JUN 17th 2014

One for the road? The 650S tried out in 'Normal' mode...

There are three driver-selected handling and powertrain options in the new McLaren 650S, each controlled by neat little toggle switches on the slender centre stack. Normal, Sport and Track. Just like the 12C then, but one of the trumpeted changes in the evolution from 12C to 650S is a larger distinction between the settings.

You’d be right to think all those wonderfully smoky and sideways videos of the 650S tearing up the Ascari circuit were done in T for Track mode. It was T time too for our run up the Goodwood hill by our favourite Frenchman, as you can see in the gallery above and the photo below. Not for our Nicolas ze soft eeenglish nannying! You’d be right as well to think that most road tests of the new wonder from Woking have been conducted in Sport mode. Just ask our Andy.

Which leaves just one thing to find out. Meet Mr Normal, to be tested by yours truly – the man who broke the P1 cup-holder exclusive! It could have been worse: there might have been an Economy button…

The first thing to say is that even with the N word selected (and annoyingly put up in lights on the dash display as a reminder of what a wimp you are) the McLaren 650S is very far from what you could call average. In all ways except one that is.

For starters it is still abnormally fast. It is precisely twice as fast from 0-62mph as my regular wheels (an ‘80s 911). Perhaps I should say half as slow. And it is exactly three times quicker from 0-100mph than my car, at a brisk 5.7secs. Mind blowing performance of course, and also a rate of acceleration that does not readily equate to the majority of UK roads. (I know, party pooper, but I am wearing a Normal hat here.)

It’s really annoying because when you take a mate out and the inevitable arises – go on then, what’ll she do? – it really is very difficult to show them. Even if you are (relatively) Normal.

So what do you show them instead? They have already admired the Aurora Blue body; the neat electric folding roof; the scissor doors (now with microswitches rather than that silly waving hand business), and – on this test car – optional sports seats that offer a vice-like grip.

You point out the alcantara and carbon inside, the exquisite quality and…it’s no good, the 650S just like the 12C is far too focused and businesslike in the cabin department to impress in the showroom stakes. And sharing what the driver already knows – sublime steering precision and brake feel, wonderful driving position, superb ergonomics and instrument clarity – with a passenger is much too anoraky.

In the absence of show-off 5.7sec 0-100mph runs you inevitably highlight important, if prosaic, sides to the 650S like its astonishingly jar-free ride (for a car with so little suspension travel) over rotten roads, its practical luggage arrangements, its docility in traffic (smoother auto gear changing now) and, for this sort of car, its excellent over-the-shoulder view out.

But you will know you are trying too hard to impress when you point out the  now-standard (and helpful) reversing camera, and that you have gone too far when you exclaim to your passenger: “And it’ll do 24 miles to the gallon!”

All true, and all important, and all real reasons for using a 650S as transport between race circuits. Or on the autobahn. For such a focused machine it is remarkably uncompromised, and friendly from the off. But for me there is still something that could be here but which isn‘t, not quite anyway.

Next to looks and the shove in the back the thing that the average car nut wants to experience most about a supercar is its noise. And in Normal mode at least, for UK road driving, the 650S – like the 12C before it – falls  a tad short of the music you would like. It’s an unresolved whoosh, with a bit of a hiss and the occasional turbo twitter. At least it is more audible with the rear window down, but still, a Renaultsport Clio blips more vocally.

This is at Normal speeds, remember, not 9000rpm. So how to convince the sceptic in the passenger seat – and indeed oneself – that your £200k hasn’t just bought you something docile, comfortable, refined and, yes, now with standard parking camera?

My advice? Forget attempting to let rip on the bypass, just show ‘em those smoky videos… Normal rules should never apply to this car.

Mr Normal’s pluses and minuses

Pretty quick
Perfect manners
Very easy to live with

Insufficiently noisy
It’s turbocharged
Water drips in when rear window open…


Photography: Matt Ankers

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