2015 McLaren 650S Spider First Test
Carbon Flame: Does Your Taste Run More Spicy and Exotic?
For once, I'm early. As I sit in the chilly sunrise on Willow Springs pit lane, associate road test editor Carlos Lago pulls up in something exotic, and I'm slightly put off by the striking orange color. That's a bit much, I think. Then it hits me like twin turbos spooling up boost: McLaren. I had that orange HO-scale M6A Can Am car when I was a kid, marveled at Senna and Prost dominating Formula 1 after college, and still list the McLaren F1 as my second-favorite street car (after whatever I am racing that year). McLaren Orange. Provenance.
The new 650S is the second generation of the MP4-12C road car, and our tester is the Spider, with a trick lightweight power-folding top, the only way to go. Power is up 25 horses, styling is slicker, and 25 percent of the parts are new, including the LED headlights that suggest P1. The interior is all Alcantara, and the slopes of the door handles rakishly match the center console. Switches adjust suspension and drivetrain and aero independently from Comfort to Track to Active, and three turbine air outlets emulate the wind tunnel in which the body was sculpted. I am thrilled with the long telescopic range of the optional electrically adjusted steering column (a musthave) and the roomy cockpit once seated, but I'm worried about the gymnastics required to reach it. Many of the Americans who can afford this supercar will not be able to enter and exit it, though their Zumba-instructor trophy wives will, knees tightly clamped together. The dramatic dihedral doors swing up and out with a prominent statement of arrival, but combined with the wide sills of the carbon-fiber MonoCell frame, it takes a concerted effort to cross the threshold. But like a honeymoon, the rewards are worth it.
"When that boost avalanches down, it'll rock your highway world. It's a cannon shot. Irresistible."
The optional carbon racing seats are the real deal: deep, narrow, and firm, with weapons-grade cutouts for a racing harness, and I'm wishing I had that, too, as I consider the 641 turbo-boosted SAE horsepower (650 PS Euro-style) that will soon propel us to almost 160 mph on the Willow Springs pit straight. The seven-speed dual-clutch Seamless Shift Gearbox (SSG) is aptly named; swift, sure, and silky. In Sport mode, it creates a shift exhaust "flare" that sounds aggressive and racy, and in Track mode, flat out, there is something called "inertia push" that reminds me of the good ol' speed shift.Ripping into Turn 1 on lap one, the 650S' giant carbon brakes are powerful and never exhibit fade, but the car does wander surprisingly in the bumpy brake zones. Turn-in is razor sharp with that light, low-polar moment feel of a mid-engine chassis, aided by Brake Steer, which applies braking force to the inside rear. The rigidity of that Monocell tub adds strength and precision. Once settled into the corner, there is no sense of roll, a product of the unique and clever Proactive Chassis Control (PCC), which distributes hydraulic pressure across the car to resist roll yet is compliant in ride. Ingenious and effective and more evolved than on the 12C.
I appreciated the stability at first, but I was startled by the degree of understeer. The front died through the middle of a corner and got worse with each lap. It was downright frustrating in the forever carousel of Turn 2, and I know it hindered lap times. I turned off the active aero, which helped reduce the high-speed push, but still the balance felt wrong. Discussing this later, Matt Edmonds of Tire Rack noticed our car had Pirelli's Asimmetricos on the rear and directional, more deeply treaded Corsa Direzionales on the front. Dries and wets, essentially. Odd, and a real factor in our results. The front tires looked punished after just three hot laps.
The power was superb. Nearly 650 horses are addictive and spoil the driver for any less. It was a no-fear accelerator because the McLaren put down power well, a fine quality in something with this potential. To get this kind of juice from 3.8 liters requires a lot of boost pressure. With revs up on track, response is immediate, with a massive surge of torque in the upper midrange. On the street, lag is noticeable. But when that boost avalanches down, it'll rock your highway world. The sweet and smart SSG helps both. McLaren has successfully moderated the onslaught, but when the twin turbos come to life, it's a cannon shot. Irresistible.
On the way back to L.A., the 650S soaks up jolts nicely. Set the switches to Normal and be coddled, yet the PCC will still respond on the off-ramp with roll control. Angeles Crest Highway is a shortcut over the mountains, and none of the track understeer showed up at road speeds. I'm filled with passion for the McLaren, actually considering a left on I-10 toward home in Atlanta, some 2,100 miles away. Top down, rear window up, sides half-down, my lava-orange playmate is serene and warm in the cool night air. They won't catch me for days...
|2015 McLaren 650S Spider|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$351,935|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Mid-engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door convertible|
|ENGINE||3.8L/641-hp/500-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8|
|TRANSMISSION||7-speed twin-clutch auto.|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,239 lb (42/58%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||177.6 x 74.6 x 47.2 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.0 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||10.7 sec @ 134.0 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||105 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||1.05 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||23.1 sec @ 0.99 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||16/22/18 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||211/153 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||1.06 lb/mile|