Punchier, a few kilos lighter, more incisive to drive yet more luxurious, McLaren has overhauled the 12C to create the 650S. The new supercar – which makes the 12C look obsolete – is in production now, and will cost punters £195,250 for the coupe. A folding hard-top spider will also be available, for £215,250.
In a strategy reminiscent of Aston Martin’s continuous improvement of the DB9 and its transformation into the Vanquish, McLaren has revamped the carbonfibre 12C with 25% new parts. The engine is more powerful, transmission crisper, suspension and electronics overhauled, brakes beefed up and aerodynamics transformed, in response to customer feedback and media criticism of the 2011 MP4-12C. Read on for more details.
Pumped up powertrain
The 650S name combines the power output in PS – 650 (641bhp) – with S for sport. Peak power increases 25bhp over the 12C, from the twin turbo 3.8-litre V8 engine which has a revised cylinder head and pistons. Peak torque, which surges in from 3000 to 7000rpm, climbs from 443lb ft to 500lb ft.
No-one ever accused the 12C of being a bit ponderous, but the Pirelli P Zero Corsa-tyred 650S knocks a tenth of the 0-62mph sprint, dropping it to 3sec flat. Some four tenths come off the 0-124mph, which is now 8.4sec. Top speed remains 207mph.
The seven-speed dual-clutch transmission shifts more quickly, and there are other tweaks to enhance performance and driver enjoyment. In normal driving mode for example, upshifts under part throttle are accompanied by a millisecond cut of two cylinders, which amplifies the exhaust note. In track mode, ‘inertia push’ harnesses the engine torque levels, raising the engine speed for each gear, to maximise acceleration.
McLaren says revised transmission software and exhaust cam phasing make the 650S smoother to drive under low throttle inputs too.
Enhanced dynamic performance
The chassis has also been significantly overhauled. There’s less body roll, thanks to 22% stiffer springs front:rear, which improve turn in and enable higher cornering speeds. The dampers are modified to improve impact response. None of this compromises the 12C donor car’s exemplary ride comfort, says McLaren: drivers will feel more confident to drive harder, thanks to the 650S’s increased stability. This is also enhanced by the wider, stickier Pirelli P Zero Corsas, whose construction is derived from the P1’s tyre.
McLaren promises that the 650S is more fun too. After CAR’s first track test of the 12C, racing driver Ben Collins noted: ‘Every time I accelerate and get some yaw into the chassis, the traction control cuts power and a series of jarring wiggles ensues... [and] the ABS is inconsistent and intrusive: it cuts in too much.’
The 650S shouldn’t frustrate us in the same manner. In Track mode, the Electronic Stability Control now allows a greater slip angle before throttling engine torque. And the 650S is fitted with standard carbon ceramic brakes and a new brake booster: low speed braking is said to be much more linear, and the anti-lock braking far better calibrated.
New look and aerodynamics
Design boss Frank Stephenson inherited the 12C when he joined McLaren, so the 650S gives him an opportunity to properly shape the car’s look. The new supercar’s nose resembles the P1 hypercar’s, in its brighter LED headlamps and enlarged air intakes which help suck the car to the ground. The bigger side intake is needed to cool the more powerful mid-mounted engine.
The revised aero boosts downforce by 40% at 150mph. The rear airbrake automatically shifts position according to what the 650S is doing: it slides flat under full acceleration to reduce drag like an F1 racer’s Drag Reduction System, or if you slam on the anchors, stands on its end to maximise braking force.
Don’t think of the 650S as a track-focused, stripped out racer: it has more kit than the 12C. The interior is swathed in Alcantara, there’s next-generation sat-nav and standard DAB radio, and new forged alloy wheel designs and paint options. Owners will be able to personalise the car with carbonfibre details inside and out, carbonfibre seats, additional leather on the upper dash and contrast stitching. Does all this mean the end for the 12C? The firm vows the car will remain on sale as an entry-level McLaren, but it's looking as lame a duck as President Obama.
Jamie Corstorphine, McLaren’s head of product, says: ‘The 650S reinforces our class-leading performance credentials. It majors on driver engagement and enjoyment. And it extends the 12C’s breadth of capability, to a level unparalleled by any other supercar in the market.’ We’ll find out if it lives up to McLaren’s billing when we drive the 650S in late March 2014.