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McLaren 570S on track

McLAREN MASTERWORKS

Serial World Formula 1 Champions McLaren had a couple of false starts with now legendary road cars, but today they are genuine pedigree road car creators, selling over 1,600 in 2015. Jeremy Walton drives a more affordable example of the Woking breed.

McLaren have currently proven they can provide millionaires and flagship Porsche and Audi customers with credible super and sports cars; but they learned the hard way that it takes a lot more than rarity and blistering performance to become serious players in the premier league of global road car creators.

Back in 1969 McLaren constructed an M6GT road car based on their Chevrolet V8 CanAm dominators, but just three more were made by Trojan.

By 1988 innovative Grand Prix designer Gordon Murray and part McLaren owner/Team Principal Ron Dennis started to work through a return to public roads with a benchmark performer.

The result was the unique 3-seater F1 powered by BMW’s bulky but massively muscular V12. Independently tested to beyond 230 mph, it was handmade in England from 1993-98.

The ‘Big Mac’ is a legend for the multi-million pound prices it commands at Classic Car auctions in the 21st century, especially for examples like the famously crashed Rowan Atkinson F1. Yet just 64 were road legal and many of them were converted, or purpose-built, for racing, so it was never going to be commercially profitable.

Fast-forward to 2009 and the appearance of the 616 bhp 12C, first of the current breed. In a manufacturing run from 2009 to 2014 M12C featured some now familiar McLaren signature basics: dihedral doors, carbon-fibre chassis, turbocharged V8 and active aerodynamics.

Today McLaren offer three primary series from £128,000 in the UK for the Sports Series (570S, 570GT and range starter 540C), via Super Series (675, 675LT, 675 Spider) in the £200,000 belt.

Plus the practically unobtainable P1 and P1 GTR Ultimate – beyond a million Sterling. The P1 road legal car sold out of a limited production run – rapidly. A P1 GTR race cousin could not be bought without first owning a P1!

There are various counterpart racing-only variants on the road car range and, as you’d expect, McLaren offer a personalisation service for those who want to dictate cosmetic items beyond the production specs.

There is also a Legacy line catering to maintain or renovate obsolete McLarens from 12C to F1 and the ultra-rare M6GT.

Our reporter had dealt with McLaren back in the 1990s BMW-powered F1 road car and racing cooperation era, but had never driven any of the current range.

Then McLaren Automotive brought demonstrators virtually to his doorstep, not far from Castle Combe race circuit in UK West Country.

A briefing session taught him that the Sports Series designation refer to the horsepower in German PS horsepower ratings, thus the 540 with a C (for Coupé) suffix is the basic model.

The fact that McLaren expect to almost double sales to 3000 in 2016 is because of this model and a global dealership network of around 80.

McLaren do offer a PCP UK finance package, which makes the 540C a lower cost option than a comparable Audi R8. The deal features a £35,000 deposit and £1000 monthly payments over 36 months and the usual option to buy or return at the end.

I took the driver-focussed 570S, which normally starts at £144,405, but ‘ours’ had a beautifully crafted leather interior and would have exceeded a £150,000 benchmark.

Whilst we are airily talking of such sums for a motorcar with the usual issue of four wheels and a steering device, I should bring a touch of reality. I have never spent more than £11,400 on a vehicle, so I am aware we are discussing stratospheric sums.

When I refer to McLaren value it is against McLaren’s Aston DB, Audi R8, Porsche 911 turbo and Ferrari low-end opposition, not our everyday definition of vehicle values.

The demo 570S was right-hand drive finished a standard factory silver with beautifully crafted and finished carbon panels as contrasts across the initially heavy lifting dihedral doors.

The strictly 2-seat cabin is neatly presented, albeit the central gearbox D-N-R pushbuttons look clumsy.

McLaren promise they have not stuck in mass manufactured instruments, control stalks and the like as typically feature in Lotus machinery or German prestige marques, where the parent is Volkswagen.

McLaren continue that exclusive promise in that the 7-speed twin clutch gearbox and 3.8 litre twin turbo V8 of 570 PS/563 bhp are their own designs (motor manufactured by Ricardo).

Also unique are the carbon ‘tub’ and exterior lines penned with just the right blend of individuality and futuristic style by in-house chief designer, Rob Melville.

Although sheer driving appeal is the true everyday or track attraction, we better get the astonishing performance statistics out of the way before the 0-60 obsessives get agitated.

The dry weight is 1313 kg and that coupled to near supernatural adhesion from Pirelli PZero 285/35x20 rear rubber promises 0-60 in 3.1 seconds, the 100 mph marker in 6.3 secs (similar to the legendary Jag E-type’s 0-60 mph…).

More impressive still is the ability to hit 200-kph/124 mph in less than 10 seconds and to flit a few mph beyond 200 mph. All this is delivered at a rated 26.6 mpg; again weight and turbocharging characteristics are significant.

Yes, all very fine, but can any road car with track ability really satisfy the owner that their money has been well spent?

McLaren certainly come close with their 3-way adjustments of ride quality and drive train hardware to suit public roads, sportier use or outright track demonisation.

On rumpled British tarmac I found the ride outstanding at anything over 30 mph and better than most in town use. Forward vision is outstanding; but with rear three-quarter in the van classes a parking rear vision camera is supplied and required.

The steering and handling are outstanding, even by my everyday Lotus standards. There is a charming blend of civilisation and knee-trembling acceleration that never fades away when deployed in countries with legal (high) speed limits.

The ‘rat-at-tat’ paddle shift gear change is superfast and avoids the jerks of many performance saloons seeking brutal acceleration stats, unless you push the dinky launch control button.

At town speeds the shift quality in the auto mode can be less convincing, but it is perfectly useable, just hanging onto gears hesitantly on light throttle openings, unless you can be bothered to shift your own urban gears on the paddles.

Overall, a very convincing product, the result of McLaren learning fast and staying focussed on what customers seek in these lower elite categories.

I don’t have supercar lusts (generically too wide, poor rear vision); but if I was buying in this category I think McLaren’s Super Series deserves serious consideration.

Probably the best developed all-round performance car I have driven in 48 years twiddling. Remarkable!

Jeremy Walton