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The Top Gear car review:McLaren 650S
For:Astonishing go, great handling on track or bumpy roads, comfort
Against:Sorry, but to us that P1-style nose looks like a quick-fix facelift
3.8 2dr Auto
What we say:
The unexpected successor to the short-lived 12C. The 650S is the car it should have been all along
What is it?
Not quite what it was supposed to be. McLaren posited it was a faster, more dramatic-looking and focused sister to the 12C. But 12C sales promptly collapsed, so it became the replacement. The V8 has new heads, pistons and cams plus bigger rads and a new exhaust. That means 650bhp and a socking 500lb ft of torque.
The car has P1-type styling, a surprisingly modified chassis, carbon-ceramic brakes as standard, and carbon fibre doors. The amazingly supple ride of the 12C has been sacrificed slightly, as has the 12C’s subtle visual elegance, but it proves buyers wanted a harder feel and more dramatic looks. The 650S certainly delivers on all those scores
Choose a middle gear, settle into middle revs, and prepare to be flabbergasted. Floor the throttle and the McLaren’s newfound surge is stupefying, a mountain of mid-range turbo’d torque that blends into a cascade of glass-sharp power searing towards 8500rpm. This is performance at a level well beyond any V8 Ferrari or V10 Lambo. And McLaren’s engine now lacks little in progressive throttle response or aggressive sounds.
But impressive as it is, the engine isn’t the best bit. The chassis is. The steering reveals more feel than ever, and the roll-control system is responsible for stunning responsiveness and balance through slow corners or fast. You can tune various powertrain and chassis parameters via dash knobs, and they usefully alter the car’s character to suit the road (or track). Bumps and corrugations don’t slow you down. The stability control and brake-steer setups have a steely resolution to clamp the car rigidly to the path you’ve steered.
Switch to the Track mode and body control is even tighter, and the tail swishes around under power, even (a little) under lift. It’s the thing only the greatest supercars can do: working with you, dancing around the edges of grip.
On the inside
McLaren’s cars have remarkably good visibility and habitability. When you’re not pasting it, a motorway- or town-bound 650S is more stable and comfy than practically any sporting car. For all its pace and prowess, it’s an everyday supercar as well. There’s a successful and comprehensive new comms, nav and entertainment system for the 650S too.
McLaren’s early quality woes are well known, but the company was open about fixing them, and has a great record of fitting free upgrades to existing cars. Keeping owners happy is vital to market confidence. Economy of the 650S isn’t bad if you don’t use the performance… oh heck, this is a supercar: face it, the whole experience is punishingly expensive, right?