McLaren 540C (2015 - 2021) used car review

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By Jonathan Crouch

Introduction

The 540C, introduced in 2015, is about as close to an affordable modern-era McLaren as you're likely to get. When new, it was targeted at people who'd normally be looking at cars like top Porsche 911 Turbos and Audi R8s. When used, much the same applies.

Models

(2dr coupe)

History

From launch in 2015, the 540C was the least powerful member of McLaren's 'Sports' series, part of the brand's three-tier model range that also included pricier 'Super' and 'Ultimate' model ranges. At the time of this car's introduction, already residing in the 'Sports' series was the 570bhp 570S model, but that car cost quite a lot more and went only fractionally faster than this 540bhp 540C, a machine that from new and from launch, you could own for not much more than £125,000. The 'C' stood for 'China', which was where quite a lot of the production went. Basically, the 540C was a detuned 570S - which in theory made it a desirable thing. In practice, most people stretched to a 570S and ignored it. Sales finished in 2021.

What You Get

At the heart of this car (only ever offered as a coupe) 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 Audi 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.

What You Pay

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What to Look For

Look out for random warning lights coming on - you need a code to reset those and any other warnings for oil changes or needed maintenance. McLaren has exclusive access to these codes. Oil services can occupy 6 hours or more. Check that main services one and two have both been conducted on the nose. Missing any annual or 10,000 mile service invalidates the warranty. We've heard of problems with leaking coolant hoses, so check underneath the car before you set out on a test drive. We've also heard reports of windscreen wiper motors blowing. And though aluminium doesn't rust in the same way that steel does, it will corrode and some cars have suffered from bubbling under the paintwork; for this, check the engine cover, the door seams and bottoms and the wheel arches. There are also reports of rear windows cracking - and windscreens, so check the glasswork carefully. Also check the IRIS infotainment set-up, making sure all the systems work as they should.

The later the car you can buy the better, as McLaren's quality control tightened up considerably due to experience gained in the build process. Many dealers will impress upon you the importance of getting the right specification and poorly-specced cars can be slow to sell on. That means lightweight wheels, the sports exhaust and the upgraded sound system. The leather and Alcantara seats are popular but don't entertain owners trying to recoup £20k worth of spend on optional carbon fibre bits. Make sure that the doors open when wet, especially if the opening mechanism is the early touch sensor as these have proven problematic. Engine immobiliser issues have also been reported as have defective glass seals around the engine cover.

Replacement Parts

(approx based on a 2015 540C coupe) We came across these prices at Exotice Auto Parts. An air filter will be around £63- £134 depending on brand; a water pump gasket is about £40. An alternator is around £1,248, an ABS pump around £1,467. If you're heading to the track and want a pair of carbon front brake discs, but for a cool £6,408 (and £5,532 for a pair at the rear). A more affordable pair of steel front brake discs will cost around £1,343. A front brake pad kit (steels) costs £367 (same for the rears); for front carbon pads, it's £734. An engine oil pump costs £1,580.

On the Road

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 designs, which means it gets a lightweight carbonfibre chassis and race-derived technologies.

It is fitted with a de-tuned version of the mid-mounted 3.8-litre twin turbocharged V8 engine from the 570S which here was developed to be just as 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.

Overall

We don't really understand why the 540C was so unloved - or why McLaren never sold it in the US. It was part of an experiment by the Woking brand to reach down into the market for lesser supercars like base Audi R8s and Porsche 911s. You'd have to say that the experiment didn't really work, based on the sales numbers achieved.

But that's all good for the used customer, who can rest assured that they're getting everything meaningful here from a McLaren 570S for considerably less money. For the kind of cash that'd get you less exotic supercar fare, the 540C will make you feel like a lottery winner. Buy carefully though.

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