It may not be in the same league as the P1 but the 650S is the best consolation prize anyone could hope for
THE McLaren P1 hyper-hybrid might just be the greatest car in the world right now. But it costs nearly a million quid, only 375 are being made and I haven’t been allowed to drive one. I’m trying not to take this personally, as it’s already sold out. And McLaren has let me drive the new 650S – which has to be the world’s greatest consolation prize.
McLaren is Woking’s finest export. The name is famous in Formula One, and it launched its first modern road car three years ago. Called the MP4-12C, this was lauded as an enormously impressive technical achievement, if not quite as emotionally invigorating as Ferrari’s rival 458 Italia. To its credit, McLaren took the criticism on the chin, and has been chipping away at it ever since.
The 650S is the latest result. This new car uses the same fundamental underlying carbon fibre structure as the 12C, but features an aerodynamically optimised re-design inspired by the P1, and suspension technology directly related to that on the P1. An overhauled version of McLaren’s already superb 3.8-litre twin-turbo petrol V8, mounted behind the cabin and driving the rear wheels, produces 650hp. It’s not shy.
0-62mph officially takes three seconds. It doesn’t matter how long you stare at the figure making thoughtful noises, nothing will adequately prepare you for what this actually feels like, strapped into the passenger seat, with one of McLaren’s tame racing drivers at the controls. I don’t think I’ve ever felt physically uncomfortable from the sheer force of straight-line acceleration in a car before. The 650S is an absolute monster.
Except monster isn’t quite the right word, because that makes it sound like a bad thing. The 650S is anything but bad. In fact, it’s utterly wonderful. Yes, it can go off like a detonating star when a professional is aiming to scare the bejesus out of you.
Once you’re behind the wheel what’s most remarkable is its user-friendliness. It will quite happily trundle, the steering assistance is perfectly judged, visibility is pretty decent and it’s genuinely comfortable over long distances. The seven-speed gearbox functions faultlessly as a full automatic when you can’t be bothered with the properly F1-style paddleshifters.
I’d need more space than I’ve got for this entire review to adequately explain how the suspension works, but all you really need to know is that there are two dials on the centre console that allow you to independently set the chassis and powertrain to Normal, Sport and Track modes.
As I blast up the Ronda road in Spain, on the way to the Ascari Race Resort, slower traffic disappears in a blur of V8 and whooshing turbo noises, while corners kneel to submit their defeat. Out on the circuit, the 650S builds your confidence quickly, like God’s own Lotus Elise – I’ve only a few laps to scratch the surface but I pull back into the pit lane knowing I’d better stop before a deep longing develops that I sadly cannot afford to fulfill.
OK, so the ride quality isn’t quite as supple as the 12C’s, some of the secondary controls remain fiddly and, like all supercars, getting in and out requires forethought, planning and possibly an assistant. As a package the 650S remains a sublime piece of work – the performance is ferocious yet owners can and do use their McLarens every day. Best of all, you can still buy one. Prices start at £195,000.
CJ Hubbard works for motoringresearch.com
MCLAREN 650S COUPE
0-62MPH: 3.0 secs
TOP SPEED: 207mph
CO2 G/KM: 275g/km
MPG COMBINED: 24.2mpg
DESIGN Four Stars
PERFORMANCE Five Stars
PRACTICALITY Two Stars
VALUE FOR MONEY Four Stars