2015 McLaren 650S first drive
The connection is real
What everyone will notice — even the dilettantes who, unfortunately, are the main customers for high-priced supercars — is that the driver feels more connected to the chassis. No, the 650S still doesn't steer quite as quickly as a 458 — such razor-sharp response can be both a blessing and a curse — but the feedback through the steering wheel now feels more, well, supercar-like.
The obvious reasons for the improvement are those stiffer front springs — along with revised damping in the adjustable ProActive Chassis Control dampers, of course — and the Corsa versions of Pirelli's already-sticky PZeros. But the unsung hero of the 650S's superior handling is the engineer who redesigned the front suspension arm's rubber bushes. More flexible vertically — so that those stiffer springs don't torture the mistress in the passenger seat — they are much stiffer longitudinally, making the connection between suspension and sub-frame feel more, well, connected. With less flexibility between tire and steering wheel, the driver feels more confident in deciphering what the pointy end is doing.
Friendly, even at the limit
More confidence in the front end means one feels more at home playing silly buggers with the rear tires. Flip the chassis control up from Normal to Sport, for instance, and the electronic stability control system will allow even Walter Mittys like Yours Truly to hang the rear end of the 650S with something approaching abandon, computer control ensuring that powerslides end just before the ham-handed get into serious trouble. Toggle further up the terror scale to Track mode and, besides further stiffening of suspension, the ESC essentially switches off allowing you to step the rear end out as far as you dare.
And dare you will. Mid-engine supercars are typically the scariest of beasts to oversteer, their willingness to slide matched only by a propensity to continue sliding once they've started. Not so the 650S. So precisely do the engine and steering follow the driver's commands that keeping things (semi) under control becomes possible for even we of modest talent. Indeed, my last few laps had me sliding all around Spain's famed Ascari motorsport park, my enthusiasm never once threatening to out-pace my talent. Any 641-hp supercar that actually encourages, rather than tolerates, such misbehavior is worth selling your soul to the devil for.
Can a supercar be a pragmatic purchase?
For those who bought their MP4-12Cs with their left brains (that would be the rational, logical side) fear not, McLaren has not scarified the pragmatics. The ride, despite all this talk of stiffening and connection, is still more than livable, the engine as docile as always and, perhaps most importantly, the interior still as ergonomically correct and superbly appointed as before. Indeed, even one of those performance additions — the carbon ceramic brakes — has been made more liveable with a P1-inspired variable ration brake booster that overcomes their natural tendency to feel "wooden" when driven a normal city speeds.
Indeed, the magic of McLaren is that, despite raising the performance of the MP4-12C substantially, the 650S ($287,000 in coupe guise and $305,500 for the Spider) is just as easy to drive as the car it replaces. Try as they might, McLaren cannot make an impractical car, not matter how super it is.
2015 McLaren 650S
Price (650S / 650S Spider): $287,000 / $305,500
Type of vehicle: RWD mid-engine coupe or hardtop convertible
Engines: 3.8 L, DOHC, 32-valve V8 turbocharged
Power/Torque: 641 hp/500 lb.-ft.
0-100 km/h: 3.0 seconds
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
Fuel consumption (city/hwy): TBA
Competition: Audi R8 5.2 FSI, Ferrari 458 Spider, Lamborghini Gallardo, Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT Roadster, Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet
More power -- always a good thing
Styling tweaks make it less anonymous looking
Easy to drive, even at the limit
In need of a better name
Very limited dealer network
Likely to have made 12C owners unhappy
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Date 14-08-29, Duration 1:57, Views 385