11 Jun 2014

Driven - McLaren 650S Spider

Colin Hubbard reviews the McLaren 650S

McLaren 650S Spider

The McLaren 650S is a development of the MP4-12C which was released in 2011 and was the second pure McLaren production road car.

The first was the fabulous and futuristic F1 which even today some 22 years after its launch will keep up with many a supercar. Gordon Murray's fine attention to detail and its central driving position guaranteed it a place in the history books as one of the best supercars of all time.

McLaren's second car, the SLR, was not a pure McLaren. Mercedes-Benz exerted a massive influence as it was a joint development and their Merc's expectations were way off what McLaren's were. It ended up as a compromise car, one that had the engine in the wrong place and was more muscle car than supercar. Don't get me wrong it was still blindingly fast with a thunderous soundtrack and a hugely powerful supercharged V8 but the dynamics were not worthy of McLaren, and the price was north of £300k.

The MP4-12C righted all of the SLR's wrongs with the engine being located in the right place (just behind the driver), weighing some 260kg less than the SLR and this time it had the dynamics of a proper supercar. Even the price tag scuppered the SLR's, at £168k.

The 12C was designed and built under the watchful eye of F1 genius Ron Dennis.  It couldn't fail to be a great car but the motoring press had different ideas. It was criticised for not producing enough engine noise, numb steering feel and heavy weighting on the gearchange paddles. McLaren had built a car to get round a track as fast as possible, but had omitted to add a dollop of emotion into the mix. The company was quick to react to the negative feedback and within weeks made subtle changes to improve the experience, not just to cars in production but also to customers cars that had been delivered.

These little tweaks suddenly made a great car into a supercar.
McLaren 650S Spider

It's this same attention to detail and attentive attitude which brought about the 650S. Keen to produce a true rival to the likes of the Ferrari 458 and Lamborghini Gallardo, the McLaren 650S has been designed with enhanced performance, handling, looks and overall feel over the 12C.

McLaren also noted that most customers heavily optioned their cars and so the 650S received many features as standard. With the P1 in parallel production McLaren used the opportunity to introduce the P1's face to the 650S, which drastically improves the wow factor and handily gives us a McLaren corporate nose.

The power increase to 650ps (hence the name) are amongst many changes to the car, which McLaren claims is 25% new.  The key changes are:

- P1 styled front end
- Carbon fibre side intakes (replacing dual colour coded intakes)
- Engine boosted by 25bhp to 641bhp and 57 lb ft torque to 500 lb ft
- Carbon ceramic brakes fitted as standard
- Satellite navigation system fitted as standard.
- Gearbox electronic control unit tweaked to produce even faster shifts
- Suspension hardware changes and software tweaked
- Price increased by £23k

The basic stats are impressive: 642bhp, 500 lb/ft torque, 0-60 in 3 seconds and a top speed of 204mph.

The engine changes over the 12C were not a case of a simple remap, instead it got new pistons, a re-worked cylinder head and revised cam timing.
McLaren 650S Spider

The 650S looks the business in the flesh, proper supercar looks and guaranteed to attract amateur paparazzi on every outing. I like the way the shape of the front LED headlights replicate the McLaren logo and that P1 style bumper gives it some much needed attitude over the 12C. The sleek body was fashioned in a wind tunnel to enhance aero.

The huge carbon front splitter provides plenty of downforce and, along with a rear spoiler which doubles up as an air-brake, ensures the car is stable at high speeds.  The Spider with the roof up will reach 204mph, some 3mph shy of the fixed roof 650S.

The carbon side air intakes are a big visual improvement over the 12C's body coloured double intakes and increase airflow to cool the engine better.

At the side the mirrors extend far out from the doors on delicate stalks but due to the inboard cabin and wide arches they don't protrude far past the arches.

The dihedral doors are real supercar material and guaranteed to get you noticed. Not only do they add a certain drama to the car but they're also functional as they don't need as much space to open up as a conventional door.

Step over the tall and deep carbon fibre sill and drop down into the heavily bolstered seat. It's cosy in here and everything is covered in Alcantara from the steering wheel to the entire dashboard. The McLaren Orange paintwork is matched with orange stitching on the Alcantara and the piping in the seats.

A lot of thought has gone into the interior to keep the weight down, you only get what you need so the dash is set back with the instruments located in a pod just behind the steering wheel. Even the air vents protrude from the dash.
McLaren 650S Spider

The infotainment system is in portrait orientation due to the narrow centre console so it can be reached easily by the driver. The heating controls are located on the doors as the media screen in the way of where they would normally go.

The interior has a high quality ambience to it - not just in the materials and finish but how things operate. Take the paddles for instance, they have a beautiful feel and tactility to them and are a joy to operate.

At 3.8 litres the engine is low on capacity for a supercar but the two turbo chargers more than make up for it. These have really moved the game forward, as well as helping provide 642bhp they produce  much higher levels of torque then a naturally aspirated engine.

Take the Ferarri 458 for instance, it makes 398 lb ft at a lofty 6,000rpm but the 650S makes 500 lb ft and 90% of that is available from just 3,000rpm so it pretty much always has instant acceleration. McLaren purposely stepped the torque increase to give better driving emotion so you can feel the turbo chargers cutting in and swelling the power.

Die-hard petrol heads may not like turbo chargers on a supercar but torque is key to driveability and one of the reasons the Fiesta ST is such a fantastic little car as it has the highest torque in its class.

Being turbocharged means the soundtrack is muted a little but the bonus is that it's bass heavy so you can not only hear but also feel the power in the cabin - enough to make the hairs on the back of neck stand up even half way through the rev range.

As we head off to the Alpine circuit I am advised by my McLaren chaperone that the car runs on summer tyres and as its teeming with rain I will have to take it easy. The tyres are Pirelli P Zero Corsas with 235/35/19 at the front and 305/30/20 at the back. They are an outstanding tyre in the dry but are not recommended in wet conditions and especially in standing water.
McLaren 650S Spider

We set off in Normal mode which gives it a very pleasant, almost unnaturally smooth ride but as we enter the track we switch to Sport mode which holds onto lower gears for longer and tightens the suspension up a little.

Millbrook's alpine course is set in woodland so most corners are blind and its heavily undulating (hence the name) with some pretty steep ascents and descents which gives the cars a good workout. Factor in bends on the ascents and it is great fun. I had a riot earlier in the day in a Megane 265 with Cup chassis when it was dry but in this 600 odd horsepower rear wheel drive car in the rain on summer tyres I'm feeling more than a little queasy.

When we come to a section on the track that straightenss out my chaperone tells me to apply more power so I give the throttle a good shove. It feels wonderfully stable but frantically fast, the acceleration is unreal and the straight line grip and balance are spot on. Even though I'm genuinely concerned about the tyres I can't help but push a little more, and my passenger is not at all concerned as he knows what the car is capable of.

The gearchanges are finger click fast and not at all aggressive like some double clutch boxes can be so it feels like a instant drop in revs and a step in the power delivery as it changes gear and picks up quickly on a wave of torque. The feel of the paddles is just lovely as they soft click for the next gear, I don't usually like paddle shifters but these are a pleasure to operate.

In the corners the 650S is as flat as a pancake and there's not a hint of slip from the tyres. Maybe I am not pushing it hard enough but it feels fast enough in the rain. The 650S has hydraulic self levelling suspension in lieu of anti roll bars and with adaptive dampers it's very stable but also quite comfortable. Heavy bumps and undulations don’t stress the car out - instead it manages to soak up bumps efficiently yet while retaining composure.

On tight corners the car nips away at the inside rear brake calliper in a bid to prevent understeer (they banned this in F1) and it works really well as it helps to turn the car so feels nimble and requires less steering effort.
McLaren 650S Spider

After a few laps of the alpine circuit we head for the high speed bowl.

I check the mirrors before giving it everything.  The acceleration is neck-snappingly fast as it shoots up through the gears, red lining each time at 8,500rpm. Cruising at 120mph it's eerily stable and civilised with just the hum of the engine being heard from behind. The 650S is capable of over 200mph so 120mph doesn't phase it.

The man from McLaren incites me to try a few full bore acceleration runs which involve dropping into lane 2, reducing the speed to about 40mph and then flooring it. The forward forces are brutal but it's huge fun and showboats the car dramatically.

These runs also give me the opportunity to test the brakes which are standard fitment carbon discs, which operate in conjunction with the airbrake. The airbrake can be seen in the rear view mirror changing angle downwards to trim speed or remain flat for less drag. The performance is phenomenal, reducing speed effortlessly from high speed and with zero brake fade.

The McLaren 650S is a blindingly fast car with exceptional precision and an almost luxurious interior. The improvements over the 12C visually work very well and bring the looks bang up to date whilst the engine and chassis modifications have kept it competitive against its rivals.

It can wear it's McLaren badge with pride.


Price - £215,250
Engine – 3.8 litre, V8, twin turbocharged, petrol
Transmission - 7-speed dual clutch auto
0-60mph – 3 seconds
0-100mph – 5.7 seconds
100-0mph – 5.7 seconds
Top speed - 204 mph
Power – 641 bhp at 7,250rpm
Torque – 500 lb ft at 6,000rpm
Economy - 24mpg (combined)
CO2 - 275 g/km
Kerb weight - 1,370 kg
McLaren 650S Spider

McLaren 650S Spider

McLaren 650S Spider

By Colin Hubbard