just OK. McLaren's twin-turbo V8s aren't the most sonorous things to begin with. In the Elva, you don't hear a whole lot of engine or exhaust notes at speed because all the piston action is behind you and there is no cockpit to act as a sound chamber. (It could also be that my hearing is impaired from my ears constantly being exposed to far more thunderous engines.) Besides the noise, you also don't "feel" the powertrain anywhere near what you do in the Senna, in which the mechanicals are incessantly spine-tingling: the Elva is far more sanitized in line with its charter.

Besides the canyon carving abilities of the Elva, I was eager to test its raw power. The car has an impressive power-to-weight ratio and McLaren knows how to put power down very well. I therefore expected the car to have mind-bending acceleration in a straight line.

Well, there was a fly in the ointment for the Elva. As it turns out, I was daily driving a Pagani—also roofless—at the time. That car has a one-off drivetrain with active suspension and a twin-turbo 6L V12 generating a peak torque of 811 lb-ft. (The Elva's engine can do 590 lb-ft). Even though the Pagani weighs a bit more—an additional 200 lbs or so—its power curve is a lot mightier than the Elva's. Even in a straight line, The Pagani scares most passengers. As they say, it's all relative: the Elva's acceleration was nice but fell conspicuously short of the Pagani's sphincter-contracting performance with a soundtrack to match. To be fair, the Elva is a fraction of the cost of the Pagani, but by a similar argument, the Elva's base price is nearly 75% more than a Senna's.

In the end, I passed on the Elva because for me, it didn't really do much that my existing cars couldn't. Beyond a certain level, buying the car is actually the part (assuming you have the money), but taking care of it requires time and effort: it's akin to getting into a relationship, which means it should be done with some thoughtfulness.

Nevertheless, kudos to McLaren for creating something boldly unique.

Here's what BHPian pratyaksh had to say on the matter:

Not many of us are going to get the opportunity to live out our love for automobiles, but that's why we have Team BHP so that we can get first hand knowledge of super cars and Marutis at the same place. Thank you meta so much for sharing some invaluable first hand accounts of these rare beauties.

Here's what BHPian rb003 had to say on the matter:

If you've had (or will have) the chance to sample a Ferrari Monza, I'd be curious to hear about how these two stack up. On a first glance, the Monza really seems to lean into the retro-1950s-racer aesthetic, which might make it more of a compelling car. I'm under no illusions about either of these cars being some kind of retro throwback in the vein of a Caterham, but Ferrari's rich lineage of similar looking models might make the Monza more tempting than the Elva.

Also, the Monza has the outstanding V12, and I suppose that's a whole lot more charming than a garden-variety McLaren V8.

Check out BHPian comments for more insights and information.

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