You don’t stride confidently into a sector of the car market occupied by the Audi R8 V10 and Porsche 911 Turbo expecting success without having some serious fire power in your armoury. The P1, 650S and 675LT have shown that McLaren can build hypercars and supercars capable of going toe-to-toe with the opposition, but the new 570S is going up against nothing short of a motoring icon in the 911. Might it be a step too far?
By the end of October McLaren will have built its last P1. Despite the fact that they’ve all been sold before production ceases, there are no immediate plans for another. ‘We will wait until another step change in technology before we build a new Ultimate Series car’ is McLaren’s position when it comes to creating another range-topper.
650S production is rolling along nicely and the 675LT was sold out by May of this year. Despite apparently being asked often if an SUV is on the cards, McLaren’s response is that such a vehicle is ‘not for us’. Besides, the world of very high performance cars mirrors that of mainstream, mass-produced vehicles in that it’s usually the more modestly-priced and most-produced models that bring the biggest grin to the faces of the manufacturer’s accountants. So, with ambitions to achieve 4,000 global sales by 2017 McLaren has produced an entry-level machine; a Sports Series car tasked with doubling its volume.
Welcome then to the McLaren 570S. Although its looks are certainly in keeping with the rest of the family, the differences between this car and its siblings are greater than you might think. For starters, this is the first McLaren ever to have been built with vanity mirrors (no, really) and stowage in each door. It also features aluminium panels, ‘as a high-volume production car we needed a more efficient form of manufacturing compared to carbon fibre’ says Andrew Palmer, McLaren’s Head of Sports Series. Aluminium also has the advantage over carbon fibre of allowing for a superior paint finish and makes little impact on weight. The rear deck lid adds a mere four kilos and the front wings displayed at the launch are so light in your hand that your instinct tells you to handle them with your fingertips as you would a photograph you were keen to preserve. It soon becomes apparent that McLaren has been utterly obsessed with weight in producing the 570S.
Apparently a full 147 kilos lighter than ‘the competition’ (more on that later), the 570S boasts a revised tub which comes it at a mere 75 kilos. It’s still recognisable as being largely similar to the item around which the 12C, P1 and 650S were built, but with a drop in the front of the sill to aid ingress and egress, which brings us to another difference between this car and the rest of the McLaren range: Usability.
It was mentioned more than once to the assembled press that our hosts expected us to gain around 90 per cent of our impressions of the car from the three hours we were to spend out on the roads and only 10 percent from our on-track escapades. The car responds to enthusiastic circuit driving as you’d expect, but McLaren is very keen to get across that this is its ‘most usable car yet’ and that it has been ‘determined to ensure daily usability.’ To this end the B-pillars have been made as thin as possible and the door mirrors located in such a way as to afford optimum visibility. It even features start-stop technology and can apparently return 26mpg. The people who administer America’s infamous ‘gas guzzler’ tax will not be bothering McLaren about the 570S.
So, having decreed that the 570S is far more about its on-road behaviour and usability (there’s that word again …) we set out on a long and winding two-and-a-half-hour route to the magnificent Portimao circuit, eager to experience what a ‘daily driver’ McLaren feels like. Climbing in is indeed made easier than the 650S thanks to that cut in the forward section of the sill, and once you’re in it immediately feels like a McLaren: very stylish, roomy, elegant, unfussy and beautifully nailed together.
Pulling out onto the road from our hotel and still some distance from the kind of roads where we could really get to know the car, the first thing to strike us is the ride quality. To help bring the 570S in at a price to compare to the likes of the Porsche 911 Turbo S and Audi R8 V10 plus, McLaren has been forced to drop the trick interconnected accumulator-primed dampers from the 650S and gone with conventional anti-roll bars which its bigger sibling had no need for. The move has had a negligible effect on the remarkable standard of ride quality established by the 650S. At maximum compression there is the odd case of mild grounding from the front, truth be told, but aside from that the ride is incredible and body control is maintained over all but the most jarring of blacktop imperfections.
The steering is next to join the list of positive early impressions. As with all McLarens it is pretty much beyond reproach and feels so confident, so consistent, sharp and beautifully weighted with enough of a hydraulic feel to sate the thirst of those frustrated by some electric systems. It is really, really satisfying.
As our gentle trundle through traffic en route to the majestic hills above the Southern Portuguese coast continued we further established that the 570S is utterly docile at low speeds, the Sports seats fitted to our test car were incredibly comfortable (although the electric switches on the more comfortable versions are in a bafflingly awkward place) and that we’re still not completely sold on touch-screen infotainment systems, although it must be said that this one is one of the best to use that we’ve encountered. Oh and the Bowers&Wilkins 12-speaker surround-sound system simply has to be experienced to be believed. Soon though, we were approaching the roads we’d been waiting for and it was time to switch the drive mode from Normal to Sport.
Unfettered by traffic and traffic signals, the baby McLaren responded as we’d hoped. The road surface was sometimes far from ideal and the dampers were now firmed-up in Sport mode, but accelerating hard out of tight corners and firing the car up the steep inclines and drops, said imperfections troubled the car little; hopping and skipping was kept to a minimum. We were just left to indulge in the addictive rush of the turbos spooling up and keeping the car pointed where we wanted it, which was a heavenly pursuit. The 3.8-litre V8 shares its basic architecture with the 650S but, required to produce less snort, 30% of it has been replaced. New cylinder heads, turbos, intercoolers and a crankcase have been employed, but the net result is still an incredibly exciting motor. If you hadn’t experienced a 650S it might just be possible to convince you that this one.
With each gear now being introduced in a sharper fashion the 570S revealed itself to be a simply devastating way to cover ground on entertaining roads. But we felt there was still more of the car’s character to be revealed and the only way we were going to safely breach the grip levels was at the Portimao circuit to which we were headed.
Once on track we progressively removed the electronic shackles lap-by-lap to best feel the effects of switching from one mode to the other. As with the 650S it was crucial to get some heat into the Pirellis before the car would turn in as you’d like, but once up to temperature the front end was razor sharp, seemingly begging for us to select Sport. As you’d expect, with the rear wheels that little bit more free to do what your right foot intended the car holds a tighter line, although attempts to rattle the traction control’s cage merely result in the throttle temporarily being confiscated as the instinctive opposite lock applied to the steering gets all four wheels pointing in the same direction again.
We gradually end up with Dynamic ESP selected, the chassis set to Track mode, which finally allowed us to reach some wild angles for the obligatory oversteer photos. For a car that doesn’t have the more sophisticated aero treatment and dampers of the 650S, the on-track fun factor isn’t compromised at all. In fact, it’s possible that the 570S might even be more fun on-track. It won’t put a similar lap time in, and didn’t in all honestly feel much quicker around Portimao than the Audi R8 V10 we drove there recently. But that’s not the point.
The 570S is so playful. Whereas the 650S and 675LT were inspired by the business of ultimate track performance, this car feels almost like a long, late lunch on a Friday in Woking preceded a meeting where someone said ‘hey, why don’t we make this one an absolute riot to drive?’ Because it is.
The Audi R8 V10 and Porsche 911 Turbo are superb cars, no ifs or buts. That McLaren has built something to challenge them is not much of a surprise looking their form for building road cars. What is perhaps surprising is just how much fun it is. The Woking mob has come up with something here which not only matches (at the very least) the Germans for technology, but it sets itself apart through making you smile like a madman.
Gripes? As mentioned earlier, the electric seat buttons are a faff to operate, there is evidence of minor front-end grounding under maximum compression and the motor could deliver some more grunt low-down to make overtaking possible without having to snatch a lower gear. That last part is one area where the competition might have an edge.
Whether it will be enough to worry sector-leader Porsche remains to be seen. Customers of the Stuttgart firm are a loyal bunch and of course the Turbo S is a legend as well as being superb, but even the most loyal would have to admit that the McLaren 570S is magic and at £143,250 it costs barely a grand more than the £142,120 Turbo S.
In the coming months we’re going to see reviewers pit the 570S against its rivals head-to-head, which will give us a clearer picture of how it stacks up. On the evidence harvested from the launch, this could be one of the most fierce scraps of our time.
The gloves are off. Let battle commence …