Dreams of mid engine coupes…

In Audi, Car Reviews, Featured Articles, McLaren by Neil Lyndon

As mid-engine, two-seater coupes with supercar performance, the new Audi R8 and the new McLaren 570S Coupe have so much in common that they are hard to separate (not least the fact that, at around £150,000,

 
Back-to-back-Audi-R8-McLaren-650S-on-Drive

…most people would probably have to hock their own house to afford one). By peculiar coincidence, their recent launches were almost identically blighted.

 
Even though they took place three weeks and almost 2000km apart (McLaren in Portugal, Audi in southern France), both events were blasted by days of teeming downpours and hammering winds, with flooded roads littered by broken branches. Audi and McLaren both promote these cars as “everyday” supercars but, on the kind of days we were given for these launches, most of their abundantly loaded owners would probably leave the R8 and the 570S in the garage and take the Humvee.

Audi were based at Le Castellet for the R8 launch but they hadn’t secured any time for us to drive the car on the circuit beside the hotel. In the event, this didn’t matter at all. For the launch of the 570S, McLaren had booked out the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve at Portimão ; but they might as well not have spent the money. It was impossible to test the 570S to its limits on a surface streaming with rivulets and covered with lagoons of standing water. It would have been the same at Le Castellet.

Tiptoeing around traffic-clogged roads in poor visibility is hardly the best way to test any car that is capable of 0-60 mph in about three seconds and a top speed over 200 mph – as is true of both these wonderful cars – but, on the other hand, it gives you an unusual perspective on that car’s performance and its capabilities. If you can feel comfortable and secure in these circumstances, you will be all right anywhere.

Both cars passed that test superbly. The R8 displayed a marginal edge in the security of its handling because its newly developed quattro system allows for fully variable torque distribution – meaning up to 100 per cent of the car’s torque can be sent to either the front or rear axle. The full power of the 602 bhp in the V10 Plus version could be slammed down on the road, no matter how slimy the surface, and the car would howl away from rest with rock-solid reassurance. The same ploy in the rear-wheel drive McLaren resulted in a little shimmy from the rear-end, like a dog shaking rain from its coat, as its 570 bhp thumped the rear axle before it launched itself down the road with equal conviction and purpose.

Similarly narrow differences separate these two cars on cosmetic details. The R8 has the better lights, with all-LED headlamps and LED tail lamps turn indicators that scroll across the tail in a way that can only be described as dead cool. Laser spots that enhance high beam are available as an extra on the headlights to give an unparalleled field of vision and increased brightness.

The McLaren can’t hold a candle to those brilliant innovations but it knocks spots off the R8 for rear three-quarter visibility. If you look over your shoulder in the R8, you can’t see anything but bodywork. The same move in the McLaren gives you a clear view of the road behind through the delicate flying buttresses behind the passenger compartment which also, apparently, aid heat evacuation from the engine compartment.

They are slightly different in their luggage capacities. Surprisingly, the narrower, shorter McLaren has more space in its trunk in the nose and a better supply of cubbyholes inside.

They are dramatically different, of course, in their doors. The McLaren’s dihedral, gullwing doors may be more of a showstopper than the R8’s conventional carriage doors but the Audi is easier for getting in and climbing out.

An outstanding difference between these cars is in their positioning in the ranges of their manufacturers. The R8 occupies the summit of Audi’s range as its “halo” product, shining beams of high performance romance and high technology achievement all the way down to the A1. The 570S is in the opposite position, so far at the bottom of McLaren’s range that the £800,000+ P1 is barely visible on the summit. To speak of a car that costs £150,000+ as the “entry level” model in a range is so ludicrous that it’s hard to get the words out of your mouth but that is, in fact, the position of the 570S Coupe.

However the bottom-line difference between the two is that one comes from a mass manufacturer and the other is a bespoke creation from a couture house. More hand-crafting may go into an R8 than any other car in the whole VW Group range but, even so, it remains to some extent a composite of parts from other brands. The V10 FSI engine comes from Lamborghini and, in fact, the underpinnings of the R8 have much in common with Lamborghini’s Huracan.




Not a single robot or component from a mass-manufacturer’s parts bin comes near the 570S Coupe. Every element is fastidiously (you might say neurotically) original – even down to the satnav system which was maddeningly unreliable in earlier models such as the MP12 but which, they assure us, has now been fixed.

The area where this originality is most apparent is the interior. Despite having an amazing steering wheel with functions like an F1 car and a dazzling instrument display, the R8’s interior is dominated by sheets of black plastic across the fascia which don’t make it much more distinguished than a Kia. The McLaren, by contrast, is a feast of hand-cut, hand-stitched, hand-turned goodies that are intended to make you feel you are the only one on earth privileged to share these treats.

That’s the kind of exceptionalism that might, in principle, make a car worth £150,000.

At the same time, there may be something to be said for the predictability of assembly by robot. Very close to the end of the test drive in the 570S Coupe, the passenger window suddenly started opening of its own accord and wouldn’t stay closed. We had to slow to less than 10 mph for the last few hundred yards to make sure rain didn’t gust into the interior.

That might have made the weather on the launch a little more trying if it had happened at the start.


About the Author
Neil Lyndon

Neil Lyndon

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Neil Lyndon has been a journalist, broadcaster and writer on the UK's national stage for 40 years, writing for every "quality" newspaper on Fleet Street. He started writing about cars and motorbikes for The Sunday Times in the 1980s and was Motoring Correspondent of the Sunday Telegraph for 20 years, having previously written a column on motorbikes for Esquire. He is also recognised as a leading commentator on gender politics, having published No More Sex War in 1992 - the first ever critique of feminism from a radical, egalitarian point of view.

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