McLaren 650s Spider
Cape Town - In many circles, it is no longer politically correct to get excited about automotive technology involving the internal combustion engine.
The white utilitarian four-door with its nondescript looks and, preferably, some sewing-machine components in its drive train, has gained enormous political clout of late. I, however, am not politically minded, which is why I came to leave the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront in the driver’s seat of a McLaren 650s Spider.
Now, I am no longer given to starry-eyed enthusiasm about cars. When you reach my advanced age you tend to see things with a more cynical eye. And the cynical eye worked hard on the day, viewing the McLaren in the light of often harsh realism, backed by the knowledge that I was test driving a car with a price tag of near the R5 million mark. At that price, a car of this class should be as near perfect as they get. But the McLaren wasn’t.
SMOOTH AND FLEXIBLE
The first part of the trip was into the city centre to pick up colleague Lance Witten so he could film the day’s proceedings for the video below. That brief sojourn proved that the McLaren was well-suited to being driven in traffic, in narrow lanes and with lots going on around the car. For a machine of this nature, all-round visibility was quite sufficient and, when proper care was taken, there was never any need to worry about the blind spots that this type of car normally has towards the rear.
I found the automatic setting of the transmission to be smooth and flexible, without sacrificing directness of drive. One could stay in automatic all day if one wanted to. But would one want to?
Not. Paddle-shift waited. And with it the true nature of a great performance car that is blisteringly quick and fast.
On open country roads, the McLaren showed its mettle in no uncertain terms. Even at the so-called “normal” settings of engine and chassis, this car performs the way it looks. Change the settings to sport or track and be prepared for even better.
CONFIDENCE IN CORNERING
The car’s suspension and drive train can be adjusted independently with the buttons on the centre console. You can have the suspension on a spine-pampering normal setting and the engine and transmission as hot as an old Ford’s radiator on a Kalahari summer’s day on the track setting.
The car inspires confidence in cornering, as it should. Sweeping down the long curve from the old Wellington/Malmesbury road towards Riebeek Kasteel, I would have swarn I was going in a straight line - if it weren’t for the G-forces acting on my well-supported body. And when you pick a line in a corner, the 650s is certain to find it.
But as I said, the McLaren isn’t perfect.
The cabin shows a certain lack of class; the instrument cluster looked to me as if function had overtaken form, with a digital speedometer in the middle of an analogue rev counter and liquid-crystal info lines on either side. Material, fit and finish showed the requisite quality but I found the design bland and somewhat soulless, except for some serious colour in the door panels.
I would have preferred a small lever to change from neutral to drive or reverse, rather than separate buttons, particularly as it was a bit of an arm-twisting struggle to reach them with elbow movement restericted by the seat backrest - although seats themselves were very good.
BUILDING A HERITAGE
I suspect McLaren’s relative inexperience in making road cars is something of a stumbling block for their design efforts, but a heritage has to be built and this car is as good a point of departure as any.
The folding hard top of the Spider was easily stowed, but I was still a bit disappointed in the exterior styling details. This is a radical radical sports car that just doesn’t look radical enough, despite some nice modern touches. The front end has been changed from the previous MP4-12C, but instead of moving forward, McLaren has made it more conservative.
The 650s was meant to augment the range, but ended up replacing the MP4-12C which was not selling well. McLaren admits the 12C might have been a bit too hard-edged for the average supercar client. Go figure.
Supercars are not politically correct these days; people criticise their heavy fuel consumption when the low numbers in which they sell cannot make a bit of a difference to the atmosphere. People slam them because ‘speed is dangerous’ when speed is the least of our worries about road safety.
But that’s not the point. Supercars such as the McLaren 650s are about people daring to reach for excellence - something not allowed for by a herd mentality.
McLaren 650s Spider
Engine: 3.8-litre, V8 turbopetrol
Gearbox: 7-speed automatic
Power: 478kW @ 7250rpm
Torque: 678Nm @ 6000rpm
0-100km/h*: 3.15 seconds
Stading quarter-mile*: 10.94 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 329km/h
* Recorded by Star Motoring at Gerotek