McLaren 650S review, price and specs

The McLaren 650S is a quicker, more assertive looking development of the 12C. How much better is it?

What is it?

The McLaren 650S, the British supercar maker’s new model. Fundamentally it’s obviously a development of the McLaren 12C, and it has now usurped that car's production. Available in coupe and Spider variants, it's priced almost £20,000 higher than the 12C it replaces, costing from £195,250.

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Technical highlights?

With the 12C's 616bhp and 442lb ft outputs increased to 641bhp and 500lb ft, the claimed performance is mind-blowing: a 0-60 time of 2.9sec is impressive, but it’s the 0-100mph time which really sets out the McLaren’s stall – just 5.7sec, more than half a second quicker than the McLaren F1. The top speed is 207mph.

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Most of the extra straight line performance over a standard 12C (which hits 60mph in 3.1sec) comes from the reworked engine, which has new pistons, cylinder heads and exhaust valves and revised cam timing.

The new nose makes a real difference, giving the 650S a much more distinctive McLaren identity than the 12C and sprinkling the car with a bit of P1 kudos. Aerodynamically the new snout also increases downforce by 40 per cent, the car now generating 100kg at 150mph, but that almost seems like a bonus.

What’s it like to drive?

Heading through town and then onto the motorway with the adaptive powertrain and handling modes set to normal it’s really very like a 12C. The spring rates are up by 22 per cent at the front and 37 per cent at the rear, which inevitably has some effect on the ride quality but it’s nothing like as severe as you’d imagine. The smaller bumps seemed to be a bit more noticeable but over bigger undulations there is still that slightly loose-limbed waterbed sensation as it soaks everything up.

The calm only serves to make the storm all the more shocking of course. Pressing the ‘Active’ button so that it glows orange and switching the dials to ‘Sport’ or even ‘Track’ stiffens the 650’s sinews and slices its response times. The combination of the stiffer springs and the Corsa rubber means that you seem to get better initial reaction as you turn into a corner and then more confidence to lean on the front end. Until the tyres have got a bit of heat into them there is a bit of understeer to manage through the tighter corners and you can get the 650 to oversteer if you’re on the throttle with the boost building early enough, but by and large the car is simply stunningly fast and completely composed without an ounce of slip.

In the past this poise would occasionally have been disrupted by the braking, but not any more. The 650 comes as standard with carbon ceramic discs, but where there used to be a horrible dead feeling at the top of the pedal travel followed by an abrupt application of pad to disc, there is now superb feelsome progression.

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With an extra 58lb ft over a 12C, the 650S is brutal under full acceleration and what look like slim chances of overtaking opportunities turn out to be gaping great ones as you slot safely back in barely a third of the way to the next corner.

Pure performance has its own thrill, of that there is no doubt, but there’s some emotion still lacking in the 650S. I got to the end of several fast runs feeling in awe of and slightly giddy with the speed, but not elated and grinning at the driving experience. I think a big part of the problem is the sound. The turbocharged engine simply doesn’t make a noise that you crave. There’s supposedly a new cylinder cut on upshifts when you’re in Sport mode, but sadly I couldn’t really detect the added drama it was meant to add and although overall it’s not a bad sound being piped into the cabin, you won’t lie awake at night longing for the next time you hear it.

How does it compare?

The short briefing we had styled the McLaren 650S as a car that has better performance than a Ferrari 458 Speciale or Porsche 911 GT3 (neither was actually named, obviously) but without the rawness and compromises in habitability, usability and ride quality. Its 641bhp comfortably beats their respective 597bhp and 468bhp outputs, but we’d have to get them together to fully compare driving experiences. The 911 GT3 was our 2013 Car of the Year and the Speciale looks set to mount a serious challenge for 2014’s title, so the 650S won’t have it easy.

Anything else I need to know?

You can read our full road and track test of the McLaren 650S via the evo app, which is also free for the first 28 days you use it. Click here to download it on an Apple device, or click here if you’re an Android user. Alternatively, search for ‘evo Magazine’ via the app store or Google Play.

Specifications

EngineV8, 3799cc, twin-turbo
Max power641bhp @ 7500rpm
Max torque500lb ft at 6000rpm
0-602.9sec (claimed)
Top speed207mph (claimed)
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