APR 16th 2014

McLaren 650S Spider: Road trip to Ascari

Lessons from P1 go into major 12C overhaul

“The Ascari Circuit is programmed into the satnav, but take your time getting there if you like.” Stepping out of the magnificent Finca Courtesin hotel into its high-walled courtyard and seeing a Tarocco Orange 650S Spider sitting on the cobbles, we are thinking just how much time we can take to get there without causing our McLaren guide to send a search party.

The 650S sits in the McLaren range in between the 12C and the P1. It’s much closer to the former than the latter both in terms of price and performance, but it does benefit from several advances made during the development of its big brother. The revised bodywork now produces something in the region of 40 percent more downforce at speed and channels airflow over the car and on to the rear wing with greater efficiency. It wouldn’t be apocryphal to describe the 650S as an upgraded 12C which shares facial similarities with the P1, but the front end treatment is far more than just a cosmetic tweak.

McLaren 650S Launch 2014 Ascari

A button lowers the roof, and another lowers only the rear window. “There’s a tunnel on this route in about 10 kilometres. I’d go through it with just the rear window down for the best sound…” We duly oblige. It would have been rude not to. The 3.8 litre V8 does make use of a pair of turbos, although any concerns that the exhaust-driven compressors would flatten-out the exhaust note unduly are dispelled as we enter the hole in the hillside.

A turbocharged motor is never going to produce the same blood-curdling wail you get from a car which breathes at atmospheric pressure, but in Track Mode the McLaren sounds pretty spectacular; barking under full throttle through the gears and then crackling and popping when your right foot stops feeding it fuel and air. Lovely.

It’s no SLS AMG to listen to admittedly, but the aural delights are more than enough to force grins onto our faces which last until we hit the epic A-397, which takes you off the main coastal AP-7 road – familiar with Costa del Sol holiday goers – and northwards up into the hills. We dispatch some slower traffic and begin to hustle the 650S around the gorgeous curves that hug the magnificent scenery.

With some proper heat in the tyres and both the chassis and engine set to Track Mode the 650S renders us speechless for several miles as we do our best to make use of the grip and power available; the car covering ground at an astonishing rate on a road which makes you wonder why so many people come to this part of the world and head for the beaches.

McLaren 650S Launch 2014 Ascari

We stop after a while to catch our breath, and contemplate an epiphany. Nothing we’ve driven in the supercar class has delivered quite this kind of driving experience.

The steering is so sharp, and so consistent in terms of feel and feedback regardless of speed. Visibility is superb. The carbon fibre MonoCell tub (25 percent stiffer than a steel or aluminium chassis) allows this Spider version of the 650S to give an identical driving experience to the Coupe.

The dampers have benefitted from the development of the P1 hypercar (as has much of the car) and have a wider operational range than those in the 12C. The standard-issue carbon ceramic brakes have been much-improved after many hours of extra development from chief test driver Chris Goodwin and his team to the stage where they allow super-progressive braking from any speed and are simply beyond reproach.

The engine, which features several significant internal upgrades over the similar 12C version (it’s not just a re-map), delivers enormous power and freely available torque. Even the airbrake has received the treatment from the Woking boffins; as well as deploying under hard braking, it can now sense whenever extra downforce is needed – e.g. when the car becomes lighter as it crests a hill – and then flattens out completely DRS-style when you’re getting a proper move-on in a straight line. Or if you want you can ignore all that, leave the Chassis and Power buttons both in the ‘Normal’ position where it will shift gears for you (more smoothly than the 12C) and roll around town with complete docility. There’s even room in the luggage compartment for a full weekly shop (… or a couple of large sports bags and a few camera equipment boxes in our case).

McLaren 650S Launch 2014 Ascari
At the Ascari Circuit we are introduced to McLaren development driver Euan Hankey who shows us the way around before handing over the reins. After a few laps of his expert instruction we are in a position to best understand the different Chassis and Powertrain modes. One of the criticisms aimed at the 12C was there wasn’t enough of a difference between each of them, but that isn’t the case with the 650S. ‘Normal’ as you’d expect gives the most gentle ride and gearshift patterns. ‘Sport’ gives a much faster – but still seamlessly smooth – shift and noticeably sharper throttle, whilst in ‘Track’ the whole car becomes a bit Attila-the-Hun. Not that it’s intimidating. Even when pushing hard, not once does the car display anything other than impeccable on-track manners.

And that brings us to another of the criticisms levelled at the 12C – that it has been engineered to the point where it isn’t as much fun as it could have been; that there is no passion. This isn’t the case with the 650S; it is pure, rapturous driving pleasure, and the passion inherent in McLaren and their pursuit to deliver an unrivalled supercar is evident with everything to see, touch, hear, and feel, and with every turn of the wheels. It is an astonishing achievement.
The 650S delivers a stripped-out, pared-down experience but with a superior ride and full, luxurious interior. It’s simply given the competition a whole new basis for comparison and we can’t wait to drive the responses from Germany and Italy. Bring it on.

 

Top speed: 204mph
0-60mph: 2.9sec
Power/weight: 461bhp per tonne
Engine: 3.8-litre V8, twin-turbocharged
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, rear-wheel drive
Wheels: 19in alloys front, 20in alloys rear
Tyres: 235/35 ZR19 front, 305/30 ZR20 rear
Power: 632bhp at 7250rpm
Torque: 500lb ft at 6000rpm
Economy: 24.2mpg
CO2: 275g/km
Price: From £215,250 (for Spider)
On sale date: Now

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