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McLaren 540C debuts at Shanghai 2015: the budget McLaren is here

Published: 20 April 2015

► Second model in new Sports Series
► Less powerful version of new 570S
► Will start from £126,000, sold globally

You’re looking at the cheapest McLaren road car yet, and quite probably ever: the McLaren 540C. The second model in McLaren’s new ‘Sports Series’ line has made its official debut at the 2015 Shanghai motor show, and starts from £126,000 in the UK.

Not quite Dacia Sandero money, granted, but by supercar standards it’s priced very much at the attainable end of the scale, just above the Audi R8 and Porsche 911 Turbo.

For the time being there aren’t any further models planned beneath the 540C – this is as inexpensive as a McLaren is going to get.

McLaren new ‘sports’ series: a recap

Named after its power output in metric horsepower, the 533bhp McLaren 540C joins (and undercuts) the 570S in McLaren’s new ‘Sports Series’ line. Both models are less powerful, less complex, and as a result, less expensive than the company’s ‘Super Series’ cars, currently the 650S and 675 LT (plus the 625C sold in Asia).

Both Sports Series cars are still constructed around a carbon monocell tub, like the Super Series models, but feature narrower sills to make hopping in and out a bit easier. Aluminium body panels rather than carbonfibre help reduce costs while keeping weight under control, and the Super cars’ complex active suspension is substituted for a more conventional layout.

McLaren’s grand plan is to get to 4000 sales a year; the Sports Series models are the cars it needs to achieve it.

The more powerful, kit-crammed 562bhp McLaren 570S costs £143,250, a £17,250 premium over the 540C.

What separates 540C from 570S? Apart from a bit less, power obviously.

Unsurprisingly it looks all but identical to the 570S – because in many ways it is. There are a few detail changes to the bodywork, with subtly revised ‘aero blades’ below the front bumper designed to direct cold air through the lower bodywork and over the bonnet. The wheels have a different design, too. They measure 19 inches at the front and 20 at the rear and are wrapped in specially developed Pirelli P Zeros, developed with a focus on ride comfort, as well as grip.

Comfort in general is a key theme for the 540C. McLaren says it’s designed to be used every day, with a cosseting ride (by supercar standards) and the easiest access possible over the sills and the widest reasonable opening angle for the distinctive butterfly doors.

In McLaren’s words, the 540C aims to ‘introduce the brand to a new audience’, and it will be sold globally, in around 30 countries. Deliveries start early in 2016.

McLaren 540C: the vital stats

This may be an entry-level model, but it’ll see 0-62mph in 3.5 seconds, 0-124mph in 10.5 seconds and almost crack the double ton with a top speed of 199mph.

It’s powered by the same 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 as the rest of the McLaren Sports/Super family, but detuned to 533bhp (with peak power generated right up towards the top of the rev range at 7500rpm) and a robust 398lb ft between 3500 and 6500rpm, hooked up to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

Like the 570S, it gets a stop-start system, helping it to a claimed 25.5mpg combined and 258g/km CO2 output.

Suspension layout comprises double wishbones front and rear, with adaptive dampers and anti-roll bars. It’s less complex and costly than the interconnected hydraulic damper system used on the McLaren MP4-12C and 650S, which does away with anti-roll bars altogether.

Brake Steer, first seen on the 12C, makes another appearance on the 540C, braking the inside rear wheel to help keep the car hooked into the tightest line possible.

McLaren quotes a dry kerb weight of 1311kg (if you spec certain lightweight options) and 406bhp per tonne. Despite that, you’ll find plenty of leather inside and the latest version of McLaren’s ‘IRIS’ touchscreen multimedia system, used to control everything from the radio to the air-con.

It’s a busy time at McLaren Automotive. 2015 alone has seen four new models introduced – the P1 GTR, 675LT, 570S and now the 540C. If this car takes off in the way its makers hope, expect a few more frequent sightings of Woking-built supercars on the road.

By James Taylor

CAR's deputy features editor, automotive design graduate, Radical champ

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