Watching McLaren progress as a car company is like watching your favourite TV show. I gave Daredevil a chance a short while back, just as I did McLaren, not that I need convincing in either case. Matthew Murdoch’s character fascinated me, and I knew about the Daredevil’s origins through comic books. I was 18 when the F1 was introduced and it absolutely piqued my curiosity. In both instances, I was well aware of their existence, but I never really got into them.
Then, I watched an episode and got to drive one of the cars. Before I knew it, I was completely hooked. As I eagerly await season 3 of Daredevil, I did not have to wait too long before I got a second chance at a McLaren. The 570S was my first immersion in the brand’s automotive culture, and I was lucky enough to shortly thereafter get to sample the 650S.
As a member of McLaren’s Super Series, the 650S finds itself one spot below the ultimate 675LT. Saying that the 650S is second string to anything is almost funny, but what isn’t is the car’s unquestionable purpose to go fast. Truth be told, although I spent many consecutive hours and drove hundreds of kilometres with the car, I only learned what I already knew.
Honed and defined
I’ve heard many people, far too many in fact, say that they can’t physically tell the difference between all the McLarens. If they figure out that the car is a McLaren, they’ll probably guess “P1” and learn that it is not, if only because they’ll likely never see a P1 on a road, period.
Yet, and sadly in a way for me, I can only compare the 650S to the McLaren 570S, which blew my mind all over the place. The bottom line is that, although they look alike, these cars are actually very different beasts, in a honed and defined way.
Where the 570S is mellow, the 650S is charged up. From a styling standpoint, the latter has sharper edges to its body, much like a race car. The signature dihedral doors are instrumental for the show (as well as very functional), but no part of the car’s shell is superfluous.
The 570S is a “current”-generation McLaren, while the 650S is from the previous one, and yet they are barely a year apart. The most telling visual aspect is the rear of the 650S where it draws from the MP4, while the 570S has more P1 in it.
There is a stark contrast between the two once you get inside. The McLaren 650S is all race car, while the 570S is distinctively GT. The subject of the review’s interior clearly defines the driver from the passenger with its cockpit-like approach and sparse controls. The centre console is thin and to the point. It’s almost disconcertingly simple to navigate from one element to the other: start button, active panel, “D”, and go. No fuss, no muss.
The seats are incredibly firm and supportive, designed more for the track than the street, but unless you’re 38 weeks pregnant you’ll adapt. The driving position is the closest thing to being custom-made for the driver. Interestingly, the HVAC controls are located on the door panels, with one set of buttons per passenger.
Like the 570S, the gauge cluster is partially customizable, but extremely focused on the job at hand. The race-crafted steering wheel is just perfect.
Form follows function
The Super Series cars are built for driving hard. The moment I slid behind the wheel, this message was clear. Dilly-dallying is possible, but not recommended. There’s a sense of urgency and energy that overcomes the senses once properly strapped in. By contrast, the 570S is leisurely.
Like I said earlier, the purpose of the McLaren 650S is to cover ground quickly. Tapping the throttle is much like poking a beast ― do it some more and you might regret it, especially while in the city or traffic, as you’ll only get frustrated.
The 650S features a 3.8L twin-turbocharged V8 that produces 641 horsepower (650 PS, hence the name) and 500 lb-ft of torque. These numbers are staggering, but they represent only part of the equation that makes this car a phenom.
Similar to the 570S, the progression of speed is strange; it just happens. Both cars accelerate with space shuttle-like force, although the 650S gets a second wind from 6,000 rpm. There’s impressive push from the get-go, but the absence of any drop in power had me checking the speedometer to confirm what my surroundings were telling me. Instead of tapering off, the V8 shifted into second gear.
About the 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox: It features toggle-style paddle shifters that require some care. On a pair of occasions, my demanded upshift was too brisk and generated a rebound action that immediately brought with it a downshift. This does not happen with more conventional paddles.
Maximum torque is reached at 6,000 rpm; however, 95% of it remains available up to 7,000 rpm. At 7,250 rpm, the full force of the McLaren 650S becomes one with reality. When set in Track mode, the exhaust system opens up and perfectly matches the V8’s fury and engulfs the senses.
Despite the growl and all the power, the 650S turns out to be far more at peace with itself than I initially thought. For sure, I thought I was going to end up 250 metres off the road in the trees, or worse, in jail. Murphy’s Law is such that when I drive a Toyota Highlander or Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, the roads are clear; when I get a chance to test a supercar, however, trucks, vacationers, and Corollas all seem to know where to find me.
In this situation, the 650S and I were fine, especially when there was no way I was going to find an outlet to pass the dump truck, regardless of all the power. These moments made me appreciate the fact that this is a McLaren and is still civil enough for the daily grind, unlike the Lamborghini Huracán. When I finally ditched the obstacle, the car’s full spectrum of abilities made itself available to me.
Steering response proved to be an extension of my thoughts as I rounded a blind corner. The suspension compressed ever so slightly, but the dampers remained supple enough to soak up road imperfections. The mild lean in Sport mode transmitted sufficient information to let me know what was going on. This car will not understeer, but it won’t stay artificially flat, either. The level of grip is immense, yet real and tangible at the same time ― the opposite of what the Nissan GT-R will give you.
The brakes are equally user-friendly and insanely powerful. I did notice the mildest amount of delay in bite when the large ceramic discs were cool, but that was a passing situation once I got into the switchbacks.
As powerful and challenging to drive as the McLaren 650S is, I felt rejuvenated after a few hours of hard driving. This is a testament to its overall greatness.
Why a 2015 model this late in the game?
Because McLaren. This Woking, Surrey, England car company is leaving a serious mark in the supercar and hypercar business without doing much more than what it does best. Short of the P1, which I pray I’ll get to drive some day, every current and future McLaren is likely to forge a place in every car enthusiast’s dreams and in the garages of the very rich.
The 650S is also available in Spider form, by the way. These are only two cars of the seven currently available from the company, excluding race-prepped machines such as the 570S Sprint or the limited-edition 650S Can-Am Spider. Over the next six years, McLaren has planned to develop and introduce up to 15 new products.
If you see a McLaren in your future, know that sales and production are expected to increase to 5,000 units by 2022 ― more than three times the 2015 numbers. Start saving your money!
A McLaren is the perfect statement when it comes to supercars: They are brilliant, jaw-dropping examples of the finest and the best the automotive industry has to offer today.