2015 McLaren 650S First Drive
The Ultimate Sports Car: Take Two
This is everything you need to know about the performance of the new 2015 McLaren 650S: From zero to 124 mph it is a full second faster than the legendary McLaren F1 hypercar of 1992.
So in just a dozen years, performance once thought the reserve of the specialist elite has become a production reality. While an F1 will now set you back the better part of $8M, a 650S can be yours for the comparatively modest sum of $265,500.
650S Replaces MP4-12C
The 650S is really a development of the MP4-12C of 2011, with which it shares 75 percent of its parts. The 12C was McLaren's first proper production car and was a bit too clinical for its own good. It was great if you had a race circuit and the skills of McLaren's resident Formula 1 driver, Jenson Button, but in the real world, it all seemed a bit dull. As a piece of engineering it was a fine achievement, but it still struggled to connect alongside more charismatic alternatives from Ferrari and Lamborghini.
McLaren's chief test driver Chris Goodwin admits he's spent the last three years trying to give the car a bit more spirit. The 650S now has a special "cylinder cut" function, for example, that makes the engine pop and burble when you lift off the throttle. It's pointless (and inefficient) but it makes you smile every time. So, too, does the whistling wastegate of the turbo, which resides behind your left shoulder. These details make a difference when you're buying a car for the experience it delivers.
Even the change in name makes sense. McLaren admits that no one really understood "MP4-12C" as a name, and 650S (named after the metric horsepower output) is more easy to comprehend and repeat. Whether this strategy will be repeated on future cars, though, remains to be seen.
McLaren's New Look
The MP4-12C's styling was originally unveiled in 2009 and changed little for production. It was neat and functional, but generic. McLaren's American design boss Frank Stephenson arrived too late in the process to have much influence on the 12C. For the 650S though, he's been busy with his pen.
The new nose now resembles McLaren's limited-edition P1 hypercar, which sold out in six months despite a $1.15M price tag. The lights, which mimic the tick in the McLaren logo, help define the new family face of the company's fleet and will also feature on the forthcoming, $170K P13 sports car. The latter, which will be McLaren's entry-level model, will debut next year and rival the Porsche 911 Turbo.
The new nose is joined by subtle changes to the rear diffuser, but not so you'd notice. The controversial rear lights, which look like a hand-me-down from a 1980s Ferrari Testarossa, are untouched. Stephenson admits he doesn't care for the strakes, which contribute nothing to the aerodynamics, so don't expect to see them on the P13.
Both coupe and Spider versions of the 650S are being launched simultaneously. The latter has an electrically folding hardtop and (bizarrely) extra luggage capacity in return for an additional $14,725. To our eyes, the coupe's better-looking, but McLaren expects at least 80 percent of its U.S. customers will choose the Spider.
An Interior Built for Driving
Both versions feature doors that open up rather than out — that's dihedral in McLaren-speak — and reveal a cabin that continues to focus on functionality. Stephenson reckons that anything that detracts from the driving experience is an annoyance, so there's just a simple dash, a handful of switches and a screen that looks like an iPhone for the infotainment systems. The driving position is terrific, especially if you opt for the carbon-fiber sport seats, but it still lacks a sense of occasion. There's not much here designed, as the Italians would put it, con amore (with love).
Some of the detailing also needs work. The satellite navigation system is rubbish and if the top is down in the Spider, you can't read the infotainment screen in direct sun. The McLaren badges — on the nose and steering wheel — are also an aberration. Why, if you've spent so much money developing a carbon-fiber monocoque chassis, would you employ fake carbon badges made from cheap plastic? It's the first thing you see when you grab the wheel and it's maddening.
Maybe all this is just a ruse to get you to pick what is, even by supercar standards, a comedic options list. In this respect, McLaren has definitely learned something from its old foes at Ferrari. Our test car boasted a long list of options that increased the overall price of the car by $85,220: more than the cost of a base Porsche 911.
It's crazy, but in this sector of the market realities are easily distorted. McLaren expects 30 percent of customers to engage its Special Operations division, which develops bespoke parts not found on the normal options list — at a fruity price.
Yes, You Could Drive This Car Every Day
Thankfully McLaren has at least thrown in a steering wheel and an engine, which starts at the push of a button. It's McLaren's own 3.8-liter turbo V8 that debuted in the 12C, but it's now been retuned to deliver 641 horsepower, 49 hp more than before. That's 79 hp more than a Ferrari 458 and 39 hp up on the forthcoming Lamborghini Huracán.
The 650S is unique among its rivals in boasting a carbon-fiber monocoque, onto which is hung a double-wishbone suspension. One of the 12C's strengths was its comfortable ride, and the 650S is no different. The sinewy way in which the McLaren goes down the road is probably its most impressive feature. You might not buy a supercar for its ride comfort, but when you're living with one it makes a huge difference. This is a car that's capable of more than 200 mph, yet you could happily take it on a long journey.
The joy of electronic damping, of course, is that you can combine a comfortable ride with fine body control on a track day. Our test route included time at the Ascari Circuit in Spain. Tight and twisty, it's used by lots of manufacturers in Europe and is a great place to test a supercar.
In these conditions, the McLaren is superb. The 650S offers three modes (Normal, Sport and Track) for both the suspension and the drivetrain. In Track mode it comes impressively close to replicating the feel and response of a racing car, both in the rapidity of its reactions and the control of its body. The carbon-ceramic brakes have the stopping power to match the engine's extraordinary thrust, while the steering and chassis have enough poise and finesse to make you feel heroic. Powersliding a 600-hp supercar has rarely felt this easy.
Test driver Goodwin reckons he wanted to develop a car that would thrill Jenson Button without terrifying a middle-aged banker, and to a large extent he's succeeded. The 650S will indulge mistakes, but this is a 202-mph car, and if things go wrong, you'll still be heading for the crash barrier at a terrifying rate.
On the road, you're never properly going to explore the limits of a car this rapid, and a supercar must also feel special at 40 mph. The 650S is more engaging than the 12C but there's still some distance to run. For all the retuning, the engine continues to lack the charismatic soundtrack of the Ferrari 458 or even the outgoing Lamborghini Gallardo. The McLaren is still a car you admire more for the depth of its engineering and its sheer ability, than the way it makes you feel.
In Spain, we drove both coupe and Spider versions of the car. Although the Spider is 88 pounds heavier, its on-road dynamics are all but indistinguishable from the coupe, such is the inherent stiffness of the carbon monocoque — an impressive achievement.
Another Small Step for McLaren
For all its rich heritage in Formula 1, McLaren is still learning its trade as a road car company. It's a different world in which technical brilliance is not always enough. McLaren's team of engineers and designers don't lack passion, but they are still learning how to translate this into fun on the road.
For the way it looks and the way it drives, the 650S marks a significant improvement over the MP4-12C and proves that McLaren has got the message. Right now, however, we'd still take the 458 for its sheer bravado. It's what you buy an exotic sports car for after all.
|Year Make Model||2015 McLaren 650S 2dr Coupe (3.8L 8cyl gas 7AM)|
|Assembly location||Woking, Surrey, UK|
|Configuration||Longitudinal, midengine, rear-wheel drive|
|Engine type||Twin-turbocharged V8, gasoline|
|Valvetrain||Double overhead camshaft|
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm)||641|
|Torque (lb-ft @ rpm)||500|
|Fuel type||Premium unleaded (required)|
|Transmission type||Seven-speed automated manual|
|Suspension, front||Independent double wishbones, coil springs, driver-adjustable multimode variable dampers|
|Suspension, rear||Independent double wishbones, coil springs, driver-adjustable multimode variable dampers|
|Steering type||Power steering|
|Tire make and model||Pirelli P Zero Corsa|
|Tire type||Summer, high-performance|
|Tire size, front||P235/35R19|
|Tire size, rear||P305/30R20|
|Wheel size, front||19-by-8 inches|
|Wheel size, rear||20-by-11 inches|
|Brakes, front||15.5-inch two-piece carbon-ceramic discs|
|Brakes, rear||15-inch two-piece carbon-ceramic discs|
|Track Test Results|
|Acceleration, 0-60 mph, mfr. claim (sec.)||3.0|
|Dimensions & Capacities|
|Curb weight, mfr. claim (lbs.)||3,100 (est.)|
|Track, front (in.)||65.2|
|Track, rear (in.)||62.3|
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.