When a company like McLaren Automotive gets in touch and asks if you want to drive one of their cars for a few hours what you don’t say is, “I’ll check my diary”. What you do say is, “When do you want me? I’ll cancel my medical procedure”.
The Cotswolds is a mostly rural area covering parts of six counties, notably Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire. Its rolling hills and grassland hide secret medieval villages, churches, stately homes and recently, for one day only, a treasure trove of McLaren supercars.
Turning up at the venue, deep in the heart of this atmospheric area, I was greeted by a pageant of automotive beauty. Did you know that one of the hardest things in the world to do is to sit quietly and listen to a McLaren executive wax lyrical about the cars in the full knowledge that the real thing is sitting outside, purring and beckoning.
The McLaren 650S
McLaren split their cars into three groups: Sports Series, Super Series and Ultimate. The 650S Spider falls under the Super Series alongside the more potent 675LT and both come in either Coupé and Spider configurations. Perhaps the Coupé is more suited to the British climate but beggars can’t be choosers and I was shown to the door of a 3.8L V8 twin-turbo Spider.
Oddly, I didn’t mind.
The design of the 650S is inspired by the legendary McLaren P1 and the ethos of form following function. This revised styling adds visual drama and increases downforce by 40% at 150mph. Additionally, the steering is sharper and handling and balance is improved.
Ride quality has been further improved thanks to new damper mounts and firmer springs. Importantly for the driver, the twin-clutch transmission is now smoother, especially at low speeds, thanks to new clutch software.
For the future, McLaren plan an investment of around one billion Pounds and no less than fifteen new models or variants in the next six years. Half of these will be hybrids, the company has said.
Features And Options
A car like the McLaren 650S Spider is unlike mainstream motors in the sense that almost anything is possible. The level to which a customer can now personally tailor their chosen car is greater than ever before. Even straight off the shelf all the things we have come to expect from a prestige car are on board. Satellite navigation, DAB radio and electrically adjustable steering column are all to hand, for example.
Visibility is truly excellent for a mid-engined supercar and can be augmented by a reversing camera, probably a must-have to help protect that carbon-fibre Monocell from careless manoeuvres.
Open the engine hatch and very little is visible to stir the imagination. “Don’t worry”, said a McLaren engineer standing nearby like a worried parent, “you don’t need to see it because it won’t break down. You will know it is there though”, were his mysterious parting words.
Carbon ceramic disk brakes with forged aluminium hubs are standard and bring proceedings to a satisfying swift halt, the Pirelli P Zero Corsa tyres biting into the road and inspiring a very high level of driver confidence.
In the UK, the McLaren 650S Spider costs £218,250. Well, you didn’t think it was that easy did you?
At this price buyers have a right to expect the very best. They will not be disappointed. Hand-assembled in the gleaming McLaren Production Centre in Woking, the interior of the 650S Spider is a testimony to the maxim that less is more.
The cascading dashboard is a masterpiece of minimalism, yet all the features are there. Entering via the swooping dihedral doors, the passengers are enclosed in a world of luxury Alcantara and leather, or, if preferred, carbon fibre racing seats for the hardcore pilot. Don’t take a lot of luggage; a carry-on bag and that’s your lot.
The retractable hardtop can be raised or lowered in seconds – always an advantage in Britain – even at speeds of up to thirty miles per hour. To make the most of the aural symphony going on behind you it is not necessary to have the top down. McLaren have thoughtfully provided a retractable rear window which can be raised or lowered to choice: a nice touch.
The cockpit is very much driver focused with a surprising amount of adjustment for finding just the right driving position. Unlike a German brand I could mention, the steering wheel and pedals are directly in front of the driver, not offset. It really makes a difference. Get in. Sit down. Push the button. Go.
Under The Bonnet
As previously mentioned the 650S is powered by a 3.8L V8, the vehicle designation referring to the horsepower. Hence the more powerful 675LT has a power boost. The Spider’s 641bhp is developed at 7,500 rpm. Torque is measured at 500 lb-ft and the transmission is via a seven-speed SSG automatic with a dreamy-smooth paddle shift alternative.
Acceleration to 62mph is a scant 3.0 seconds with 124mph coming up just 5.6 seconds later. Top speed is 204 but you’ll need a track and a special pair of brown trousers to achieve it. Providing you don’t rag it to the red line at every opportunity it might, just might, be possible to get 24 miles for your expensive gallon of petrol.
What’s that? You want more info? Okay, the McLaren uses Formula One-influenced technology via one of the world’s most advanced road car chassis giving advantages in torsional rigidity and thus a far superior drive.
Upshifts under part throttle are accompanied by a brief cylinder cut during the shift (I didn’t even realize this. I was told afterward) which is what delivers the distinctive engine noise. Thus, even at lower speeds it still sound like fun which is, of course, the whole point.
Under full acceleration the 650S features what McLaren call ‘inertia push’. This harnesses the engine torque levels, raising the engine speed at a faster rate for each gear and delivering continuously strong acceleration.
This engine science is supported by active aerodynamics. The McLaren Airbrake is both active and intelligent in how and when it deploys, operating whenever the car senses extra downforce is required. The rear wing flattens in a straight line like the F1 DRS system. The results speak for themselves on the road.
But you don’t want to know all that. You want to know that driving the 650S has to be experienced to be believed. I think it would not be wrong of me to describe this as the drive of my life. As you well know, British roads are notoriously difficult to travel on given the volume of mixed traffic and the appalling standard of driving, but it didn’t seem to matter in this wonderful car.
Whenever the chance arose the foot went in. The McLaren 650S Spider tackles corners in a flat and neutral manner, always inspiring confidence. Although startling quick under acceleration it is never scary. I believe this to be because of the level of automotive engineering involved. This car was born to the task and it shows. As I said earlier; wow. Once snared in the McLaren web it is very hard to get out.
A version of this article was first published in the USA on Automoblog.net