The company might have struggled of late in Formula 1, but it has just produced another winner for the road | by Andrew Frankel
If someone were to ask me to name the single cleverest aspect of this new McLaren, I’d point not at its carbon-fibre tub, nor its twin turbo V8. I’d bypass its seven-speed double-clutch transmission and its standard carbon ceramic braking system, too, and point instead simply to its pricing.
Dull, eh? For all the technological wheezes contained within that exquisite aluminium-over-carbon shell, he plumps for its positioning in the marketplace. Well maybe, but sometimes boring is also important and if we are to understand how this still very young company plans to forge a path past older, more vaunted rivals with the bluest of blood running through their veins, this stuff matters.
So bear with me: I’ll get to the good stuff in a moment.
The McLaren 570S costs £143,250, over than £40,000 less than Ferrari’s least expensive mid-engined two-seater. Lamborghini’s Huracán is almost equally far out of sight. Of course there are supercars that are similarly priced, but the Audi R8 and Porsche 911 Turbo S are high-volume products from mass-manufactured brands. They might have the power and speed, but they lack the cachet. The only other car that has the name, power and price point is Aston Martin’s V12 Vantage S, but if you drive both together as I have, you’ll know what they have in common exists on paper alone.
The Aston is one of my favourite cars, but these days it seems so old, and its focus so narrow, that the McLaren appears to be from another planet.
Make no mistake, the 570S is an extraordinary machine, one made all the more so by the fact that it is the ‘entry-level’ model, a car McLaren refuses to describe as a supercar because it wishes to save that title for the more powerful 650S. But that’s just marketing speak: the 570S uses adapted versions of the same monocoque, engine and gearbox as the 650S and is still quick enough to hit 100mph from rest in the same 6.3sec as a McLaren F1. And if that’s not a supercar, what is?
The 570S is cheaper than a 650S just because it suits McLaren for it to be that way; and to provide wealthy techno-geeks with reasons still to buy the older and more expensive car, it has denied the 570S not just 80bhp but the 650’s clever interactive suspension system, active aero devices and some carbon fibre components.
But if the 570S is in any way compromised as a result, it is in environments I did not find in three
days at its helm.
We’ll start with the basics: a new evolution of the tub has resulted in lower sills and wider opening dihedral doors, so climbing in and out is easy, even for stiff-limbed, overweight, middle-aged men like me. The driving position is the same as any other McLaren and therefore quite superb, with massive steering wheel adjustment combined with first-class all-round visibility to provide an environment as cosy and comfortable as it is airy and safe. I still don’t like the Iris entertainment and navigation system, despite it being allegedly easier to use, but I did appreciate the decent number of cubbies and pockets in which small items can now safely be stowed. It even has a glovebox.
But compared to the 650S benchmark, can it cut it on the open road without the extra power and with those conventional passive springs?
Like you would scarcely believe…
The world of truly high-performance cars can be divided into roughly three categories. At one end of the scale are conventionally quick cars whose performance, while invigorating and exciting, is also easily understood. At the other sit the hypercars with engine outputs nibbling around 1000bhp. These require time, some skill and, above all, a closed facility before you can even think about exploiting what they can do. Between these two poles lies a narrow band of cars whose performance sits at or slightly beyond the absolute limit of what any sane person would choose to deploy on the quietest, widest, safest public road in the world. The 570S is firmly among their number. Not once in those three days did it ever deliver less acceleration than I’d hoped: most of the time the challenge was actually making sure it didn’t dispense more thrust than either I or the rear tyres could deal with. Its time with me coincided with that of the 601bhp Audi R8 V10 Plus reviewed last month, and to me the less powerful but lighter McLaren felt significantly quicker.
So it’s fast enough. But on its own that would not make it a necessarily special car; but the way it rides and handles does. Truth is, there are some cars you can buy with performance similar to that on offer here, but barely any with the chassis to go with it. Yes, the ride quality is now closer to good than great thanks to its conventional suspension, but it still rides better than any supercar not made in Woking. Grip levels on standard Pirelli Corsa rubber is so bewildering I rang McLaren to find out if a standard Zero with rather better wet-weather attributes was available. It is, as is a winter ‘Sotto’ Zero, both as no-cost options.
But it is the steering that makes me think this 570S is actually a nicer car to drive even than the 650S. I don’t know whether it is because of the constantly evolving electronic architecture, the passive suspension or some combination of the two, but I do know the 570S has the best electro-hydraulic assisted steering I’ve tried. If you’d blindfolded me and asked me to drive it around a steering pad, I’d have sworn I was in a Lotus. These days I’m just not used to such feel and linearity, and the way it allowed the 570S to be placed on the road was a revelation.
There is so little to criticise about this car – you can’t even call it impractical because I’d love to use one as my everyday transport. As mentioned the Iris system is not great and I guess the engine could make a better sound, but beyond that I’m struggling. This is a car that appears to offer the character, exclusivity and sense of occasion of a low-volume supercar, with the ease of use and ownership of a Porsche. For a company that botched its first car launch a mere four years ago, the achievement beggars belief.
But it also makes me wonder how long McLaren can continue on this trajectory and what it will mean for the likes of Ferrari and Lamborghini. If the 570S is the runaway success it deserves to be – and the fact that McLaren has put on a second shift to accommodate demand suggests the wagons are rolling – its Italian opposition will be unable to ignore it. If anyone in Maranello is still pondering the merits of doing another Dino, the message seems clear: do it now, or surrender ground to McLaren for the foreseeable.
Engine 3.8 litres, eight cylinders, twin turbocharged
Power [email protected]
Torque 442lb [email protected]
Transmission seven-speed double clutch, rear-wheel drive
Power to Weight 403bhp per tonne
Top speed 204mph