The McLaren F1 hypercar will remain etched in the mind for decades to come as one of the fastest production cars to have ever graced the road.
The brainchild of Gordon Murray, Peter Stevens and Ron Dennis, the vehicle represented a great departure in the industry. Not only was it the fastest production car at the time with a 372km/h top speed, but it was also the first vehicle to use a carbon monocoque chassis and had seating for three, including the driver.
It is also said to have offered excellent visibility of the road ahead, thanks to the large front windscreen. While the F1 was put out to pasture in 1998, it was of interest to learn that it has a great deal in common with the 650S Spider we recently tested. For starters, it has a carbon chassis monocoque, offers excellent visibility and has a mid-mounted engine. Of course, the true successor to the seminal F1 is the P1 hypercar, which is currently only available in left-hand drive and in limited production numbers.
Having up to now only driven the MP4-12C, I was intrigued to sample the 650S, which has been billed by many to be a far better proposition than the MP412C, which was a monumental success in my books. However, the 650S does seem to raise the bar that much higher, thanks to the front visage borrowed almost wholesale from the P1, while the rest of the vehicle is essentially MP4-12C fare.
The foldable metal roof, which operates In 17 Seconds at the push of a button, can be operated at speeds of up to 30km/h and essentially offers the best of both worlds. For me, though, it brings the engine’s acoustics that much closer to add to the theatricals on offer. Swinging open the driver’s scissor door reveals an interior that is devoid of a sea of buttons with the climate control settings located on the driver’s door panel, while the sound system is operated via a touch enabled infotainment screen.
To be honest, I hardly fiddled with the system itself, what with a high revving V8 burbling just behind your head. I preferred the engine soundtrack to that of the Meridian sound system. Getting into the vehicle is a case of dropping in, derrière first, then swinging one’s legs over the monocoque and Bob’s your uncle. Once perched on those form-hugging, leather festooned pews it is a surprisingly comfortable place to be.
The view of the road ahead in particular is simply fantastic. And the usability gets even better once on the move. Fire up that 3.8l, twin-turbo V8 and it comes to life in a bass-rich bark as a prelude of things to come. Press the D button on the centre console and nose the vehicle forward and you would be forgiven for thinking you were in a comfortable premium sports sedan.
The compliancy of the suspension is truly one of the model’s shining beacons as it manages to absorb most road undulations. Switch to sport mode, which sharpens the throttle and gear changes, push hard on the accelerator, wait for the turbos to spool up and revel in the scenery blurring by as you reel in the horizon at a fair lick.
Those exhausts sprouting between the rear lights spew out an engine soundtrack that is overlaid with a raspy note between 7,000 and 8,500r/min. Granted, though, it does not have the high pitch note that some of the exotics in the segment can muster. This thing covers ground with little coaxing and the seven-speed dual clutch gearbox is concise in its dispatching of gears, all the while remaining velvet smooth in operation. The aero spoiler, which doubles up as an air brake, is arguably one of my favourite items of the vehicle.
Depending on how hard you stomp the brake pedal, the air brake angle can be varied to aid further retardation, but it is in the way the thing operates that impresses. There is no denying that the parent company’s Formula One exploits of more than five decades have been richly employed in the design of the vehicle. That said, its duality is definitely something to behold as you can potter about on Sandton’s Rivonia Boulevard in peak hour traffic with little fuss, then head to the racetrack and smash lap times, to later drive back home with the pliancy befitting a luxury sedan.
This is easily the most useable sportscar I have driven, better than the fantastic new Audi R8 (arriving in SA in June 2016), in fact. The McLaren 650S Spider is an accomplished, thoroughly quick and well-engineered sportscar and a fitting alternative to a crop of Italian offerings now on the market. I would gladly bag this one for my garage, if for no other reason than to be different.
*This article first appeared on Business Day Motor News.
Power: 478kW at 7,250r/min
Torque: 680Nm at 6,000r/min
Transmission: Seven - speed dual clutch automatic
Rear- wheel drive
0-100km/h: 3.0 seconds
Top Speed: 333km/h
Fuel Consumption: 11.7l/100km
Price: R5 000,000
Lease: R106, 846 per month Warranty: Three-year/unlimited km Service Plan: Three-year/unlimited km. at 10% interest over 60 months no deposit