McLaren 540C review

The McLaren 540C is the most accessible model the brand has yet offered. How does it stack up? The experts at Car & Driving check out what's on offer....

Ten Second Review

McLaren claim their 540C Coupe is its most attainable supercar yet and will bring its racebred DNA to a brand new audience - people who'd normally be looking at cars like top Porsche 911 Turbos and Audi R8s. It's the most important model the brand has launched yet.

Background

In a way, everything that the McLaren roadcar brand has done up to now has been leading to this. A sportscar you don't need an impossibly large lottery win to afford. A model that can go head to head with more mainstream sportscar contenders from makers like Porsche and Audi. The 540C is exactly that car. It's the least powerful member of McLaren's 'Sports' series, part of the brand's three-tier model range that also includes pricier 'Super' and 'Ultimate' model ranges. Already residing in the 'Sports' series is the 570bhp 570S model, but that car costs nearly £150,000 and goes only fractionally faster than this 540bhp 540C, a machine you could own for not much more than £125,000. That's still a hefty slug of cash of course, but if you happen to be looking at cars like Porsche's 911 Turbo or Audi's R8 V10, it certainly puts McLaren in the right ballpark.

Driving Experience

The 540C Coupe is a pure sportscar. With 540PS and 540Nm of torque available, it's staggeringly fast, taking just 3.5 seconds to go from 0 to 62mph and then on to 124mph in 10.5 seconds. Top speed is 199mph. In other words, it's hardly any slower than the pricier 570S model - and is very much a pure McLaren, sharing its DNA with the marque's more outrageous models, which means it gets a lightweight carbonfibre chassis and race-derived technologies. It is fitted with a mid-mounted 3.8-litre twin turbocharged V8 engine which has been developed to be responsive and thrilling even at low revs. There's 600Nm of torque available from just 3,500rpm - quite something in a car which weighs not much more than 1,300kg. Power is delivered through the rear wheels via a seven-speed 'seamless shift gearbox' (SSG). Thankfully there's lot of things to help harness that power, including the McLaren's Formula 1-derived Brake Steer system, designed to aid cornering through the application of braking force to the inside wheel. This enables later braking into corners and the earlier application of power on exit. Aerodynamics help keep the 540C glued to the road too. Air is channelled along the length of the doors into two integrated air intakes mounted in the rear quarter panel. This creates a clean path for the air to flow along the bodywork with minimal drag, directing it to the flying buttresses at the rear of the cabin. In turn, this makes the most of airflow over the rear deck to increase downforce levels and help keep the powerplant cool. An integrated spoiler at the trailing edge of the rear deck also aids in the creation of downforce.

Design and Build

At the heart of this car is McLaren's unique carbonfibre MonoCell II chassis which has been re-designed for the 540C to make it a much more usable, day-to-day machine. Getting in and out of such a low vehicle for example, has been made easier. And it still offers class-leading protection to occupants. Crucially, that carbon fibre tub, along with the use of aluminium body panels, keeps the weight of this McLaren down, which aids its astonishing performance. It's almost 150kg lighter than an R8, its closest competitor. A subtly revised aerodynamic package and a dedicated wheel design mark out the 540C against the more powerful 570S Coupe. Unique aero blades below the front bumper channel cold, clean air through the lower bodywork and up over the sculpted bonnet, flanked by large LED headlamps. At the rear, the diffuser sits between the twin exhausts which exit below the rear bumper. The aerodynamically-led styling of this 'Sports' Series Coupe also includes intricately designed upwards-swinging doors. The 540C is fitted with 19-inch cast alloy wheels at the front and 20-inchers at the rear, the rims available in silver or 'stealth' colours. These are fitted with Pirelli P Zero tyres developed specifically for 'Sports' Series McLaren models to offer high levels of performance and decent ride comfort.

Market and Model

McLaren really is going to heat up the market for this type of supercar up with the pricing of this 540C. The asking price, around £126,000, offers a saving of around £18,000 over this model's stablemate in the Mclaren 'Sports' series, the 570S. And it offers the same kind of saving over a comparable Porsche 911 Turbo S or an Audi R8 V10. McLaren think though that more likely buyers will be people looking at cars like Ferrari's California T - and one of those would cost you well over £150,000.

Cost of Ownership

To help mere mortals with the cost of owning a supercar, McLaren has thoughtfully decided to lend us the cash - or a personal contract purchase agreement - via its McLaren Financial Services division. The company see this move, an integral part of its continuing growth plans, as crucial if it is to truly compete against its more established rivals. But you will need well over £30k as a deposit. And then there's insurance and the everyday running costs. Yes, the 540C has stop-start technology, but it's not going to help with any congestion charge. However, given the 540C's level of performance, a return of 25.4mpg and CO2 emissions of 258g/km are - in supercar terms - impressive.

Summary

We hesitate to describe the sum being asked for ownership of this 540C as 'affordable' - but in McLaren terms, that's what it is. Which makes this model a bold departure for the Woking brand. If it persuades a reasonable number of wealthier sportscar owners to swap their 911 Turbos and Audi R8 V10s for a 540C, the project will obviously be seen as a success. The issue though, is whether venturing this far down-market will lose McLaren some of its sheen of exclusivity - the very thing that makes millionaires hand over Ferrari money to own cars like their 650S and 675LT models. Time will tell. In the meantime, the 540C brings exotic exclusivity (almost) within reach.