In the fastidious environment that is the McLaren Technology Centre in Surrey, UK, employees can have any drink on their work desk, as long as it’s bottled water. Files or sheets of paper that aren’t being worked on have to be kept in drawers, and during the facility’s design stage, boss Ron Dennis asked that the length and breadth of his ultra-modern factory be reduced by precisely one metre so that none of the 218,000 floor tiles would have to be trimmed.
Call it what you want, but it’s this level of OCD that has cascaded down to the firm’s first production supercar, the MP4-12C. Awkward name aside (later simplified to “12C”), the British missile brought the fight to Ferrari’s brilliant 458 in 2011 and very nearly came out the victor.
But as fast as its lap times were, the 12C was deemed too clinical, lacked the visual drama and, more importantly, the deep driving pleasure of the 458. The “Mac” was shaped by science rather than soul, engineered with technology rather than emotion. It was, in other words, non-Italian.But now there’s a new version. Essentially a pumped-up development of the 12C (a 12C “Speciale” if you will), it’s supposed to be built alongside it to offer customers a more steroid-filled experience. Except that it won’t – just weeks after revealing this newcomer, McLaren announced that production of the 12C will cease because of overwhelming demand for its replacement. “Overwhelming” in this case means a seven-month order bank. So it’s goodbye 12C, and hello 650S.
Since the 650S and the 12C share the same production line, you can still order the older model. But the 650S is such a big leap forward (as you shall read about later), the only reason you’d want a 12C is because you prefer its looks. If you’re like the rest of the world, however, you’d agree that the 650S is quite the looker – a real step up from the generic-looking 12C. No longer will the 458 hog headlines when “sexiest supercar” conversations start up at the pub.A sexy face is what the 650S has (but its backside is almost indistinguishable from the 12C’s) – clearly inspired by the P1, McLaren’s 903bhp hybrid hypercar, the front end of the 650S looks equally, um, hyper.
More important than being even curvier than Kate Upton is boasting 40 percent more downforce than the 12C. Helping the 650S to “cheat the wind” is a Formula One-inspired Drag Reduction System (DRS) employed in its rear spoiler – like on the 12C, it flicks up to aid braking and stability, but now it also flicks down to reduce drag when the car is going straight (at great speed, of course).
Over 75 percent of the parts used for the 650S are carried over from the 12C. At its core is the same carbon fibre MonoCell chassis and 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 engine, except it now produces a ludicrous 641bhp (equivalent to 650PS, hence the car’s name) and a thunderous 678Nm of torque, thanks to – among other highly technical things – new pistons, redesigned cylinder heads and a freer, more breathable exhaust system. Also new are lighter, forged alloy wheels that save 2kg each. The handsome and methodical cockpit has also lost some weight, with velvety Alcantara trim now specified as standard (formerly an option with the 12C).But it isn’t the increased power that’s most noticeable from behind the wheel. To cope with the stronger downforce, McLaren engineers have stiffened the spring rate (22 percent front, 37 percent rear) and reworked the damper valves on the hydraulically controlled suspension system, so the car is gentler on the road and yet tauter out on track.
Switch to Normal mode on the console knob marked “H” (handling), and the ride borders on spooky for a full-fledged supercar. Plush and fluid, such refinement is unheard of this side of a Bentley Continental GT. Even in its hardcore Track setting, the 650S tries valiantly not to succumb to the uncompromising-supercar stereotype. Sweeping through the winding hills of Ronda, the car has considerably more body roll when driven hard in its softest setting, but flicking the “magic dial” to Sport cures this right away. In fact, the Sport setting provides the best balance for fast road shenanigans.
The gearchanges are now smoother and crispier, thanks to a recalibration of the proven 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox. Shift speeds are also quicker when the paddle-shifters are used – not that the 12C’s were leisurely to begin with, mind you. The result is a silky drive, without any of the occasional jolts that afflict the 12C’s transmission.Once you’re done soaking in the newfound refinements of the 650S, you can start to scare (or laugh, depending on your level of bravery) yourself silly with the car’s higher power output. Sheer speed isn’t something the 12C lacks, but someone in McLaren must have thought otherwise, because the 650S takes off with the civility of a starving cheetah after its prey.
Numbers? Zero-to-100km/h in 3 seconds, zero-to-200km/h in 8.4 seconds (0.7 of a second faster than the 458 Speciale and a full second faster than the mighty McLaren F1), and a top speed of 333km/h. But these astounding figures only tell half the story. There is noticeably less turbo lag and a broader spread of torque than the 12C, although this is hardly significant, since 90 percent of the V8’s maximum 678Nm (up from 600Nm) comes in at just 3000rpm and peaks at 6000rpm, 1000rpm earlier than the 12C.
According to McLaren, the exhaust note (often criticised for not being stirring enough) has been tuned to provide occupants with a more intense aural experience. While the familiar, growly baritone roar sounds distinctively louder, the tonal quality is harder to differentiate. What it does, though, is an uncanny Darth Vader impression when the two turbos spool up and exhaust gases make their exodus from the wastegate – the “sighing”, whooshing and whiffling noises that whisper through the cabin are a great accompaniment to the deep-chested ruckus outside.The 650S feels even more capable than the 12C on the road. It rides better, is slicker up and down the gears, and thanks to that extra wallop of torque, outruns slower traffic with even greater ease than before. But take the car out on the racetrack (Spain’s Ascari circuit in this case) and it rapidly – really rapidly – sheds its British gentleman persona and transforms into a British bulldog on the scent for sausages.
Besides coping with the increased downforce, the stiffer spring rates also enable the fitment of bespoke, super sticky Pirelli P Zero Corsa tyres whose harder sidewalls are designed to provide sharper turn-in. Coupled with a steering that’s been tweaked to give less assistance and more “action”, the 650S is exceptionally precise carving out apexes and feels markedly more immediate than the 12C. Be sure to warm up the tyres first, though, because the 650S displays traces of understeer with cold rubber.
And because the suspension setup is firmer and more resolved in Track mode, the immense level of grip is complemented by the chassis’ wonderful balance through the bends. The massive downforce means I can carry huge speeds into and out of corners, sometimes more than what my science teacher once told me was physically possible.Then there are the brakes. McLaren has generously specified as standard equipment its carbon-ceramic discs, and boy, do they bite hard – a fact one of the McLaren test drivers demonstrated when he took me on a hot lap. Besides being more powerful and less resistant to fade, they are also easier to modulate and less grabby than the 12C’s steel stoppers.
Forget finesse. The 650S loves to be taken by the scruff of the neck and rewards a point-and-squirt driving style. Even when I get on the gas too early while exiting a corner, the 650S doesn’t threaten to punish the mistake (deliberate or accidental). The traction control doesn’t completely disappear in Track mode, but it does allow some slip to make me feel like a track-day god. All I need is a small dose of opposite lock to correct the slide when the rear steps out. For hooligans who are reading this, yes, you can switch the “guardian” systems off.
The 650S almost feels like a different supercar to the 12C, especially on track, where the tweaks feel even more pronounced and perform even more potently. Racier, more responsive and ultimately more rewarding than its predecessor, the 650S is essentially the 12C turned up to 11. It’s how the 12C should have been from the beginning.Just as exquisite is the 650S Coupe’s showier sibling, the 650S Spider. Like the 12C Spider, because the incredibly stiff carbon tub was designed to accommodate a convertible from the onset, the lack of a roof is never felt and the driving dynamics are virtually identical to the coupe’s, even on a punishing racetrack. What I do feel is the same acoustic drama that’s unleashed on the eardrums of unsuspecting pedestrians. What’s lost is a little lightness (+40kg), a 4km/h lower top speed (329km/h) and the small matter of a $100,000 premium in Singapore. Is it worth the money for the extra pose-factor? Depending on the size of your inheritance or private bank account, I’d say definitely.
As usual, McLaren offers an exhaustive list of options for you to personalise your 650S. On the list is a rear parking camera, which in my opinion should be free of charge in a car costing over a million bucks. Anyway, a must-have option is the pair of Alcantara-lined carbon fibre bucket seats. They won’t score any points with your miniskirt-wearing girlfriend, but it’ll be $31,800 well spent if your bottom is well supported out on the Sepang F1 Circuit.
There are four new hues for the exterior: Storm Grey, Aurora Blue, Tarocco Orange and an unconventional (for McLaren) Mantis Green. These colours really pop in the Spanish sunshine, especially when contrasted with the orange brake calipers, but I’m not entirely convinced by the Mantis Green. Unless you don’t mind the ignorant few mistaking your 650S for a certain Italian supercar with a bull emblem, I’d avoid that paint job. But then again, I’m hardly an authority on good taste – I’m in my 30s with shoulder-length hair, for crying out loud.
In the end, the selling point of the 650S will be how its wider range of abilities vis-à-vis the 12C allows it to shift, seamlessly, from being an uncompromising and utterly focused track weapon to a comfortable road car you can actually use every day. The 12C consulted a psychiatrist for its OCD and has emerged a more effective supercar. Oh, stopping by a plastic surgeon helped, too.
This “Mac” Version 2.0 still isn’t Italian-ish, but it’s so complete and convincing that Maranello has every reason to be worried.
TYPE V8, 32-valves, turbocharged
BORE X STROKE 93mm x 69.9mm
COMPRESSION RATIO 8.7:1
MAX POWER 641bhp at 7500rpm
MAX TORQUE 678Nm at 6000rpm
POWER TO WEIGHT 448.9bhp per tonne
GEARBOX 7-speed dual-clutch with manual select
DRIVEN WHEELS Rear
0-100KM/H 3 seconds
TOP SPEED 333km/h
CONSUMPTION 8.5km/L (combined)
CO2 EMISSION 275g/km
FRONT Double wishbones, coil springs, adaptive dampers
REAR Double wishbones, coil springs, adaptive dampers
FRONT / REAR Ventilated discs
TYPE Pirelli P Zero Corsa
SIZE 235/55 R19 (front), 305/30 R20 (rear)
TRACTION CONTROL ABS with ESC
KERB WEIGHT 1428kg
TURNING CIRCLE 12.3m
PRICE EXCL. COE $1,150,000 (before $20k CEVS surcharge)
WARRANTY 3 years/100,000km
+ Exquisite ride quality, phenomenal performance, everyday comfort and useability
– Wriggle during heavy braking, inadequate air-con vents, reverse cam is optional