Jeff Zurschmeide
McLaren Keeps its Promises – Take a Look at This Super Car

McLaren Keeps its Promises – Take a Look at This Super Car

There was a time in the automotive world when performance cars and luxury cars were very different things. A luxury car was the big squishy boat your elderly neighbour bought to celebrate his retirement from the phone company. It wasn’t fast, but it had air conditioning. A performance car was raw, brutal, and typically uncomfortable. And then came along the McLaren.

That won’t do in the modern world. We demand both comfort and performance now – and while we’re demanding, we’d like more performance than anyone dared to dream about even just 30 years ago. That’s the basis for success at companies like McLaren, and they promise to deliver exactly what you want.

The McLaren 650S Spider is one of those cars that is best described with numbers – at least at first. So here they are – 641 horsepower, 500 pound-feet of torque, 204 MPH top speed, 0-60 in less than 3 seconds, and a price tag right around $300,000, plus or minus.

Let’s face the facts. You want this car. I want this car. It’s absolutely amazing, and it’s worth the money that McLaren asks for it. In a week of driving, the McLaren has absolutely no bad habits. The only drawback is the crowd of gaping admirers that seem to materialize out of thin air whenever you park, and the people swerving all over the freeway trying to get a cell phone snapshot of you. Glory has its price.

Red McLaren

Power and Performance of the MacLaren

If you pop the hood, you’ll see that the 650S is powered by McLaren’s custom 3.8-liter twin-turbo V8, which they have cleverly named the M838T. The small displacement engine weighs just 438 pounds owing to its all-aluminum construction, and features a dry sump oiling system of the type commonly found on racing cars.

McLaren knows that its customers want honest performance, and that’s what you’ll get. But they also know that a car is an image item, so they’ve added a few special features – as Q might say to Bond.

One feature that will put a grin on your face every time is that if you put the 650S into Sport mode, the engine will cut the spark very briefly on full throttle upshifts. This action generates a blob of unburned fuel-air mixture that passes into the exhaust stream. That charge is ignited when the spark comes back, creating a burst of flame out the back of the car, accompanied by a delightful backfire. Is it immature to find that appealing? I plead guilty.


McLaren also developed a state-of-the-art suspension for the 650S, and it’s based on a system called ProActive Chassis Control (PCC). The system features electronically active shock damping that offers you three driving modes: Normal, Sport, and Track.

In Normal mode, the 650S feels like an exotic sports car, but you won’t give yourself kidney damage driving around town. If you choose Sport mode, the McLaren tightens up the electric power steering and the suspension, yet retains a supple ride and street-level comfort. Track mode relaxes the traction and stability control systems somewhat, but they will still take over if you make a big mistake.

One performance feature worth mentioning is the McLaren Brake Steer system. This tech helps you turn the car by applying a touch of brake to the inboard rear wheel as you tip in steering. The slight drag helps the car want to turn and generally makes it seem like you’re a much better driver than you probably are. Are you offended by that? Don’t be. This McLaren technology was banned in Formula One as being too much of an advantage, so apparently it even makes F1 drivers seem better than they are.

Red McLaren

McLaren – A Thing of Beauty

Take a step away from the McLaren 650S and just look at it for a moment. You can’t get the full effect looking at pictures, but this is a big car. It’s both long and wide, but it sits with a menacing stance, and you can tell it was built to go very fast.

One thing car designers will tell you is that nothing happens by accident any more. Every contour of the 650S bodywork serves a functional purpose in pursuit of performance. This car offers the same 0.36 drag coefficient as the previous McLaren MP4-12C, except that this design achieves 24% more downforce out of the same coefficient of drag at 150 MPH. Just by routing the air over and through the car more efficiently, McLaren is delivering more downforce with no increase in drag. That’s like free ice cream.

Finally, let’s talk about the convertible top. Yes, the 650S Spider is a convertible. There’s a fixed-roof version, too, but it’s only a few thousand dollars cheaper, and the retracting hardtop on the Spider is something you’ll really want on a sunny day. Just press the button and the top will stow itself in about 15 seconds.

Red McLaren Overview Red McLaren Overview Top Down

Driving Comfort and Infotainment

The dashboard tech in a car like this is rather secondary, but McLaren’s attention to detail shows up here. You get a nice touch-screen about the size of a small tablet to control the infotainment, hands-free phone, and so on. You also get a backup camera, which is good because rear visibility in the 650S was sacrificed on the altar of downforce and coefficient of drag.

The seats in the McLaren fit like they were made for you. I can’t promise that getting in and out will be the most graceful thing you’ve ever done, but once you’re in the 650S, you won’t want to leave. Your back is well-supported, your butt can feel the road under your wheels, and the car responds to every motion of your hands and feet.  In short, you get what you pay for with the McLaren. Promises made; promises kept.

inside of the McLaren

2017 McLaren 650S Technical Details

Base price: $280,225
Price as tested: $331,175
Type: Two-seat mid-engine exotic
Engine: 3.8-liter twin-turbo V8
Power: 641 horsepower, 500 pound-feet torque
Transmission: 7-speed twin clutch
0-62 MPH: 3.0 seconds
0-124 MP:  8.6 seconds
Top Speed: 204 (governed)
EPA estimated mileage: 21 MPG city/26 MPG highway
Road noise: Quiet
Overall length: 177.63 inches
Curb weight: 3,020 pounds
Final assembly: Woking, England

For more details on these luxury vehicles – take a look at the Official McLaren Automotive site 

Freelance automotive, travel, and adventure writer. Extensive publication history including 9 published books. Regular contributor at the Portland Tribune newspaper, Sports Car Market and American Car Collector magazines, SportsCar Magazine, Performance Racing Industry Magazine. Published online at Digital Trends. Education – BA Univ. of Calif, MS Oregon Health & Science Univ.

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