IN A NEW LIGHT

The region of Provence in the south of France is famous for its lavender fields and hilltop villages, but are there still new things to discover? We take the new McLaren 570GT on a journey to find out.

 

 

To most people Provence stirs up thoughts of sunflowers and lavender fields, but perhaps it’s time to revisit Provence and see it with new eyes. With a train service from London, Provence has never been easier to reach. Then again, if you had a McLaren at your disposal, perhaps you’d prefer to drive…  

There’s a new car in the McLaren range that was made for journeys like this, conceived from the start as a car to spend quality time in. Joining the Sports Series range alongside the existing 570S and 540C, the 570GT adds a different flavour to McLaren’s youngest model line – still delivering a pure sports-car experience, but with an emphasis on comfort and long-distance journeys. 

 

Despite its emphasis on comfort and refinement, the 570GT still offers sensational performance.

Its Sports Series DNA is apparent as soon as you see it: that same fine-boned face, echoing the McLaren P1™; and at its heart, the same 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8. Instead of those distinctive buttresses and the exposed engine cover found at the rear of the 570S, the GT’s roof slopes gracefully down towards an extended lip spoiler on the tail. Over the rear there’s a side-opening Glass Hatch that reveals a Touring Deck, which increases the luggage capacity by 220 litres. Bags stowed, it’s time to get moving. We start in perhaps the least Provence-like place in the region: the energetic city of Marseille. It’s easy to think of Provence as wall-to-wall beauty spots. In fact, the region is huge, stretching from the Alps in the north all the way down to the Mediterranean, and this boisterous, multicultural port is the region’s biggest city. During the 20th century, it became known for organised crime and gangs, but Marseille was named European Capital of Culture in 2013 and has taken huge strides over the past few years to reinvent itself as a tourist destination.

 

The centrepiece of Marseille’s redevelopment scheme is the striking Museum of Civilisations of Europe and the Mediterranean – or MuCEM for short.

 

Beneath the bright Panoramic Roof, the 570GT’s cabin is more refined than its Sports Series cousins thanks to extra sound deadening.

After exploring the port and old town, it’s time to head inland. Every time you climb into the 570GT you notice the carbon sill, a reminder  that this car, like every McLaren, is built around a stiff, strong and light carbon fibre ‘tub’. The Sports Series uses the latest iteration,  MonoCell II, featuring a slimmer and lower sill that makes it easier to step in and out of the cabin. It may share its structure with the 570S,  but inside the GT you find more standard equipment than in the S, with the focus on comfort and convenience: there are front and rear parking sensors and electrically adjustable heated seats.

But as we join the autoroute heading north towards Aix-en-Provence, it’s clear there’s more to making a Grand Tourer than adding parking sensors. Effortlessly consuming miles is also a key characteristic, and the new 570GT has been fine-tuned to make it the most refined McLaren yet. There’s extra soundproofing and bespoke Pirelli P Zero tyres with a layer of built-in foam to cut road noise, while the suspension’s spring rate has been softened by 15 percent at the front and 10 percent at the rear. You’ll find the same Active Dynamics Panel in the centre console as the S, allowing the driver to choose between Normal, Sport and Track settings – but left in Normal the ride comfort is exceptional for such a high-performance car.

 

What most people picture when they think of Provence (left); art galleries in Aix-de-Provence, the cultural capital of the region (right).

 

Select Sport on the Active Dynamics Panel and the 570GT comes alive, providing a truly immersive driving experience.

So, there’s the arts and the architecture, the bustling city streets and the big-statement museums. But there’s another aspect of Provence that it should be famous for: it’s full of incredible roads. You may have heard of one of them: Route Napoléon is 200 miles of pure heaven for any McLaren driver, with seemingly endless combinations of sweeping curves and cambered corners.

So far on our journey we’ve left the GT’s driving modes in their default settings, but looking at the squiggle of road on the navigation display, it’s time to switch to Sport mode. After turning the twin Powertrain and Handling rotary selectors, I press Manual at the centre of the Powertrain dial to take control of the seven-speed seamless-shift transmission. The car’s character changes immediately. Within two corners you can feel that the chassis has become more taut and agile. And let’s not forget that the GT’s twin-turbo V8 produces 570PS (562bhp). That’s enough muscle to catapult this lightweight sports car from 0-62mph (0-100kph) in just 3.4 seconds.

 

The picturesque hills of Provence are home to some of the world’s greatest driving roads.

As we arrive in the village of Cassis, the 570GT becomes a magnet for camera phones. At first glance, the new McLaren that everyone’s busy photographing may appear as a minor variant to the existing Sports Series models – beautiful yes, but is it really so different to its 570S cousin? To those of us lucky enough to drive it, the new GT offers something distinct in McLaren’s growing model range. With a history of success on the track, it’s not surprising that McLaren has become renowned for road-going supercars that can set blistering lap times on a circuit. The 570GT is a new kind of McLaren, a McLaren with a different perspective on driving pleasure, a McLaren built to cross entire continents if you wish to.

And what of our fresh perspective on Provence? Provence is to Europe what California is to the US – a microcosm blessed with perfect weather, varying landscapes, architecture, culture and history. You could live your whole life here, never straying beyond its borders. You could ski in the morning and sail in the afternoon, spend one day gazing at the lavender fields that inspired a million postcards, the next you could drive from dawn to dusk and never run out of road. And rather than feeling unchanging and fixed for all eternity, Provence is vibrant and alive, offering the modern, the unexpected.

 

The small fishing village of Cassis marked the final destination on our ‘Grand Tour’ in the 570GT.

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