This is the McLaren 650S, and McLaren is very keen you don’t pigeonhole it, thanks very much. This is not a lightened, stripped-out 12C ‘Speciale’ or ‘GT3’, and neither is it simply a facelifted 12C with the beak off a P1 and a token engine ECU tickle. A substantial 25% of parts are new, yet it only costs £24k more than the (‘temporarily discontinued’) 12C coupe.
Why has McLaren built the 650S?
Think of the 650S as ‘12C v2.0: The Comeback’. Electrical gremlins and a sense of dynamic detachment meant the poor old 12C never quite overhauled Ferrari’s sublime 458 Italia as McLaren had promised, but in the intervening three years (and thanks to lessons learned from the P1 hypercar’s gestation) it’s time for round two. Woking’s coming out fighting – look out, Modena.
A P1-style nose and side skirts help develop 40% more high-speed downforce without racking up the drag coefficient. There are lighter forged alloys, standard carbon-ceramic brakes (with much-improved pedal feel) and the option of fixed bucket seats inspired by the P1's space-age chairs.
Add those racecar-style buckets (for a chunky £5k, but well worth it) and you’ll undercut a 12C’s mass by 15kg. Given there’s also extra Alcantara on-board, infotainment updates, a reversing camera and a 25bhp/50lb ft power hike, the relatively small price jump from £176,000 to £195,000 looks a bit of a bargain. Sounds like madness? Consider this: an optioned-up 12C would cost more than a ‘basic’ 650S.
Does it feel better to drive?
Despite the medium-looking numbers leap, the 650S is mind-blowingly fast. There’s so much torque (now 500lb ft) that you can short-shift through the faster seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox and still make yourself sick with the sheer acceleration. Fortunately, the sorted carbon brakes are up to the job of stopping the 650S, the Pirelli Corsa tyres give immense grip, and though the adaptive suspension has been revised to give a sharper turn-in, there’s no real loss of the 12C’s uncanny ride quality.
What’s McLaren done to make the 650S more fun than a 12C?
A few tweaks to show even Ron Dennis has a sense of humour. Under part-throttle, the engine delays ignition for a split-second on gearchanges, popping fuel with a CRACK in the exhaust. You also get jet-fighter-on-afterburner spit of flame, which should please the cameraphone-wielding supercar-spotters of Mayfair.
Even though the steering rack itself remains unchanged, the car definitely has a different feel: it's more immediate, more engaging, more connected. And it’s just so fast. 0-124mph in 8.4sec fast. If you’ve spent all your life driving turbodiesels or hot hatches, I really think the 650S might make you cry.
The 650S is certainly more fun more of the time than a 12C, and a real match – at last – for a Ferrari 458 Italia. Lamborghini’s new Huracan had better be stunning to match it, too. It took longer than we’d hoped, but McLaren’s ‘junior’ supercar has now come good – and it was worth the wait.
>> To read our eight-page feature review of the new McLaren 650S – with stunning photography of the car and an exclusive interview with McLaren boss Ron Dennis – pick up the May issue of CAR magazine, on sale 19 April.