The McLaren story is about to enter a new chapter. Just five years after being created, McLaren Automotive is venturing into the sportscar market for the first time to open up the brand to a new breed of customer.
The McLaren badge and the status that comes with it is now available to people who don’t necessarily have the depth of pockets demanded previously to experience the best of British automotive engineering.
The man from McLaren winced a little when I suggested that their new 570S sports coupe was accessible to many more prospective owners. “I’d prefer to say a McLaren is now ‘attainable,” he suggested.
He wasn’t being pedantic – the new 570S may be the most affordable in the current McLaren range but with a starting price of £143,250 it’s still going to make a dent in your bank balance.
It’s the first model to appear in the company’s new Sports Series which aims to bring their renowned Grand Prix race-derived technology and design expertise within reach of a wider market.
They’re confident of its appeal which is expected to lead to a doubling of output of the hand-built cars at their base at Woking in the south of England. There a team of 370 technicians turn out 14 cars a day. It takes 188 man hours – about 11 days – to build a 570S. To put that in perspective a Ford Focus emerges in less than 20 hours.
There’s no apparent shortage of demand for the new car. The first 200, which will be delivered before the end of the year, were ordered as soon as it made its debut at the New York Auto Show in April and before any of the buyers – or anyone outside McLaren – had even driven it.
Their confidence was well founded. I was the only Scottish motoring writer to get behind the wheel of some pre- production models at the international launch in Portugal last weekend and I’ve still got a smile on my face from the experience.
The car is stunning with electrifying performance from the 3.8 litre V8 but unlike its even gutsier bigger brothers is tailored to everyday usability. Quite simply, it’s a pedigree performance car which will return sporting satisfaction by the bucketload but also one you can live with for day-to-day motoring.
What makes the car special is a combination of aerodynamics and lightweight construction. Using aluminium and carbon fire body panels around a monocell cockpit ‘tub’ the car weighs only 1313kg making it almost 150kg lighter than its closest competitor, the Audi R8.
Rather than focusing on creating downforce, the dynamic styling uses the air passing over and under it to provide balance, superb handling and agility. Strong crease lines along the bonnet force air over the doors and into the side air intakes to help cool the high temperature radiators – a principle used in Formula 1.
Every McLaren road car since the iconic F1 from the 1990s has had distinctive lifting dihedral doors and on the 570S they feature a floating tendon which channels air to the intake. Even the door mirror arms have been designed to contribute to cooling efficiency.
The car looks amazing and even in a more subtle silver grey paint job rather than the Mantis Green or Venture Orange alternatives from the range of 17 colours, it’s a headturner. I even got a round of applause from a group of relaxing cyclists as they looked up on hearing the rasp from the massive exhausts as I rounded a bend.
It’s a superbly balanced piece of kit which happily purrs along at a leisurely pace or at a touch of the go-faster pedal bursts into life with all its horses springing into action. Unlike the others in the McLaren stable, which are more track-orientated, the 570S is very much a road car – but one of the liveliest you’ll find.
The transmission uses a seven-speed twin-clutch system with ‘normal’, ‘sport’ and ‘track’ modes with razor-sharp quick shifts and there are similar settings for variations of power. It’s got the classic mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive supercar configurations but set up for the sportscar market with one of the most powerful engines in any road car.
The engineers have done a stunning job in making this a usable everyday sports car while keeping many of the elements of the super cars of its heritage. Even the tyres which have been developed jointly with Pirelli were deliberately made narrower to give less grip and return a more exhilarating drive.
One of the most dramatic features is the LED lighting. At the front they carry the McLaren ‘speed mark’ logo and at the back they incorporate the turn signal while following the trailing edge of the body panels to give the impression that they’re floating.
It’s got a simple uncluttered dash with the now essential cupholders and the option of three onboard cameras at front and rear and forward facing in the roof between the seats. Footage can be recorded on one of three USB ports. A £3400 option is a high- quality Bowers and Wilkins 12-speaker audio system. Talking of options, the full pack of carbon fibre exterior trim including side skirts, diffuser and aero blades will set you back more than £13,000 ... but it does look good.
The car has undergone more than 1.5 million kilometres of testing from the Arctic Circle to the Mojave Desert in the States in temperatures ranging from -30 degs to +50 and is bound to take the luxury sportscar market with the likes of Porsche and Aston Martin by storm.
Next year McLaren confidently expect to sell 1600 570s and the £20,000 cheaper and less sophisticated 540 and they’ll even be available on a PPP finance plan. A base model 570S demands a deposit of £27,500 and £995 a month over three years for 30,000 miles.
It’s aimed at a completely new type of buyer entering a McLaren for the first time. That’s why on the sun visors for the very first time, there’s not just one but two vanity mirrors. The traditionalists will be apoplectic.