McLaren is a name that exudes racing heritage and initially showed an interest for crossing over into road cars with the legendary McLaren F1 in the 1990’s. McLaren Automotive was globally launched in 2010 and has rapidly built up an impressive name for itself on the supercar scene.
Their first car, the McLaren 12C had some initial teething problems, but developed into a highly regarded model, the limited-run P1 hypercar has been a huge worldwide success and now using lessons learnt from both the 12C and the P1 projects, the stunning McLaren 650S has arrived on the scene.
The McLaren 650S is a beautifully finished car and I spent a good hour drinking in the detail. You find yourself strangely staring at the exposed carbon weave which is finished to perfection and must have taken a skilled engineer much practice to get it all lining up. The 650S is like a bespoke suit of the car world.
At first I have to admit I was a little apprehensive before driving the McLaren 650S. Being a supercar you have this preconception it will be a little grumpy, unpredictable and take some getting used to.
The McLaren engineers called me over as the car they were to loan me was ready. It was the spider version (there is also a coupe 650S) and finished in Mantis Green Elite paint which looked stunning. The dramatic dihedral door was raised and I climbed inside. This car is very low and you almost have to stand on the seat to get in. The seating position is reminiscent of a Formula One car where the electrically adjustable Alcantara steering wheel is right in front of you.
After an essential run through from the McLaren engineers of where all the useful buttons lived, it was brake pedal down and a press of the stop start button. The mid mounted 3.8 litre twin turbo V8 literally roared into life with a sophisticated sound that screamed quality. I took off the electronic handbrake, pushed the Drive button and slowly crawled away.
I had to negotiate some speed humps on the way out to the public roads and I was a little concerned the 650S would get caught out on them. The front splitter is beautifully exposed carbon and I was so worried it would all scratch up, but the worry was for nothing.
Pulling out onto the public roads it was nice to have the indicators in a familiar place on a stalk just behind the wheel. I would find this more and more with the 650S, it would be just so predictable and user friendly.
Keeping it in full auto mode I got used to the car, pedal feel was very natural. With an automatic you tend to left foot brake and the pedal modulation was perfect for this, coupled with carbon ceramic brakes (as standard) stopping power was not an issue. The acceleration was smooth and not daunting. Suddenly the McLaren 650S was challenging my previous thoughts that a supercar should be difficult and a bit arrogant, this was feeling like an everyday useable supercar.
As I picked up confidence I felt there was an intimacy with the car, mainly I guess through the ultra low seating position which allows the car to almost caress the driver. With each squeeze of the throttle it delivered a delicious V8 roar and manageable smooth performance. Forced induction cars have moved on so much from the early days when you pressed the gas and waited, in the 650S there was no sign of turbo lag, in fact the car felt naturally aspirated.
The active panel has two main switches which allow you to select the Proactive Chassis Control modes of either Normal, Sport or Track or the Powertrain modes of Normal, Sport, Track or Winter. I was advised to keep away from the Track setting on this particular day on public roads, but toggled between Normal and Sport. Sport made the seven speed SSG gearshift more punchy and the car became more agile with a sharper throttle response.
The engine is a similar unit as was in the McLaren 12C, but there have been some changes to reach the 650ps (641bhp) output. Namely new cylinder heads, new pistons, revised timing, a new exhaust and some other improvements in light of what was learnt via the P1 project. You could certainly feel the 500 lb/ft torque delivery throughout the rev range peaking at around 6,000 rpm.
The ride quality in such a sporting car can sometimes be questionable, but with the McLaren 650S it has been set up to cope with British B-roads and there was no discomfort. The car is 22% stiffer at the front and 37% stiffer at the back compared to the 12C which has translated well to its handling. The lightweight forged alloy wheels sporting Pirelli P-Zero Corsa’s (20-inch, 305 section on the back and 19-inch, 235 section on the front) did not tramline or feel compromised, in fact they just gripped and kept on gripping.
Rear visibility for a car in this class is surprisingly superb and if you add the optional extras of parking sensors or rear view camera you are in no doubt what is behind you.
When you look at the performance figures for the McLaren 650S they are staggering, 0-62 mph in 3 seconds, a top speed of 204mph and all from a very light car weighing in at 1370kg dry.
What should be celebrated is that McLaren have really achieved their dream of a serious performance car that a driver of any ability can feel comfortable using every day and then when the fancy takes them it transfers to the track with the feeling of a McLaren Formula 1 car.
The McLaren 650S is available in both Coupe and Spider versions and retails for £215,250, including VAT, standard delivery, pre delivery inspection and a tank of fuel.