Review: McLaren 650S (2014)
Faster than the 12C at every increment. Simple to drive at normal speeds thanks to compact size. Comfort and refinement on all types of road.
High cost of some optional extra equipment. Track mode will be unnecessary for most owners.
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McLaren 650S (2014): At A Glance
The McLaren 650S is not a direct replacement for the British firm’s second supercar outing, the 12C. However, it’s easy to see why the 650S has eclipsed the 12C in every respect, particularly those relating to matters of the heart.
While the 12C was praised for its power, performance and poise, nobody was going to get passionate about the looks. That matters when it comes to supercars with a price tag of £195,250 that McLaren will relieve you of before you even venture into the options list.
Where the 12C was all about the technical fire power brought to bear by one of the world’s most successful Formula One constructors to its road car, the 650S acknowledges customers want something to please their eye as well as their inner geek. So, the 650S is around 25 per cent all new compared to the 12C, with much of the updates centred on the styling.
At the front, there are now swooping headlights that pay more than a passing nod to McLaren’s latest hypercar, the now completely sold out P1. The 650S look more aggressive, more hunkered down on the road and what you expect a blue blood supercar to look like. Where the 12C matched the Ferrari 458 Italia on paper, the 650S matches it in the metal, or carbon fibre that goes into much of the McLaren’s construction.
All of that carbon fibre is important because it makes the 650S light and strong so it can cope with the car’s 650PS, up from the 12C’s 625PS. There is also a boost to low- and mid-rev urge that makes the 650S not only quicker in every situation but also easier to drive, so it continues to fulfil its role as a supercar you can use every day.
The engine itself remains a twin-turbocharged 3.8-litre V8 petrol unit mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. However, McLaren has not left this alone either and the gear changes are now quicker than the 12C’s. There are also selectable Normal, Sport and Track modes that alter the gearbox’s reactions, as well as changing how the suspension and steering feel and react to the driver.
Altogether, these changes add up to a car with a top speed of 207mph that covers 0-62mph in 3.0 seconds. The McLaren 650S is searingly fast, but perhaps the longer lasting impression is of how usable its performance is and how well it copes with British roads in all of their hole-infested glory.
Throw in a cabin that is now more opulent, better equipped and comes with an improved touchscreen interface and you have a car that marries techno-wizardry with the passion missing from the 12C. While it’s unlikely to tempt anyone away from a 458 Italia, it could well persuade many Ferrari owners to add the McLaren to their stable.
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McLaren 650S (2014): What's It Like Inside?
The cabin of the 650S is little changed from the 12C at first glance, but look more closely and you’ll notice the differences. For starters, the 650S comes with Alcantara hide as standard for the seats and headlining. Not only is this a great looking finish, Alcantara weighs less than leather, which remains an option, to stay with the McLaren’s minimalist ethos.
In the simple dark grey finish of our test car, the 650S avoids being drab or feeling claustrophobic. It’s helped by the surprisingly large glass area that affords good forward and side vision and lends the cabin an airy feel.
The feeling of space is further enhanced by a dash that slopes away from the occupants, while the main instrument binnacle uses a large central rev counter and digital displays to keep vital information easily in the driver’s lie of sight. The centre console is another example of McLaren’s pared down approach, with the touchscreen infotainment display now easier and more intuitive to work.
We’re also very pleased McLaren has eschewed the current supercar trend towards loading as many buttons and functions on to the steering wheel. While this might help free up dash space on some of the 650S’ rivals, it can also make simple operations such as working the indicators a faff. In the 650S, the steering wheel does one thing, and does it brilliantly, which is allowing the driver to turn the front wheels.
The 650S also makes a very good job of providing plenty of head, leg and elbow room for its occupants sitting in the supportive seats, and there’s even plenty of storage within the cabin. With reasonable storage in the front boot compartment, the McLaren could even manage a trip to the supermarket.
Whatever journey you tackle, the 650S is well equipped with digital radio, Bluetooth and an excellent stereo system. There is also the option of the IRIS satellite navigation system that includes seven Meridian speakers for surround sound.
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What's the McLaren 650S (2014) like to drive?
There are two very distinct sides to the McLaren 650S’s driving manners. The first is the one you’d expect that is all about raw speed, acceleration as brutal as it is impressive and handling that leaves you gasping in admiration. The other side is one you are much less likely to expect in a full bore 200mph supercar and it’s one of civility.
Where a Ferrari 458 Italia or Lamborghini Huracan bark their intentions from the get-go, the McLaren is an altogether more subtle and cultured beast. Fire it up and there’s the unmistakable growl of a potent V8 engine audible from under the rear deck, but it’s not excessive or prone to waking up the neighbours at sunrise.
It means the 650S can set off without unwanted attention, which anyone using the car daily will appreciate. This is not to say the McLaren 650S cannot do drama when it wants. Choose the car in a brighter shade and it stands out in any crowd, while the Spider easily compares to the best and most expensive drop-tops in the world when it comes to looks and style.
Even so, the 650S prefers to let its driving do the talking than lots of electronically dialled in pops and bangs from the exhaust. There is a delightful snarl from the engine and exhaust when the car is in Normal mode, but if you want more aural involvement you only need select Sport or Track for the full wall of sound experience.
The 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 goes as well as it sounds and there is relentless surge from its 650PS output, which peaks at a giddy 7500rpm and the red line doesn’t touch till 8500rpm. There is also 678Nm of shove that crescendos at 6000rpm.
To put that in perspective, the 650S has more grunt than a Range Rover 5.0 Supercharged but in car that weighs 1100kg less. Now wonder the McLaren makes 0-62mph in 3.0 seconds seem so easy. Helping to make this kind of performance accessible and controllable is the much improved seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. It changes are now quicker and crisper in whatever driving mode you select.
In any driving situation, you can be sure the car will be in right gear and the perfect ratio is ready to follow on in an instant, or you can leave the 650S in automatic mode to take even more of the strain out of driving in hum-drum traffic. It’s also worth mentioning the beautiful paddle shift levers mounted behind the steering wheel that add yet another tactile layer to the McLaren driving experience.
The performance is all well and good, but a supercar needs to be able to deploy its power to be any good. This is where the McLaren 650S elevates itself into the top drawer of fast cars. Its suspension uses McLaren’s ProActive Chassis Control system, which is borrowed from the P1 hypercar.
On any road surface, the 650S rides more like a limousine than a supercar, evening out bumps and craters with sophisticated aplomb. Even switching to one of the more sporting settings does nothing to spoil the superb ride yet there is also less body lean for more even more tenacious cornering ability.
The suppleness of the suspension combined with performance that is as rapid or relaxed as you wish makes the 650S easily the most usable supercar out there. This is not to denigrate its abilities but rather a massive compliment as it means its driver can derive pleasure from every trip, whereas many supercars are nothing but a chore unless being driven flat out on the perfect road.
Find that perfect road, though, and the 650S is just as up to the task of delivering sensational pace and handling. It’s helped by the revised suspension of the 650S over the 12C, which does away with the older model’s tendency to run wide in corners. In its place is steering with oodles of feel, while the standard carbon ceramic brakes slow the 650S with more precision and force.
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