The McLaren 650S is challenging its Italian rivals in the supercar category
When a car enthusiast brings up the subject of limited production, high performance sports cars, Ferrari has to be part of the mix, with Lamborghini usually in a close second place. Ferrari has worked hard to maintain its leadership, winning major races around the world, selling branded apparel, and even operating theme parks. The company has also kept its production just a bit under demand to maintain good margins for the company and dealers as well as resale value for Ferrari owners.
This strategy has served Ferrari well, fending off longtime rivals like Lamborghini and Aston Martin who’ve done their best to replicate the leader’s tactics. Ferrari’s competitors must feel a lot like Cadillac or Lincoln trying to catch up with Mercedes-Benz or BMW.
McLaren, a British company steeped in racing, had produced just one road legal sports car under its own label, the F1 supercar, a three-seater that held the production world speed record of 242.97MPH until the Bugatti Veyron edged past it. McLaren also collaborated with Mercedes-Benz in racing and street endeavors, building its reputation with enthusiasts then launching its own production sports cars and dealerships in 2011.
McLaren Automotive’s first offering was the MP4-12C, mercifully shortened to 12C, which used the contemporary racing tradition of a mid-engine layout in a carbon fiber tub chassis and aluminum sub frame. When I tested the car in 2012, I was smitten by its lightning quick reflexes, great curb appeal, and sonic amusement from its finely tuned exhaust system. And I couldn’t help but notice Ferrari fans admiring the new rival.
Loose Weight, Add Power
All cars in what’s known as the supercar category are fast, with engines producing more than 500 HP and 0-to-60 sprints hovering around 3 seconds. But McLaren decided it needed a bit of an edge, so the new 650S in roadster trim tilts the scales at just 3,020 pounds, that’s 13 pounds lighter than its 12C predecessor and a 364-pound advantage over Ferrari’s 458 Italia convertible. The 650S has a bit longer wheelbase and bit shorter overall length, other measurements that help its performance advantage.
Under a small hood, just behind the passenger bay, McLaren spent some time tweaking its twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V8. The results brought the power up to 642HP and 500-pound-feet of torque, to easily dominate the class. And along with more power, fuel economy nudged up to a class leading 18MPG combined, creating a combination of specifications that savvy buyers look for when spending more than a quarter million dollars.
Driving the 650S is just the sort of hoot you might imagine it would be. The excitement begins when you press the start button, an act not unlike lighting a fuse. The high-strung engine awakes with a loud bark, settling into a growl that would keep grizzly bears at bay. The standard array of buttons and switches that compete for space on most steering wheels are absent, along with a cup holder in the console under the dash. You’ll be too busy having fun with hands around perfect grips to consider sipping a latté.
But that’s not to suggest operating a McLaren 650S is a chore or that its place is only on a track. Far from it, the top disappears at a touch of a button, the interactive display is a breeze to use, and the leather seats are supportive and comfortable. And our test car had a wonderful Meridian sound system, although I spent more time being serenaded by the melodic exhaust. BRIAN DOUGLAS
2015 McLaren 650 S Spider
ENGINE: 3.8-liter Twin Turbo V8
HORSEPOWER: 641 @ 7,250-rpm
TORQUE: 500 lb.-ft. @ 6,000-rpm
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 16-city/22-highway/18-combined
BASE PRICE: $280,225
AS TESTED: $331,175
Photography courtesy of McLaren