My secret vice, a Monday-night indulgence after others have retired to bed, is the US drama Ballers. It’s about American football players, their cars, their women and a never-ending desire to make more money. It’s cheesy and downmarket, but an addictive pleasure. It’s in the same basket as Coronation Street, but with a cast of tough guys.
Every time a player’s car heaves into sight, it’s a £200,000-plus mid-engined supercar: Ferrari or Lamborghini, with an exotic Pagani or two as well. But what stands out, in lurid green or bright orange, are the McLarens. The British builder of F1 cars has made the cut as a fully-fledged member of the supercar aristocracy. It’s impressive progress from a launch that took place just five years ago.
Strong branding is essential to jump-start a venture into wallet-busting sports cars, so McLaren’s great history at the pinnacle of Formula 1 motor racing has nudged things along nicely. But McLaren’s F1 team has had a pretty torrid time of it recently. The old adage of “win on a Sunday, sell on a Monday” simply doesn’t apply – McLaren hasn’t got close to winning an F1 race in four years.
Yet its cars are flying out of the factory. Around 1,500 were sold in 2015, and this year will see double that. A critical mass has been reached. Most people in the City of London know what they’re looking at when a McLaren drives by. Especially Apple executives.
In theory, you can pick from three ranges. Except the McLaren Ultimate Series has sold out, so you can’t buy a £1m P1 until its replacement comes along in a year. Or two. Or three. The mid-range Super Series is the car that kicked things off in 2011, firstly with the MP4 12C and now the 650S. It starts at £200,000.
What we have here, though, is the latest 570GT, which forms part of the paupers’ Sports Series. That’s a relative term, because the cheapest model, the 540S, still chimes in at £128,000. Although no one is going to buy it because it says too much about your wherewithal.
The £143,000 570S is where the action really starts, although when I drove it last month it seemed a little too raw for my liking. Incredibly focussed, yes, but too stripped out for someone of my age.
This 570GT is the same car, but a very different proposition. An extra £11,000 transforms the 570 into the best long-distance car McLaren makes. Small changes to the running gear – suspension, tyres and steering – plus some smart noise reduction in the cabin, make the GT so much easier to live with.
The interior is suddenly lovely, with quality leather, a glass roof and dual-zone climate control. Electric seats, too. And at the rear there’s a new side-opening glass tailgate that bumps up the already good luggage space.
Yet the GT McLaren hasn’t gone soft. The 570hp twin-turbo V6 still snarls, the performance remains eye watering, and you can move to a manual gearshift via the steering wheel paddles for utter, transfixing involvement. There are no dynamic questions that go unanswered.
Then there is the presence. Even without orange or lime green paint, the Sports Series makes a hell of an impact. A Ferrari may still be the easy choice, but a McLaren says you know about cars, and you are quite capable of justifying your choice.
The fact that the 570GT can be slipped into Drive and driven like a Lexus may suit both NFL players and those on a trip home after a long day in the office. Not that you’d admit it.