Britain’s home-grown supercar maker, McLaren, is now six years old and going from strength to strength, with order books stretching into the middle of 2017.
Jonathan Smith gets the wind in his hair driving the McLaren 650S Spider, a 204mph projectile.
Pull down the upward-hinged driver’s door, fasten the seat belt and stab the starter button…and your life will change…
Firing up the McLaren 650S Spider and unleashing 650ps (641bhp) is the beginning of an experience that’s so far removed from everyday motoring that you might as well be climbing into the next rocket to Mars.
Except that the £218,000 supercar isn’t as ferocious as its outrageous engine noise suggests. Unless it’s full performance is called on, that is. In fact, around town and sauntering along b-roads, it’s a gentle pussycat with a magic carpet ride and pretty good all-round vision.
Just a few stats to set the pulse racing and put the car in context. McLaren’s own 3.8litre twin-turbo V8 mounted amidships sends the two-seater to 124mph in the same time it takes a Merc C-Class to reach 60mph (about 8.6secs). Press on, and 186mph comes up in 26.5secs. It tops out at 204mph.
But speed and power are just one part of the equation. The 650S, and the Spider, in particular, is about subtlety and strength. The carbon fibre ‘tub’ is so rigid and tough that no strengthening was required when the lid was removed to turn it into a convertible.
Despite its illustrious racing heritage, this is a civilised ‘uber auto’ along the lines Ferrari 488 or a Lambo Aventador. The cabin is the model of understatement and simplicity with an emphasis on quality, if not luxury. Levers, knobs and instruments are bespoke and made especially for the Berkshire-based firm.
The two seats are designed ideally for the slim-hipped, which could perhaps rule out some fat-cat buyers, and the neat, flat-bottomed steering wheel falls easily to hand. A row of electric buttons set at thigh-level controls the height and rake of the seats. The central tachometer dominates an instrument cluster directly in front of the driver.
And a beautifully honed one-piece aluminium shift paddle turns with the steering wheel and operates the seven-speed dual clutch automatic gearbox. It’s hard not to fiddle with it, such is the tactile pleasure it offers.
Bluetooth connectivity is the equal of luxury saloons and the sound system – should you happen to prefer it to the V8’s symphony – is top notch.
The solid roof slides away in less than 20 seconds and can be folded or open on the move at slow speeds. But best of all is the retractable rear window which allows you the full benefit of those exhausts even if it’s raining cats and dogs. A small front boot is sufficient for a couple of squashy bags for weekend getaways.
On the move, the 650S is a car that makes it easy for the driver. No need to be Bruno Senna…it flows easily around fast curves and the quick-witted auto box means you are forever in the right ratio. Override it and play with those delicious paddles and it still manages to flatter the person behind the wheel.
A short blast along a straight is followed by a fluid sweep of a series of bends, disposed of in a single intuitive manoeuvre, accompanied by the shrill howl of the eight-pot.
You can adjust the dynamic settings to suit. Move from ‘normal’ to ‘sport’ and you immediately notice a greater tautness and sharpness. It also allows greater tail movement which can be slightly unnerving if full power is applied as you overtake. Even a manoeuvre on the straight can see the back-end step out of line.
Grip and cornering are phenomenal. Quite a few McLaren owners apparently have their own tracks to play out on. Many more use their cars on hired circuits. On public roads, there’s little chance of exploring the car’s outer limits legally. Suffice to say, the 650S is indecently fast through curves yet it involves the driver fully, even at speeds that are appropriate to British highways.
The automotive section of McLaren remains totally separate from the famous racing division. Formed in 2010, it took just three years to reach profitability – something of an industry record – and last year the super-modern showpiece plant at Woking, Berkshire, turned out 1,654 cars which were sold globally across 30 countries.
The firm is rightly proud that 30% of profits go back into research and development investment.
Few would argue that such commitment hasn’t helped hone the 650S Spider into such….
A highly appealing and rounded supercar.
Car reviewed: McLaren 650S Spider Price: £218,250 0-62mph 3.0 secs Top speed 204mph Combined mpg 24.2mpg CO2 emissions 275g/km Engine 3799cc, V8 twin-turbo Max Power 650PS
Superb in many ways
The mother-in-law wouldn't like it