T H I S  I S  N O T A  S U P E R C A R

When McLaren Automotive originally launched the MP4-12C back in 2011, we were quite happy to allow it a grace period. To all intents and purposes this was a brand new company taking on the established players in the supercar industry. It was inevitable there would be a period of refinement and improvement at Woking, a number of years during which design and manufacturing practices would be moulded into shape. It was the exact same process Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini and the others had been through many decades earlier. And on the strength of the MP4-12C’s replacement, the 650S – and more recently the sensational 675LT – McLaren is now up to speed. 

This 570S is the first model in McLaren’s new Sports Series range, which will eventually grow into a broad and expansive lineup. The Sports Series is tasked with more than doubling McLaren’s road car output, which means it’s pivotal to the McLaren Automotive business plan. For that very reason, Woking has to get the 570S right from day one. There can be no grace period this time.

The new model uses a revised version of the carbonfibre monocoque that also forms the basis of every other McLaren, right up to the £1.98m Ultimate Series P1 GTR. Called MonoCell II, the tub has been lightened by five kilograms to 75kg and the sills have been lowered by 80mm to improve access into the cabin. The 570S also shares its 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 with the rest of the McLaren lineup, although compared with the Super Series 650S some 30 per cent of parts are different, mostly relating to the cylinder head.

The fundamentals of the 570S’s technical specification are very familiar, then, but there is one crucial difference. Whereas all modern McLaren models until now have used an interconnected hydraulic suspension system called ProActive Chassis Control, this latest addition to the range instead uses a more conventional anti-roll bar setup (but still with double wishbones all-round). According to head of vehicle engineering Darren Goddard, that decision was taken ‘as part of the differentiation from Super Series’.

‘The whole dynamics brief for this car,’ he continues, ‘was around making it more engaging at lower speeds. So it’s not all about lots of downforce on the track; it’s not all about how fast a lap time can be. It’s about making the car more useable and more fun. So we still have independently adaptive dampers, [but] we decided to move away from ProActive Chassis Control.’

With 562bhp and a claimed 204mph top speed, the 570S easily satisfies our definition of a supercar, but McLaren chooses to refer to it as a sports car. At £143,250, it’s much cheaper than the previous entry point to the brand, the 650S. In fact, it undercuts that model by more than £50,000, which opens up McLaren to a whole new audience. 

Consequently, the Sports Series’ sales potential is, in relative terms, enormous. McLaren shifted 1649 units last year between the Super and Ultimate series lines, but once Sports Series production is up to full speed the factory hopes to sell 4300 units per year. 

That all sounds very promising, but, by entering into the sports car market, McLaren does take on some very capable models from some very experienced manufacturers. The 570S is pitched squarely at the likes of the Porsche 911 Turbo S, Audi R8 V10 Plus and Aston Martin V12 Vantage S, while similarly powerful alternatives from Mercedes and Jaguar – namely the AMG GT S and F-type R Coupe – are significantly more affordable. So while the 570S arrives on the sports car scene with a mouth-watering technical specification and the most exclusive badge in the class, in tackling this sheer breadth of competition, McLaren is venturing on new ground. 

The V8 engine – dry-sumped and with a flat-plane crank – delivers peak power at 7500rpm, while its 443lb ft of torque arrives at 5000rpm. We’re used to turbocharged engines serving up peak torque from just over idle these days, but the M838T has always been a high-revving, power-oriented unit. The red line is set at 8500rpm, which is far beyond the reach of the 911 Turbo S’s flat-six and just 500rpm shy of the R8’s normally aspirated V10 at full speed. 

Driving the rear wheels through a twin-clutch, seven-speed gearbox, the 570S clocks a 3.2sec 0-62mph dash and registers 124mph in 9.5sec, according to McLaren. The four-wheel-drive 911 Turbo S edges it to 62mph by a tenth, but by 124mph the McLaren is close to a second ahead.

Unlike the Porsche, the 570S bucks the current trend for active aerodynamics, although the front bumper and bonnet have been shaped to direct cooling air to where it’s needed most and to reduce turbulence over the rest of the bodywork. The flying buttresses, meanwhile, encourage airflow to the fixed rear wing to improve downforce. 

What this car really has on its side, though, is lightness. That carbonfibre tub, plus the use of aluminium body panels, contributes to a dry weight of just 1313kg. With fluids, the 570S will undercut the R8 V10 Plus by around 150kg and the 911 Turbo S by approximately 200kg. 

With less power and a more affordable price tag than the 650S, it’s tempting to label the 570S the ‘small McLaren’, but it’s actually fractionally longer, wider and taller than the Super Series model. Being a daily sports car rather than an occasional-use supercar, which is how McLaren defines the Sports and Super Series respectively, practicality is much higher up the 570S’s agenda. It therefore offers more cabin and stowage space than the 650S.  

To that same end, the 570S has been engineered to be less taxing to drive around town, which goes some way to explaining the extraordinary ride quality. At both low and motorway speeds the chassis, when left in Normal mode, is much more settled than you might expect of a car with this level of dynamic ability. Similarly, the gearbox is well mannered in automatic mode, the engine is muted around town and visibility is very good both forward and back. Despite the lowered sills, the cabin is still a little tricky to access, but, that aside, this car would be just as amenable in daily use as any of its rivals. 

The cabin itself, which can be specified in either Sport or Luxury trim, feels very tightly screwed together and the materials are of a high quality, although during our drive the satnav will confuse itself more often than it should (the car we’re driving is a pre-production model so we’ll defer judgement on the finer quality-control details for the time being). The optional sports seats (£4910) deserve a brief mention because they are not only supportive and perfectly located, they are also very comfortable over a long journey, which is all too rarely the case with fixed-back bucket seats. 

We fly into Portugal for the launch, but evidently we’ve brought the British weather with us. Frustrating though it is, the conditions do at least highlight the 570S’s useability in adverse weather. The four-wheel-drive-equipped 911 Turbo S and R8 V10 Plus would certainly leave the McLaren in their spray in the sodden mountain roads that make up the launch route on the first day, but aside from slightly remote steering the 570S does feel sure-footed and secure. 

Thankfully, the second day of the launch dawns bright and clear. Across those same mountain roads, with the chassis switched into its Sport setting, that relaxed ride quality translates to fine pliancy and fluid bump-absorption over the more uneven sections of tarmac. Rather than skipping around and getting tied in knots by a rough and lumpen road, the 570S is serene and unflustered.

As an indicator of this car’s breadth of ability, however, its body is always very tautly controlled. It doesn’t lean heavily in corners, go light and floaty over crests or heave lazily in direction changes. That control, combined with its pliancy over bumps, gives you the immediate confidence to fling the 570S down an inviting stretch of road without fearing that it may bite or become wayward at any minute. 

The steering, which is light on feedback in wet conditions, comes into its own on a dry surface. While it would be unfair to say it patters and tugs deliciously in the manner of a pre-2011 Porsche 911, for instance, it is direct and crisp with a very natural weight and rate of response. With the chassis loaded mid-corner, the hydraulically assisted rack begins to stream back messages through the rim of the steering wheel. 

So the 570S steers intuitively, it rides the bumps well and it controls its mass very effectively. On the way into a corner the front axle finds tremendous turn-in bite, too, which gives a sense of immediacy and agility that the 911 Turbo S and R8 V10 Plus don’t quite deliver. Mid-corner grip is very strong as well, as is traction away from the bend.

In keeping with its dynamic brief – to be more engaging at lower speeds and less critical in its transition into slip – the 570S is precisely throttle-adjustable at corner exit, which allows you to enjoy the sweet balance of the rear-wheel-drive chassis. It’s one of the car’s biggest dynamic advantages over its four-wheel-drive rivals as well as, it must be said, the less expressive 650S. 

McLaren still chooses to work without a limited-slip differential, preferring the better turn-in characteristics of an open diff. The rear brakes are activated under power to mimic the effects of a locking differential, though, and given the progressive adjustability of the rear axle under power, it’s difficult to argue against McLaren’s logic. 

That window of on-throttle adjustability is best appreciated in the electronic stability control’s Dynamic setting, which allows a degree of slip before cutting in. Actually, the system remains dormant until a fairly exaggerated yaw angle is achieved on the road, which means you do still have to be right on your game. 

The standard-fit carbon ceramic brakes – with 394mm discs and six-piston calipers across the front axle – return very forceful retardation, though the brake pedal itself remains defiantly lifeless until you apply full pressure. 

That 562bhp has a very predictable effect on 1400kg of McLaren: this is a very fast car. What the 570S never quite manages to deliver, though, is that breathtaking hit of a 650S. It also doesn’t quite match the industrial slingshot effect of the much torquier 911 Turbo S, but few things do. The 8500rpm red line gives the engine a crescendo that we don’t normally anticipate from turbocharged cars, which seems like reasonable payback for the slightly dull throttle response below 3500rpm. That’s only really an issue when exiting very tight corners – it’s frustrating to feel that lag when you want to balance the car under power at corner exit – because from halfway around the rev-counter onwards, throttle response is very sharp. Fitted with the optional sports exhaust (£3180), the test car does sound pretty potent from the outside, but from within the cabin the note is rather uninspiring. 

The familiar Seamless Shift Gearbox, meanwhile, may not be the leader of the pack for outright shift-times these days, but it’d be a tough taskmaster who demands more response and immediacy between the ratios.  

Unfortunately, by the time we reach Portimão circuit, the previous day’s miserable weather has returned in anger. On the few vaguely grippy sections of track, though, it becomes clear that there’s a fun and playful chassis underpinning this car, while the steering – a touch wooden in the wet at road speeds – does serve up more feel with the greater chassis loadings that are part and parcel of circuit driving. 

McLaren has been criticised in the past, not least by this magazine, for building spectacularly fast cars that reduce the part of the driver to a minor role. The 570S addresses those criticisms in emphatic style; it’s truly a fun and engaging sports car with a rewarding chassis and an effective powertrain. It remains to be seen if McLaren has built a car that can outpoint its rivals from Porsche, Audi and the rest, but what is abundantly clear is that the 570S is fit to stand toe-to-toe with the world’s best sports cars from day one.

by DAN PROSSER

According to McLaren the 570S its new ‘entry level’ model is a sports car, not a supercar. It’s also more ‘useable’. What’s going on?

‘The steering, light on feedback on wet roads, comes into its own on a dry surface’

Novitec Rosso  McLaren 570s