McLaren drive proves a revelation

On the hill roads above Loch Lomond, I settled back into the comfortable seats of the McLaren 570S. I admit that the first few miles had been slightly more frenetic as I got used to the car while threading my way through the heavy afternoon traffic west of Glasgow.

But now on the hill road through Glen Fruin from Loch Lomond to Garelochhead, I was more able to focus on the car and its prodigious performance. The McLaren 570S feels superbly planted on the winding tarmac. Even on a road surface made greasy by the persistent autumn drizzle, the McLaren felt utterly secure.

McLaren 570S

With the instant response from the 570PS 3.8-litre twin-twin turbo V8 behind my left ear, I’m sure I could have broken the adhesion between the tyres and the road surface. But, I was having too much of a thrill just savouring the sheer sensation of driving this car.

You feel really involved with the driving, such is the feedback from the steering, the throttle, the brakes and, yes, the seat of the pants.

It’s sometimes forgotten that eight of the 11 Formula 1 teams competing in the World Championship are based here in Britain. That is one heck of an accolade for the UK. But, it is one we don’t capitalise on as we should.

Historically some of the great British marques have used motor racing to boost their reputations. McLaren, however, is coming at this a different way. Having been building cars for the track since 1963, it now capitalising on its track success with a series of road-going supercars.

McLaren’s first road car was McLaren F1. If you have a spare £8 million, you could probably pick up a good second-hand example as the price has risen steadily since production stopped in 1999 after 106 examples were made. McLaren also worked with Mercedes Benz on the development of the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren which was produced from 2003 to 2010.

Following on from these forays, the new McLaren Production Centre was set up six years ago to produce a range of McLaren road cars. Amazingly, for a new start-up in the motor business, the company has already chalked up three years of profitability.

Part of the reason, undoubtedly, is the image of success, engineering excellence and professionalism that has been passed over to the car company from the motor racing business. Like the racing car side of the business, the production centre is famously modern and almost clinically clean.

There are three strands to McLaren’s road car line up - the Sports Series, the Super Series and the Ultimate Series. Alongside that are the track sports cars, the McLaren GT competition series. At the moment there are no offerings in the Ultimate Series, the McLaren P1 being sold out and a new Ultimate Series car is yet to be introduced.

The McLaren 570S was the first car that I drove. You press a button just under the side fairing and the door rises up for access to the low-slung driving position. Ever since, as a car-mad teenager I was offered a run in a Porsche, I’ve been aware there is a technique to getting in and out of sports cars.

But, now, a few decades later, I did wonder how easy it would be to get in and out, with less supple limbs. It turned out to be easier than I had feared and I was soon cocooned in the electrically-adjusting sports seats, set low in the McLaren carbon-fibre MonoCell II chassis.

McLaren 570S

It is not just the engineering of the cars that is impressive, but also the finish. This is no stripped-out sports car. The 570s (like the 570GT and 650S Spider I drove later) is luxuriously trimmed in stitched leather, or Alcantara on the 650S Spider.

As car enthusiasts we’re used to looking at exotic sports cars and playing a game of ‘spot the component’, recognising bits borrowed from mainstream manufacturers, even if it is just lights or switchgear. You won’t win that game with a McLaren.

The McLaren team proudly tells you there is nothing borrowed. Everything, right down to the sat-nav and the radio, is exclusively McLaren.

Press the starter button and there is an explosion of power behind your ears. In the first few hundred yards I was relieved to find how easy the 570S was to drive. The only inevitable issues are visibility over the shoulders for joining other traffic streams and out the back for manoeuvring.

Looking back on that first drive, what is obviously impressive is the way everything works so well together. The controls are progressive, the power delivery comes in smoothly. Carbon ceramic brakes are fitted because of their ability to keep stopping the car even at high temperatures. Characteristically, they do feel a little dead when cold, but they provide smooth retardation in return for a hefty shove.

As we headed over the hill road to Garelochhead, I found that the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox is so well tuned that it seems pointless for much of the time to use the paddles to change gear – other than to increase the sense of driver involvement. You can use the paddles left and right to go up and down gears, or just use the right hand to move up or down ratios by pushing or pulling.

The active dynamics panel allows you adjust the performance and handling using the H and P buttons.

The result is that you can tune the McLaren 570S to suit your driving mood. You can set things up to so that you have to work a bit harder to get the best performance out of the car. Or you can choose a softer set up, even letting the car amaze you with the smoothness of its gearchanges and the suppleness of the suspension.

I think that is the reason for my over-riding first impression of McLarens. I was surprised at how easy the 570S was to drive.

More than that, some performance cars only really come into their own when you can drive them hard and you spend some of your time behind the wheel frustrated at not having a closed race track on which to drive them. However, the McLaren 570S felt so rewarding to drive, even at perfectly sensible road speeds. That is a great attribute particularly considering McLaren’s competition roots.

McLaren 570GT

The next car I drove was the McLaren 570GT (pictured above). If the focus of the 570S is on performance, the 570GT has dialled back ever so slightly on the performance. The steering, for example, is about 3% less sharp. The carbon ceramic brakes make way for more conventional metal discs, which feel a bit more responsive when cold.

The ProActive Chassis Control suspension of the 650S and 570S is changed to dual wishbones, with adaptive dampers and front and rear roll bars.

Taking the emphasis a little away from aerodynamics and downforce and increasing the practicality, the 570GT has a side-hinged rear hatch, which is a little reminiscent of the Jaguar E-type coupe. With the engine still in the middle of the car, there’s no way that this can gives access to a sizeable load bay, but, it does usefully supplement the front luggage hold.

The 570GT may have toned down the suspension and steering, to make it a more of a GT than a sports car. But, it was such a small adjustment it would take a lot more side-by-side comparison to detect. I found it just as rewarding to drive on the roads west of Glasgow and up by Loch Lomond.

The third and final McLaren that I drove was the McLaren 650S Spider (pictured below). As the name suggests this is a soft-top and, as blue skies took over from the morning drizzle, we were able to get the roof down for much of our drive.

The 650S is different in a number of ways – one of which we found out when we pulled into Loch Lomond’s Duck Bay. Pulling the door release and pushing up, nothing happened. So convinced was I that the door opening had failed that I started to reach for the emergency release strap, until my passenger pointed out that the doors on the 650S push out the way, not straight up like the 570!

McLaren 650S Spider

Although power still comes from a twin-turbo 3.8-litre V8, at 641 bhp the 650S deliver 121 bhp more than the 570S. There are three drive modes to choose from Normal, Sport and Track. This changes the settings on the ProActive Chassis Control to suit different driving conditions and styles. In Normal the 650S certainly feels more powerful than the 570S, but it still feels relaxed and happy to keep pace with the traffic around.

Click up to Sport and you are immediately aware of a significantly more eager character along with the sharpening of performance and suspensions.

If you compare the figures of the McLaren 650S alongside the 570S it may not look like a huge difference on paper, but the greater power is obvious out on the open road. As I had now come to expect, the impressive thing about a McLaren is how usable and rewarding the 650S is at road speeds, even with the huge reserves of power and performance.

It never felt like a handful, but it was glorious to feel the instant surge of power when you tickled the throttle and the wonderful feedback that made it such a rewarding drive.

Looking back my first McLaren driving experience was a revelation. It is a remarkable achievement for McLaren to have developed such a sophisticated line-up of vehicles in their relatively short six-year history.

What is more impressive is to have produced a range of cars that is designed to deliver ultimate performance – but, are at the same time so satisfying drive on the public road.


McLaren 570S Coupe
Carbon dioxide emissions: 249 g/km
Combined fuel economy 26.6 mpg
Top speed: 204 mph
0-62: 3.2 secs
Power 562 bhp
Engine size 3,799cc

McLaren 570GT
Carbon dioxide emissions: 249 g/km
Combined fuel economy 26.6 mpg
Top speed: 204 mph
0-62: 3.4 secs
Power 562 bhp
Engine size 3,799cc

McLaren 650S Spider
Carbon dioxide emissions: 275 g/km
Combined fuel economy 24.2 mpg
Top speed: 204 mph
0-62: 3.0 secs
Power 641 bhp
Engine size 3,799cc

blog comments powered by Disqus
© 2007-19 Ken McEwen. All rights reserved. Contact me