McLaren had quite a lead to follow when it launched the MP4-12C three years ago. The legendary McLaren F1 remains a benchmark to this day, and the SLR it built for Mercedes was no slouch, either.
The MP4-12C lived up to expectations by most accounts, with two arguable exceptions: the name and the styling. McLaren set about rectifying the former when it dropped the MP4 from the name, but the 12C is abstract at best and a misnomer at worst. Its styling, meanwhile, was finalized before Frank Stephenson came on board and lacks the visual flair of rivals like the Ferrari 458 Italia and Lamborghini Gallardo/Huracan.
The new 650S goes a long way towards rectifying both those shortcomings. Its alphanumeric nameplate may not be as evocative as other supercar handles, but with the 650 representing its metric output and an S for Sport, makes a lot more sense. Its exterior styling, meanwhile, is not just an improvement – it actually stands to inspire kids to pin pictures to their bedroom wall. Penned by the same talent behind the Ferrari F430 and Maserati MC12, it adopts the nose of the P1 and the tail of the 12C GT3 to dramatic effect.
McLaren has also upped the power and refined the aerodynamics, but since its launch less than a month ago, we suspected there was more to the 650S than just a list of upgrades. We headed to southern Spain to find out first hand.
The 650S is built around the same carbon MonoCell as the 12C and P1, powered by the same 3.8-liter twin-turbo V8 and mated to the same seven-speed DCT. But in the 650S, the engine produces 641 horsepower and 500 lb-ft of torque, which makes it 49 hp more potent than the initial MP4-12C, 25 hp more than the current 12C and just 86 hp less than the version in the P1 (sans hybrid boost). That’s enough to send the 650S coupe to 60 in 2.9 seconds, to 124 in 8.4 and across the quarter-mile in just 10.5, en route to a top speed of 207 mph.
Those figures are for the coupe, but while a good year separated the launch of the 12C coupe and Spider, the 650S is being offered right from the start in either form. In return for the joy of open-air motoring – and thanks to the inherent rigidity of the carbon-fiber chassis – the Spider extracts only a slight performance penalty. Eighty-eight pounds heavier than the coupe, the Spider takes the same 2.9 seconds to hit 60, two tenths more to hit 124 mph, one tenth more to cover the quarter-mile and tops out just three miles slower at 204 mph.
In either form, those are figures you’d expect of a hypercar costing twice as much, if not more. But while the 650S is hardly what we’d call “affordable”, it’s a relative bargain. US pricing starts at $265,500 for the coupe and $280,225 for the Spider, which makes the 650S not only lighter and more powerful than the Ferrari 458 Speciale, but also less expensive.
McLaren expects that, as with the 12C, a solid 80% of buyers in North America will go for the Spider. And little wonder, because what the convertible sacrifices in stats and price, it more than makes up for in experience. It gets a power rear window to reduce buffeting with the roof down, but can also be retracted with the roof up to let the engine note into an otherwise quiet cabin. Although McLaren’s V8 lacks the guttural roar of other Brits like the Aston Martin V8 Vantage or Jaguar F-Type R, the sound of the turbos spooling up adds extra aural drama.
Thanks to Noah Joseph and autoguide.com for the news!