2019 McLaren 570S
As the driven snow
The odds are long but that doesn’t change the fact that it happened. Smiling already (because if sliding aboard a McLaren like a modern, road-legal Group C racer doesn’t make you smile, it’s probably time to give up), I slide under the 570’s featherlight door, into its near-perfect cockpit (into the fabulous little pocket on the front of the seat goes my phone – iPhone storage, Colin Chapman-style) and go to leave the layby also occupied by a brand new 911 and an R8 – only to have to pause for a flying fireball-orange Lexus RC F (that’s the £61k, 470bhp V8 coupe that’s not the very pretty one, should you not speak fluent Lexus).
We’re clearly headed the same way, and for the same stretch of testing, undulating rural B-road. Through the 40mph limit he’s bang-on; love that. And when it’s done, he doesn’t hesitate – down through gears, rear squats and… bang, his big V8 gets busy bending the physics. The McLaren, still in fifth, bogs so badly when I jump on the throttle pedal I fear it might be broken; the same unsettling lack of any drive whatsoever that Toyota’s Le Mans drivers are having years of counselling to get over. The Lexus steals a lead. The McLaren, perhaps bewildered by my very un-McLaren lack of intelligence or precision, patiently waits for me to click down to something like the right gear. What happens next is a graphic demonstration of the difference between a fast car and a supercar; between one conceived to be a car first and fast second, and one engineered from the tyres up to be a fast car.
With the best part of 500bhp, the Lexus is quick: 0-62mph in 4.5sec and 168mph where conditions permit. But the McLaren (ahem, driven properly…) reels in the RC like an F1 frontrunner lapping a Williams – with 562bhp pushing just 1452kg (to the RC F’s 1765kg…), the space and time between the two cars simply collapses before my eyes.
But it’s what happens next that’s really interesting. We both know the road, and he’s trying, but as contests go it’s about as fair as a Sopwith Camel fending off an X-Wing. Held back by an excess of mass, a lack of feedback and the truth that, unfortunately, he’s sitting in the wrong part of the car – way too high, and behind his engine rather than ahead of it – he must brake for every curve and feed the machine in, managing the change of direction with the kid gloves of a bomb diffuser. By contrast, I feel superhuman. I can change direction or gain and lose speed in a heartbeat, and with such bewildering accuracy and confidence that I would never, ever get bored in this thing. (Though I’m already bored of the optional sports exhaust’s blare: don’t do it.) In the 570S you’re hard-wired in, and it’s the combination of outlandish performance with absolutely no slack, doubt or confusion to dull your speed that re-writes the rules of the game in your favour. In the McLaren, fast is not something you persuade or cajole the car to do. Fast is what it exists to do.
And so that lead vanishes to nothing, and still I’ve so much in reserve I doubt my resting heat rate has lifted much above its slovenly office-worker norm. When, bowed but content, he flashes his hazards in salute and I turn off, I haven’t the heart to admit we weren’t really trying. And in this, more exalted company? The principle still holds. You sit low – really low – in the 911, but swapping from the McLaren back into the Porsche still feels like getting into a normal car. The Porsche’s steering, while nicely meaty, accurate and blessed with no little feedback, can’t live with the McLaren’s standout connection between brain and bitumen. In the dry, it’s a sensory delight. In the wet (or on a dry circuit, where you can really commit), studiously edging up to the front tyres’ limits, you sometimes check the apparent madness of your actions, only to realise that so clearly is the McLaren communicating what its front axle can and cannot do in that precise moment that there’s nothing remotely foolhardy about your actions.
But the first autumn leaves of age are creeping in the 570S’s very special foliage. Much has been written of the 3.8-litre V8’s dearth of charisma, not to mention its lagginess, but the truth is that it has a character all its own, a machine-like relentlessness and pulse-pausing top-end rush. It won’t charm your ears or your happy gland like the Audi’s V10, but it is punishingly fast. No, it’s the transmission’s lack of immediacy and silk next to the 911’s eight-speed PDK that really stands out. Then there’s the interior, which is either a stark place of work with slightly dated screen graphics – the truth, probably – or a casualty of the strides the 911’s cockpit has made with this new 992-generation car.
And the R8? With its intoxicating engine, the Audi lands a ferocious blow on the only real chink in the 570’s otherwise near-unbreachable armour. Ordinary folk, either from the pavement or the passenger seat, will vote Audi on the strength of its 5.2-litre V10 alone. But they won’t know the truth: that out where it matters, the more nimble, tactile and agile McLaren always comes out on top.
Fast is not something you persuade the McLaren to do. Fast is what it exists to do.
Diffuser like a meat tenderiser? That’ll be the McLaren
PRE-FLIGHT BRIEFING McLAREN 570S
Why is it here?
The 911 might have rear seats but it’s a sports car above all else – and McLaren’s established itself as a maker of outstanding sports cars. It’s £149k (before options) to the Porsche’s £93k but McLaren doesn’t sell boatloads of SUVs to pay the bills…
Any clever stuff?
Refreshingly, no. No lane-keep assist, no blindspot monitoring, no HUD, no adaptive cruise. Instead you get a composite chassis so rigid you’ll pass out long before you get it to flex.
Suspension (double wishbone front and rear – proper) is pretty conventional bar the adaptive dampers. Which version is this? McLaren makes a couple of Sports Series, of which this (track-ready 600LT aside) is most serious. The (soon discontinued) 570GT is more cosseting, the Spider’s a spider and the 540C less fast but a useful £14k cheaper. All options on our test car are cosmetic. (Or aural: £4750 sports exhaust.)