The McLaren 650S builds on the success of the 12C and offers a sharper, faster and more imposing rival to Ferrari and Lamborghini. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The McLaren 650S takes the basic formula of the 12C and tweaks the suspension, increases the aerodynamic downforce, ups the power, improves the styling and smartens the cabin. Small but incremental improvements everywhere have resulted in a markedly better car.
Yes, McLaren established its road car reputation with the incredible F1, but production of that model ended in 1998. It took another thirteen years before another road car rolled out of Woking, so when the 12C arrived in 2011, it was effectively a whole new start. Many considered that it wasn't quite on a par with the Ferrari 458 Italia, but was pretty close. Take into account that this was Mclaren's first attempt in a segment dominated for decades by Ferrari and that's not a bad start. Still, McLaren is a company that always strives for class leadership and being second best doesn't wash. The 12C was continually improved as subsequent build phases came on stream but the big development is this, the 650S. McLaren claims it's not a replacement for the 12C, but such is the improvement and so modest is the incremental price over the 12C that this 650S has instantly and ruthlessly rendered that car obsolete.
The headliner with the 650S is that power figure of 650PS, or 641bhp in old money, but it's worth putting into some sort of frame of reference quite what that means. Many thought the performance of the F1 would be a benchmark that might never be beaten. The 650S manages that task quite comfortably, accelerating to 124mph in a mere 8.4 seconds, compared to the 9.4 second figure of the old F1. It also betters the Ferrari 458 Speciale's 9.1 second time thanks to the 500PS per tonne power-to-weight ratio and the massive torque increase of the M838T twin turbo 3.8-litre V8 engine which now makes 678Nm lower down in the rev range. Rest to 62mph takes 3s on the way to 207mph, so fractionally faster than the 12C. The suspension has been tweaked, with significantly stiffer springs, redesigned damper mounts and a bigger variation between the Normal, Sport and Track modes of the ProActive Chassis Control (PCC) suspension system. Lighter forged alloy wheels and bespoke Pirelli P-Zero Corsa tyres improve dry weather grip and turn in, while the airbrake system now operates with a greater level of functionality providing increased stability. It now deploys whenever the car senses extra downforce is required, such as when decelerating or when going over a sharp crest at speed, rather than simply under braking or when manually operated in 'Aero' mode. You will though, need to be in 'Sport' or 'Track' handling modes. Gearshifts are also faster and smoother thanks to revised electronics.
Design and Build
The styling of the 12C was deliberately rather low key. Some thought it lacked the necessary supercar drama, whereas others felt it offered a more considered take on the theme. The 650S takes certain elements of the P1's frontal treatment and delivers a far more assertive face, a styling direction which McLaren say they will carry over to future models. The silhouette and much of the rear end styling looks wholly familiar but there's no doubt that the 650S is a more aggressive, confident piece of design work. It's got the same drag coefficient figure, yet the air is being worked harder and more efficiently as it flows over, and through, the functional bodywork. Downforce levels are increased by 24 percent at 150mph, while unique door blades, just behind the front wheels on the leading edge of the doors, direct air from the trailing edges of the front splitter. Both Coupe and Spider versions are on offer, the Spider featuring a two-piece hard top roof that can be automatically raised or lower in less than 17 seconds. The roof can be activated while stationary or at any speed up to 19mph. Despite the car's extra focus, McLaren is at pains to point out that this is no stripped-out Speciale/Superleggera model. The cabin gets full Alcantara trim, with a leather -trimmed steering wheel. Semi-aniline land Nappa leather trims are also available. Lightweight carbon fibre trim panels compliment the interior finish, enhancing the sports style. All-round visibility in the McLaren 650S is extremely good for a mid-engine supercar, with the engine positioned low in the chassis. This ensures optimum weight distribution, but also means rear visibility is not compromised. At the front, the pedals are directly in front of the driver, unlike key rivals, where offset pedals can cause driver discomfort on longer journeys.
Market and Model
Does a £20,000 price hike over the old 12C for all that lot sound like a lot to ask? It doesn't to us. That translates into an asking price of just over £195,000 for the Coupe and just over £215,000 for the Spider. Standard equipment includes carbon ceramic brakes and the much-improved (in other words, it now works) IRIS infotainment system, which includes satellite navigation, DAB radio and a reversing camera. It also gets a four-speaker Meridian audio set-up, with two speakers encased within each door. The Meridian Surround Sound Upgrade can also be selected as an option, which adds three further full-range speakers - front centre and two rear. In line with this, the amplifier changes to a seven-channel unit, providing increased power output and greater control over the audio settings, allowing front-to-rear fader control and configurable EQ settings to suit broader user preferences. You can also buy additional carbon parts to dress the car and some rather lovely lightweight carbon seats.
Cost of Ownership
It's probably fair to say that residual values for the 12C were a bit softer than McLaren had hoped for, with some customers cycling through their ownership periods quite rapidly, some grumbling about things like the car's non-functioning IRIS system and lack of aural fireworks. Those issues have both been fixed now and the 650S leans a little on the undoubted halo-effect of the mighty P1. Add to that critical acclaim that seems largely in accord that the 650S is a vehicle that will take the Ferrari 458's trousers down and administer a severe spanking and you have a recipe for improved retained values. McLaren reckons that 12C customers added an average of £23,000 worth of options, something that's often overlooked when calculating residual percentages. Over-supply isn't going to be too much of an issue, with McLaren assuring us that they'll not exceed the 12C's production figures of 1,500 cars a year. In case you're interested, the fuel economy figure is 24.2mpg while emissions are rated at 275g/km.
The McLaren 650S is a riposte that will take a lot of answering. Of course, we realised that on paper at least, the 12C had the measure of its key rivals but something was perhaps missing in terms of drama. The 650S doesn't try to ape an Italian rival, instead doing its own thing, but it's certainly a potent weapon. Whether you choose the Coupe or the Spider, both are almost sickeningly rapid, both are super stiff in the chassis and they offer a breadth of abilities that is unprecedented in this sector. McLaren is sometimes portrayed as a high-handed, somewhat arrogant company that knows it knows best. The 650S proves beyond any doubt that this is just a lazy stereotype. McLaren listens - and listens to the people that count: its customers. The 650S is a combination of a wishlist of 12C improvements from buyers and the latest in mind-warping technology from Woking. It works. Beautifully.