McLaren breaks cover
205mph Sport Series tipped to boost sales | by Andrew Frankel
McLaren has unveiled its most important new model since the 2011 MP4-12C turned the Woking marque into a fully fledged car manufacturer.
Called the Sport Series, it uses the same carbon-fibre monocell as other current McLarens, and variants of the same 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8. Like them it is also available only with two seats and rear-wheel drive and in time will spawn both a spider and a more sporting, stripped-out ‘GT3’ version.
For now, however, what’s most different is the cost. The staple model of the new series is called the 570S, a reference to the 570PS (562bhp) power output and it has been priced at £143,250, undercutting not only the extant 650S by more than £50,000 but, in all likelihood, the new Ferrari 488GTB by a similar amount. Indeed with even the Lamborghini Huracán costing almost £40,000 more, it is hard to find a clear rival on price alone. The closest on power and price is the Porsche 911 Turbo S (552bhp, £142,120), although it lacks the McLaren’s exclusive image and carbon-fibre construction, while the 570S has neither the rear seats nor the all-wheel-drive hardware of the Porsche. Both make the £110,000, 503bhp Mercedes-Benz AMG GT appear rather good value.
It is possible McLaren has been very clever here. It is well known that the number of people prepared to spend £150,000-£200,000 on a car is a tiny fraction of those willing to pay between £100,000-£150,000, yet it arrives on such apparently fertile ground without obvious opposition. To make the most of the point, by the time you read this McLaren will also have launched at the Shanghai Motor Show a still less expensive 540C, retailing for £127,000 where it will undercut even the likes of the Aston Martin DB9 and the entry-level Bentley Continental GT.
McLaren has saved the money in a number of areas. Most obviously, the 570S and 540C lack not only the outright power of the 650S, but the active aerodynamics and interlinked suspension system. Instead the 570S has a fixed rear wing and passive double wishbone suspension, albeit complete with electronically controlled dampers. And for those fearing it might not perform quite as you might hope a McLaren should, it requires just 3.2sec to hit 60mph from rest and 6.3sec to hit 100mph, identical times, as it happens, to those recorded by the McLaren F1. Top speed is 205mph.
The car poses two distinct questions. First, how is McLaren to stop it stealing sales from the presumably far more profitable 650S? McLaren’s answer is that the 650S is effectively the original 12C incarnate and, as such, not that far from being replaced itself. McLaren always said its original architecture would support three model series of which the Sport Series 570S is the third after the Super Series 650S and Ultimate Series P1. So within the next year or two at the most, expect not only a new 650S, but for it to be based on all-new architecture too.
Perhaps more tantalising is how, if at all, Lamborghini and Ferrari will react. Lamborghini is perhaps in the trickier position, because that price point is shortly to be occupied by the forthcoming all-new Audi R8, which already uses the basic structure and powertrain of the Huracán. But there is nothing to stop Ferrari moving into this territory should it choose. If the Sport Series increases McLaren sales from around 1500 units per year at present to more than 4000 units, is this an opportunity Ferrari can afford to ignore? Or will it prove unable to resist the temptation to do battle with the old enemy and finally produce the new Dino that has been discussed for so long?
Internal strife at VW
Just when you thought that nothing could interrupt the apparently inexorable rise of the Volkswagen Group, open warfare has broken out in the boardroom.
On one side is VW CEO Martin Winterkorn, a man widely regarded as the architect of the group’s extraordinary recent successes. On the other is that perennial eminence gris, Ferdinand Piëch, who chairs the supervisory board. The spat is a result of what Piëch sees as disappointing profitability for the Volkswagen brand relative to that of Porsche and Audi. VW has invested massively in engineering new, expensive, state-of the-art platforms designed to be shared across many VW-owned brands, resulting in a paring back of the profit margins. By contrast Porsche and Audi, with their lower volumes and higher prices, are enjoying a period of extraordinary profitability. It has been reported that last year Porsche made more money (€2.78 billion) selling 200,000 cars than did VW selling six million…
Even so, Winterkorn’s time at the helm has transformed the business, with sales almost doubling in less than 10 years and overall profits at an all-time high. Some see Piëch’s public criticism of Winterkorn as manoeuvring ahead of the latter’s likely retirement next year, when he will be 68 years old.
Who will win? Winterkorn is greatly respected by the industry in general and VW’s investors in particular. But Piëch is massively feared by precisely the same people and that might prove the stronger draw, especially if Winterkorn’s days are already numbered. History tells us that those who take on Piëch – the grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, let us not forget – usually lose. Winterkorn himself owes his appointment to a falling out between Piëch and former incumbent Bernd Pichetsrieder, but Piëch’s biggest scalp was undoubtedly that of former Porsche boss Wendelin Wiedeking, who had the temerity to attempt to take over the VW Group. That cost Wiedeking his job and Porsche its once cherished independence.
More power for Boxster
Porsche revealed its new Boxster Spyder (above) at the New York show in April. The most powerful Boxster yet, it’s the first to feature the 3.8-litre motor more normally found in the 911 Carrera S and more recently located behind the seats of the new Cayman GT4. Where the motor produces 400bhp in the 911 and 385bhp in the Cayman, it has been tuned to develop just 375bhp in the Spyder, though whether these differences are more strategic than real is not known.
Like the 2011 Spyder, the new Boxster is intended to be used in dry weather so features a somewhat fiddly temporary roof, though unlike the last it won’t fly off if you exceed 120mph. This, thin seats and the absence of radio or air-conditioning from the standard equipment list (they’re no-cost options) counter the additional weight of the engine, larger wheels and new rear deck, so there’s a total saving of 30kg over its closest relative, the Boxster GTS. The 0-62mph sprint takes 4.5sec, fully half a second quicker than the GTS, while top speed rises from 175mph to 180mph. The Spyder is priced at £60,459, £6587 more than the GTS.
Porsche is keen to point out that the Spyder is not the sister of the Cayman GT4, despite sharing an engine, but is instead a product of the main Porsche engineering team rather than the Motorsport operation. That said, the firm has been shocked by the strength of demand for the Cayman GT4 with the result that Porsche is now considering both a GT4 version of the Boxster and a still more hardcore Cayman GT4 RS.
Good news for Lotus
Lotus is celebrating the Elise’s 20th anniversary by releasing a Special Edition model. It weighs 10kg less than the Elise S upon which it is based, the same 217bhp supercharged 1.8-litre motor and comes with forged alloy wheels, a leather interior, a revised sport mode and 20th anniversary logos on the seats and wings.
Meanwhile, Lotus sales continue to recover, albeit from a shockingly low base. Custom increased by 55 per cent in the last financial year, from 1296 sales to 2015. Sales in the UK, France, Germany and China have more than doubled. The figures are the best since those before the 2008 financial crisis and keep Lotus on course to reach its stated aim of 3500 sales per year by 2017.
* Mercedes-Benz has unveiled its rival to the BMW X4. Ostensibly a concept, Mercedes admits the GLC coupé was shown in Shanghai in ‘near production standard’ form. Like the BMW and the already shown GLE coupé, the car aims to combine the rakish looks of a traditional sporting coupé with the high driving position and rugged appeal of an SUV. BMW has attracted considerable criticism for the appearance of its X4 and X6, but the X6 has been wildly successful in the showroom and the X4 is likely to follow, so Mercedes is understandably anxious to capitalise on the opportunity.