2014 McLaren 650S Review

The third road-going supercar from the fledgling McLaren Automotive is better than the other two, but is it good enough?

By Shahzad Sheikh

Orange McLaren 650S in UAE

When the fabled Formula 1 legends set up McLaren Automotive and moved into supercar production – buoyed no doubt by the successful partnership with Mercedes to produce the SLR and the legendary F1 road car of the 1990s – their initial effort was, I have to confess, a little underwhelming to look at.

The SLR was Batmobile mad and the F1 was like a road-going LeMans racer, but the MP4-12C of 2011 was well perfunctory – it ticked all the supercar boxes: low and sleek, some swoopy lines, short front, long rear-deck, spoiler etc etc. But it didn’t quite wow as it should have.

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Styling

Famed designed Frank Stephenson – he did the new Mini, the BMW X5, the Maserati MC12 and the Ferrari F430 – joined McLaren just before the launch of the 12C, but was too late to do much to the car apart from that slatted rear end.

Orange McLaren 650S in UAE

Unsurprisingly then, the rear has been carried forward almost exactly as it was (with restyle bumper farings) to the new 650S launched earlier this year and already driven at launch by Imthishan – read his review here. Stephenson finally really got to stretch his design muscles with the P1 hypercar that preceded it, so basically almost exactly replicated the front of that limited run car onto the full production 650S.

Orange McLaren 650S in UAE

It now looks distinctive, desirable and almost sexy – though that word might not sit too well with the people that make McLarens, they’re about speed, not sex.

Orange McLaren 650S in UAE

Another thing they’ve not got right is the name. ‘MP4-12C’ sounded like a food blender, and even McLaren conceded this when it later shortened the car’s name to just 12C – though it still didn’t quite have a formidable ring to it.

Orange McLaren 650S in UAE

650S on the other hand, whilst still a bit too laboratory-check-sheet to be truly inspiring, at least has a substantial tone and is less ambiguous – it means something now (that is to us ordinary folk not the technicians at McLaren). It relates to the power. Not bhp though, PS. You actually get 641bhp, but that’s good for a 0-100kph time of 2.9 seconds and a top speed of 329 for the Spider you see in these pictures (333kph for the Coupe)

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Inside

So it looks the part, has a better name and, on paper at least, goes like the clappers. But what’s it inside? (Watch the video for this one too)

Orange McLaren 650S in UAE

Once you’ve opened the butterfly doors and got in and get into the car (by the way, if you parallel park, beware that just allowing the doors to swing up by themselves could see you knocking off the wing mirrors of the cars next to you, fortunately I realised that immediately) it’s all very familiar if you’ve driven or have been lucky enough to own a 12C.

Orange McLaren 650S in UAE

There’s electric adjustment for the steering column now and the central console touch-screen finally mostly seems to work and does what it was always supposed to – it took them a while to get this bespoke unit to work though.

Orange McLaren 650S in UAE

Getting in and out takes a bit of practice, as it always does with these things, but with the Spider things improve considerably once the roof is down. The hard top is all electric and folds down under a cover behind the seats. The glass at the back can also be lowered.

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As before you have the mode selectors – there’s ‘launch’ control, a button to raise the spoiler, then three modes for the suspension and powertrain: normal, sports and track. Cruise control is available and so is Bluetooth including audio, the stereo though is average.

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Drive

As with anything boasting a V8 engine, you could argue that it doesn’t need a stereo. Well, not quite. Not in this case. The engine is boomy and droney, improving a little at higher revs in Sports mode, but for a power unit proffered by people that make F1 winning cars, you’d have expected more character, especially with the roof down. Having said that, current F1 cars do sound like broken Rickshaws anyway.

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What you do get is performance though. It feels quick off the line, though not rearrange-your-face-fast, it’s in the mid-range that it really provides a punch. Use the clever paddles to toggle down a step or two (or just leave it auto mode) and it instantly leaps at the horizon pinning you back into your seat with a mixture of shock and awe inscribed on your face.

Orange McLaren 650S in UAE

Being a very fast car, one that will probably be an excellent proposition for a track day weapon (but who really takes cars as expensive as this to the track?), it’s a little less than exhilarating to drive at normal speeds in the city however. The ride seems to be a little more brittle than I remember from the 12C, and there doesn’t appear to be a huge amount of advantage from leaving it in normal.

Orange McLaren 650S in UAE

A bendy bus probably has a better turning circle than this – and there’s no simple way to turn the traction off to execute any spin turns – and combined with the limited visibility (though there is a reversing camera) it gets a bit cumbersome to peddle around town. The performance is unusable because it gets you up to licence-losing speeds in the blink of an eye if you’re not cautious with the load pedal (and we do mean loud, so it’ll attract a lot of attention too).

Orange McLaren 650S in UAE

In Sports mode it does dial back the traction and you can get a little bit of movement at the back through a corner, but it’s benign and requires only the slightest of corrections from you before it takes over and saves you from expensive embarrassment. Head out of town and find some nice corners and you’ll be amazed by the high-speed grip, the turn-in and handling poise.

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Verdict

You need to be going so much more quicker than it is wise to do so on public roads to really exploit this car’s incredible abilities. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that unless you do, it just doesn’t feel special enough.

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Sure, people stop and stare and take pictures, so it creates a stir. When we were shooting this car in the middle of nowhere those passing kept stopping to ask about it and get a quick phone pic (I say passing, but we were at a dead end, so I’m guessing word had spread in the nearby village about this extraordinary looking car, and the people with it who didn’t mind you getting a quick selfie with it). Of course not everyone knew what it was and kept mistaking it for the three marques I mention in the next paragraph – hence the new ‘McLaren’ badges I suppose.

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There is drama, there is presence. But then you also get that from the likes of an Audi R8 and certainly a Ferrari 458 and the Lamborghini Huracan. Those cars are also too fast for the public roads and need to be driven hard to get the best out of them (although I haven’t drive the Lambo yet).

Orange McLaren 650S in UAE

I only had the car for a day and half, my loan period curtailed by a request from an ‘important prospect’ who needed to sample the 650S, but even in that short period I can assure you that the McLaren is not as practical, user-friendly or daily-driver capable as an Audi R8.  More troublingly it’s not the sensual and aural delight at cruising and posing speeds that the inspiring Italian beauties are – like I said even not having driven the Huracan, I just know that it’s a Lambo and WILL be special.

Orange McLaren 650S in UAE

Another thing the McLaren is not, at least not to my mind, is durable. Almost every McLaren I’ve experienced has had some sort of problem, this one for example would just keep popping its fuel-filler cover up for no apparent reason. Whilst trying to clean some dust and bugs out of the front for the shoot, I felt that any vigorous application of effort might actually snap the very flimsy-feeling front panels clean off.

Orange McLaren 650S in UAE

The rear doesn’t feel that much sturdier either, and even sitting in the car I can’t help ponder a pervasive sense of overall fragility in this car. Ferraris and Lamborghinis are built surprisingly well these days, and you just know that you could take an R8 on a world tour and at the end it would barely need a service.

Orange McLaren 650S in UAE

Undeniably intelligent, unsurprisingly fast and now definitely a catwalk-qualified supercar it may certainly be, but the McLaren 650S still didn’t quite carry enough passionate appeal to warm me to it. It remains a fascinating contrary choice to the supercar establishment.

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2015 McLaren 650S Review – The Specs

Prices:
Coupe: AED 1,048,500
Spider: AED 1,161,000
Engine: 3.80-litre biturbo V8, 641bhp @ 7250pm, 500lb ft @ 6000rpm
Performance: 2.9secs 0-100kph, 333kph (Coupe) 329kph (Spider), 11.7L/100
Transmission: seven-speed dual clutch, rear wheel drive
Weight:
Coupe: 1428kg
Spider: 1468kg

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