McLaren 650 S – Review
By Liam Bird
“Have you driven one before?” asks the delightfully plummy PR lady as the glass elevator descends towards to the ominously entitled H block.
“No,” I reply before adding, slightly sheepishly: “But, I have driven this car’s predecessor, a couple of times.”
“Oh, in that case you’ll be fine,” she says. “Keep the key in your pocket, you’ll only need it to lock the doors – you won’t need it to start the engine, there’s a button to do that. Honestly it’s just like a normal car. Have fun.”
There’s nothing normal about being handed the keys to a McLaren 650S, although perhaps if you happen to work for McLaren and see one every day, they might become a bit more familiar. I guess the MTC – that’s McLaren Technology Centre to the likes of you and me – feels pretty normal too, if you’re used to it. I’ve been here once before, to pick up an MP4-12C, the car the 650 S supersedes. That was about two years ago. Nevertheless, 13-years after it was first opened this building still has the ability to astonish. Situated just outside Woking, but hidden from view, it looks it was built by a Bond villain or someone with a penchant for sci-fi. It really is out of this world.
You don’t so much as enter a 650S as fall into it. After sliding your hand along the car’s flanks and pressing a discreetly hidden button, the dihedral door rises, taking with it most of the sill. With your head bowed slightly in order to avoid said door/sill combo you aim your left leg in and under the steering column. Your bum and then your right leg follow with as much grace as you can muster. It’s perhaps not the most elegant of ingresses, but believe me it’s worth the effort.
Once inside you’re cupped in a seat that feels as if it was built specifically for you. More discreetly, hidden buttons allow millimetric adjustment, and the beautifully alcantara-wrapped steering wheel can be pulled in nice and close. Ahead of you sits the large round tacho with an inset digital speedo playing a very much supporting role. Ahead of that there’s a view that’s pure group C racer; the A pillars and front wings tops providing the perfect frame.
Press the little round button and after the initial whirring of the starter the 3.8 litre twin turbo mid mounted V8 shatters the morning silence as it fires on its first gulp of 98RON before settling into slightly angry, menacing sounding idle. You press another little button marked D to engage drive.
Gently squeeze the throttle, and what first becomes apparent is just how precise and well engineered everything feels. There’s zero slack in everything you touch. The steering is beautifully weighted, the ride a touch firm (as perhaps expected) but thanks to adaptive suspension it’s forgiving too; McLaren, maker of many an F1 champion, were never going to build boneshakers now were they?
It’s raining as I ease out in the morning traffic, so I decide to leave the rotary switches that control the engine management and suspension settings well alone – track can wait for a dry day. Nevertheless, despite the 650S’s immense power and torque outputs, even with everything set to Normal it doesn’t feel intimidating. Visibility all round is surprisingly good – a camera helps with reversing – and the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox does a fine job of short-shifting up and down as the morning commuters perform double takes when I join them at the traffic lights. Only the brake pedal gives cause for concern. At first, to me at least, it seems set way over to the left – or should I being using my left foot instead, like the racing drivers do? Further acclimatisation reveals the carbon discs are capable of making the Macca stop like its dropped anchor.
Those brakes need to be effective for good reason. To put things quite simply, the 650S is phenomenally quick: 0-124mph in 8.4 seconds quick; 0-60 takes three seconds dead. Slam your right foot into the carpet and I guarantee you’ll give up before the car does. It is quite simply astonishing.
As you hurtle towards the horizon every gear change is accompanied by a glorious thunderclap and an in-rush of air that’s being sucked in by the engine. Lift off for a corner and there’s sigh as the twin turbos spin down and vent any unwanted pressure. Under part-throttle, just for a split second, the engine delays ignition and unburnt fuel pops in the exhaust with a devilish crack before emitting spits of flame. It’s pure supercar theatre. In the Hindhead tunnel, with all the windows wound down, the symphony of swooshes and whooshes and pops and bangs that echoed off the walls sounded glorious. Forgive me for being aged ten again for a moment – it was brilliant!
Sadly though, all good things must come to an end. My budget does not, and probably never will, stretch to McLaren’s £195k starting price for the 650S. And neither I fear, could I afford to run one. By the time I’d blasted from Woking to Brighton and back via a lunch stop at Goodwood what started as a full tank of fuel was very nearly just a quarter of one.
“Well, how was that. Did you have fun?” asks the plummy PR upon my return to the MTC.
“Oh God yes,” I reply, as I indulgently blip the throttle one last time, try to gather my thoughts and very reluctantly hand back the 650S’s key. “It’s every bit as good as I hoped it would be”
I meant it too. I’ve a feeling I’ll remember my day with the 650S for a very long time.
McLaren 650 S
Engine: 3,799cc 8Cyl 32V twin-turbo petrol
Transmission: 7 speed SSG Auto, rear wheel drive.
Power: 650 bhp @ 7250pm
Torque: 500 lbft @ 6000 rpm
0-62MPH: 3.0 Sec
Max Speed: 207 mph
MPG: 24.1 combined