Jun 21, 2023


There are probably better ways to spend a day than driving a McLaren Elva along Pacific Coast Highway…but when you’re piloting this 800-horsepower exotic adjacent to breaking waves under a cloudless California sky, it's tough to think of one.

Despite its otherworldly styling the Elva remains easy to drive and quite accommodating

Instead I’m thinking about the twin turbo V8, low-slung bodywork, and its ability to get you from 0 to 60 miles-per-hour in less than 3 seconds. Depending on how you configure your McLaren Elva, you might be thinking about goggles and how to avoid bugs in you teeth, as the standard model doesn't include a windshield. McLaren told us that of the 40 or so Elvas in the U.S. only about four were ordered with windshields. This one has one, though like all Elvas it still offers no side glass or roof.

The Elva's exterior design features an aggressive rear diffuser and four exhaust outlets

That could be problematic after the extra cold and rainy winter we’ve just had on the West Coast, but during my PCH drive, thankfully, it was all classic Southern California sunshine. With 804 horsepower and 509 pound-feet of torque, plus an exhaust note straight out of an F1 circuit, you really need a track to properly test the Elva's performance parameters. Thankfully, I still got a taste of its advanced mid-engine, carbon fiber chassis, wrapped in aggressive carbon fiber body panels, in the canyons north of Malibu.

The Elva's $1.7 million starting price doesn't include a windshield, but one can be added for an ... [+] additional charge

Lightweighting efforts are seen throughout the Elva, including carbon fiber seats, titanium brake calipers, and, of course, those missing side windows. U.S. cars can be ordered with a windshield because some states require them, but the Elva's $1.7 million starting price does not include that feature, or an audio system, as standard equipment. You have pay extra for both. If you do spring for the audio system it includes marine-grade — as in boat — speakers, to endure the elements in the Elva's permanently-open cabin.

The McLaren Elva boasts more than 800 horsepower and weighs less than 3,000 pounds

As I piloted the Elva alone the coast I couldn't miss the many unique design features on this multi-million-dollar supercar. Whether it's the lack of exterior door handles — because you open the doors using an easily-accessed interior pressure switch — or the extra-low-mounted air vents to make them more effective in the weather-exposed cabin, the Elva takes some getting used to. For instance, rear visibility is often a challenge in mid-engine cars, and the twin arches rising behind each Elva seat mean I’m totally dependent on the rearview mirrors and reverse camera to know what's going on back there.

A small storage area between and beneath the Elva's rising arches is large enough for a helmet

Speaking of what's going on out back, in the Elva, not much. There's no rear engine cover to open, so if you’re hoping to see that 800-horsepower V8 you’re outta luck. And the closest you get to a "trunk" is a tiny storage bin between those rising arches behind the seats. About enough room for a bowling ball, or, given the Elva's mission, a helmet. It's worth noting you also have to open this body panel to put fuel in the Elva because, like exterior door handles, McLaren didn't want to clutter up the body with silly things like fuel doors.

The Elva's carbon fiber rear air diffuser creates downforce at high speed

There is plenty going on in the lower portion of the Elva's rear end, including aggressive carbon fiber air management panels below the bumper, designed to increase the supercar's downforce at high speeds.

Four exhaust outlets direct the V8's engine note in two distinct directions

If the Elva's streamlined bodywork is missing some common items it's also awash in others. For instance, most cars have one or two exhaust tips, while some have many as four. The Elva has four, but they are located in two panels and point in different directions. The lower tips, in the rear grille, point in a conventional straight back direction, the other two point almost straight up — announcing the V8's intentions to the world.

Large air intakes behind the Elva's doors direct air to the mid-engine V8

That unique exhaust positioning is just one of many aggressive styling cues throughout the McLaren's exterior design, including large intakes mounted on the leading edge of the doors and an even larger set of intakes mounted behind the doors. All of these pipe air into the engine compartment to keep the flat-plane V8 breathing fresh, cool atmosphere.

The Elva's minimalist interior still offers effective climate control and comfortable seats

Eventually I stopped marveling at the Elva's creative interior and exterior design features and started marveling at its driving dynamics. Like the 720S with which it shares a platform, the Elva is exceptionally responsive to driver input. Turning the wheel causes a change in direction right now, and throttle or brake applications have the same instantaneous effect on velocity.

245/35 Pirelli PZero tires wrap about 19-inch wheels, with 305/30s wrapped around the Elva's 20-inch ... [+] rear wheels

No surprise, but my favorite input combination involved simultaneous steering and throttle application while coming out of turns in the Malibu canyons. The McLaren Elva's dual-clutch, seven-speed transmission sends power to massive 20 by 11-inch rear wheels, where the sticky Pirelli PZero tires claw at the pavement as the car hurtles forward. Those same Pirelli tires, sized 19 by 9 inches in the front, direct the 2,800-pound hypercar around corners while feeding critical information to the driver. Thank you, McLaren, for the continued use of hydraulic-assisted steering.

Even in exotic-car-jaded Los Angeles the McLaren Elva draws a lot of attention

I should confirm that driving the McLaren Elva through Los Angeles is every bit the exercise in excess you think it is. It draws more attention than a Kardashian sighting. And with 804 horsepower pushing a 2,800-pound car, with no roof or side windows. Or exterior door handles. Or fuel door. Or windshield (on most models). Yes, the car makes no sense. And at $1.7 million dollars before options its recipe won't work for most people.

Only 149 exist, about 40 of which landed in the U.S., so you likely won't see an Elva at the local ... [+] Cars & Coffee

But McLaren is only making 149 Elvas for the entire planet, so it doesn't have to work for 99.99…9…9 percent of the planet's population, and there will still be more people who want an Elva than McLaren built.

And yes, that would include me.