Driving a 570S: A Casual Morning With McLaren
Less than 20 years have passed since Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks starred in the rom-com "You've Got Mail," but I doubt the contents of the average inbox these days would excite anyone; yet every now and then, you get something that lifts the spirit and causes the heart to beat a bit faster.
For me, that feeling came in early September when I received an invitation from Wayne Bruce, Global Communications and PR Director for McLaren Automotive. Basically it said something along the lines of "please pop down to Goodwood and spend some time with us and drive our cars." Yes, please!
So I found myself soon after at Goodwood Aerodrome, a former World War II fighter base, to drive the McLaren 570s and learn more about the automotive side of the famous Grand Prix team.
McLaren Then and Now
McLaren's product range has grown since its re-launch in 2011 — the original model in its third generation, and the 12C now falling into a Legacy Series still fully supported by the brand. The production run for the 12C exceeded 2,500 cars, so still something of a rarity.
McLaren's history with road-going cars pre-dates the fabulous F1 of the '90s, retreating all the way back to 1969. That is when the founder, Bruce McLaren, had a racer converted for the road. (For those interested, we've already had an in-depth look at McLaren's history.)
Before being released to play, we received a briefing on the current and future state of McLaren Automotive, providing some additional context.
Firstly, there is full distinction between the road car portion of McLaren's business and that involved with Formula One and GT racing. While there are some common shareholders, Ron Dennis being one, the management is quite distinct from the other entities that share the McLaren brand.
Within the road cars, the current product range falls into three categories: Sports Series, Super Series and Ultimate Series. While no one can pretend that a McLaren will ever be affordable, or numerous, the categories reflect different price points that target distinct customers.
Let's break those down by numbers:
- Sports Series: 540C, 570C and 570GT — each with a price range of $150,000 to $190,000.
- Super Series: 650S and 675LT — limited in number and priced at approximately $200,000 to $270,000.
- Ultimate Series: P1 — limited to just 375, which sold out almost immediately despite a price tag of $1.15 million. (Obviously there is a real demand and marketplace for such ultra cars.)
Production-wise, McLaren is on the uptrend, but that will eventually be capped at 5,000 cars per year. In 2015, 1,654 cars were built, with a goal of hitting 3,000 during 2017.
Wayne was also at pains to declare that there will never be a McLaren SUV — absolutely not!
McLaren Automotive is fully independent and self-funding, profitable for the past three years. Everything is produced in-house by the 250 employees, and the company spends one-third of the turnover, or £120 million a year, on R+D. There are now 80 dealers in 30 markets worldwide.
"The Ultimate Sports Car Experience"
Suddenly, it was time to jump into the cars, and I had been allocated a 570S Coupé.
If one discounts Grand Tourers such the Aston Martin DB11 or the Bentley Continental GT and focuses only on high-end sports cars, the market is quite small. Price points would start out with the Audi R8 V10, move on to the Porsche 911 Turbo and then get progressively more expensive to the Lamborghini Hurácan and Ferrari 488 GTB. Of course there are also other contenders, such as the new Honda NSX or even BMW's spaceship, the i8.
The 570S sits somewhere in the middle, a far cry from the P1's lofty price tag, but not exactly "The Everyman's" McLaren.
With the bewildering range of finance options and packages available these days, I suspect no one really knows how much they pay for a car. McLaren released a statement this week claiming that the cost to use the 540C is a mere £31.13 per day (around $50), the price of a daily return train ticket from London Gatwick airport to Victoria station in the heart of the capital.
Of course, there's just one tiny flaw in that proposition: you don't have to find a £35,000 deposit each time you let the train take the strain. We'll chalk it up to "artistic license," which is allowed in the wacky world of automotive PR.
The 570S aims to create "the ultimate sports car experience," to quote McLaren. The lightweight carbon fibre chassis mated to an all aluminum 3.8 L V8 motor with twin turbochargers puts down its power through a 7-speed transmission. Stopping force is immense thanks to the carbon ceramic brakes, fitted as standard on the 570S.
A quick rundown of the controls were given to us before setting off. There is an Active Dynamics Panel that records all aspects of the car's performance, especially handy if being used as a track day car. Cameras front and rear aid in achieving maximum performance. The panel also controls the adaptive suspension with three modes: normal, sport and track.
Once seated behind the wheel, the display is clear enough, though some information is lost when steering. The whole impression is one of quality and solidity; this is a serious piece of kit.
570S Test Drive: Just a Taste
Then it was time to get going. The engine fired to life with a pleasing bark as we headed out of the Goodwood venue.
My colleague Colin took the first shift. It was evident that he rides a big BMW motorcycle on a daily basis; he was ready from the get-go for the power and responsiveness of the 570S and certainly made his way along the lanes of Sussex at a decent clip.
However, it became apparent that a good number of the 570 horses behind our heads wouldn't get any exercise that October morning.
The roads were wet, and the traffic was heavy as it always is in the crowded southeast of England. There were cars everywhere! Didn't they all know we were test driving a McLaren and needed a clear bit of road?!
Nevertheless, flashes of the incredible performance on tap could be felt, even allowing for the caution that the driving conditions demanded. My co-driver and I certainly didn't want to make page five of next day's UK newspapers, pictured standing next to an upturned McLaren in a ditch (nor did we want to explain to Wayne how we had messed up his car while out on the run).
When I have driven cars with a paddle shift before, such as the 911 Turbo trip to Teloché, it takes awhile to get comfortable with the environment before using such a system. The McLaren was so easy to drive in the restricted conditions, so I stuck with allowing the car to make the choice of gear, though I am confident that all would flow smoothly once familiar with the 570S. The brakes also took a little getting used to, as I recall they did in the Porsche as well, which more time would have sorted out.
McLaren Automotive Chief Executive Officer Mike Flewitt explained the position of the Sports Series range:
"The Sports Series is aimed at a new audience for McLaren. It is the first time we’ve competed in the sports car as opposed to the supercar market. As with all McLaren models, we have prioritized performance, driving engagement and exhilaration. It is a totally driver-focused car, with excellent ergonomics and visibility, and a class-leading driving position. This is also the most day-to-day usable, practical and attainable McLaren we’ve ever made. It is a dramatic and beautiful sports car."
In some ways it was impossible to get more than a flavor that morning for the abilities of the McLaren 570S, but after an hour at the wheel, I was beginning to gain some understanding of its potential. This is a serious sports car; driving it only enhanced my genuine respect for the car and the team of people who produce it.
When I win the lottery, I might be down to the showrooms in a flash!