Britain’s convertible supercar is undoubtedly good, but it lacks the Ferrari folklore, writes James Fossdyke.
They say that when the Ferrari F1 team is struggling, the road cars are brilliant, and when the racing is going well, the road cars suffer. Whether that’s true is a matter for debate, but the current F1 standings may well give McLaren hope that its new supercar − the 570S Spider − has arrived at just the right moment. But can the British newbie really take on the established Italians?
If looks are anything to go on, it’s in with a chance. There’s nothing retro about the styling, and it doesn’t look as though it’s trying too hard to live up to a long-ingrained ‘brand image’. It’s pretty, though, with sculpted surfaces and a clean, modern look. And while it’s neither as dainty as a Ferrari 488 Spider, nor as aggressive as a Lamborghini Huracan Spyder, it still feels at home among such illustrious company.
And that’s a good thing because it’s this kind of supercar royalty that the 570S is competing with. These machines might be built to go quickly at the world’s racetracks, but they’ll spend most of their time prowling around Prestbury. For many, then, looks matter more than performance.
Perhaps acknowledging this, McLaren admits that the 570S Spider is a car to be seen in. You enter through doors that open upwards, while the carbon-fibre folding roof performs 15 seconds of mechanical ballet to tuck itself away, leaving you to soak up the rays − and the (mostly) admiring comments from onlookers.
If you want performance, you might be more attracted to the 570S Spider’s fixed-roof sibling, the 570S Coupe − a car that’s somewhat lighter thanks to its lack of roof-folding gubbins − but there’s really no need to compromise. Aside from the roof, the two cars are mechanically identical. Both are built around F1-style carbon-fibre foundations, and both use the same 3.8-litre V8 engine. With two turbochargers, it’ll produce 562bhp − an intoxicating tidal wave of power that takes you from a standstill to 62mph in 3.2 seconds and on to a top speed of 204mph. And it has the soundtrack to match the power.
Although the McLaren is almost subdued when the engine is in ‘Normal’ mode, it changes completely when you switch to ‘Sport’ or ‘Track’ mode. In the most raucous setting − Track − it becomes almost violent, with the exhausts fizzing at low speeds and howling as the revs build. Occasionally, they punctuate their aural repertoire with a crackle during gear changes and, if you’re really pushing hard, the occasional jet of flame.
Yet despite the drama of the performance and the aural stimulation, everything within the cabin remains calm. The McLaren doesn’t have the four-wheel-drive system you’ll find on a Lamborghini or an Audi, but it doesn’t need it. The four fat tyres cling to the road for dear life, giving you enough grip and confidence to corner at speeds that just shouldn’t be possible. Combine that with the precise, perfectly weighted steering that lets you position the car exactly where you want it, and you’ve got a car that makes driving fast seem almost outrageously easy.
But the most amazing thing is the comfort. Supercars generally feel stiff and firm on the road, with potholes sending shockwaves from nose to tail. In the 570S, though, all is serene and smooth, with only the worst bumps making their presence felt.
And even when you’re stationary, the cabin is a comfortable place to sit. As you’d expect from a car that costs about £150,000, it’s beautifully built, with expanses of soft leather, sporty microfibre and exposed carbon fibre. The design is clean, too, with a touchscreen infotainment system and, thankfully despite McLaren’s background in F1, the company’s engineers avoided festooning the steering wheel with buttons.
It’s also more spacious than many of its rivals, with plenty of wiggle room for drivers and passengers who’ve inherited the ‘tall’ gene, and there’s a surprising amount of luggage space. Because the engine is hidden somewhere behind the driver’s left ear, the boot is at the front, and it’s very nearly as big as the loadspace you’ll find in the back of a Toyota Aygo. If that’s still not enough and you’ve got the roof up, though, you can use a cubby behind the seats that can cope with some smaller items.
The McLaren, then, really does tick all the boxes: it’s fast, comfortable, good-looking and spacious. But there’s a problem, and it’s nothing to do with the car. It’s about history.
You see, when you look out of your window and see a Ferrari - your Ferrari - waiting on the drive, it’s the fulfilment of a childhood fantasy. Supercars are supposed to be the realisation of a dream, and sadly, despite all the F1 pedigree, McLarens just lack that final piece of immeasurable appeal. So if it were my money, I’d think long and hard about the 570S Spider - right up to the moment I walked into the Ferrari dealership.