Tested: McLaren 650S
September 14, 2014
Generally speaking, if it’s not a fire alarm or a flight to catch, then Friday mornings are off limits. The one day where self indulgence allows you to lie in and let the morning come to you for a change.
Yet, like most of us, even this one day can be a rarity so whenever I can, I savor the indulgence that is the weekend morning coffee and paper routine at a leisurely pace.
So then why would I drag myself out of bed at 3.30am when there’s neither fire nor a flight waiting for me? Because I had a very limited time with the hottest new exotic sports car on the market, the McLaren 650S, and the fact that it was spending way too much time parked in my garage and not being used was enough to keep me awake for most of the night.
Its glossy, carbon fibre-wrapped key sitting on the kitchen bench was just too tempting, and given the heat of a Dubai summer making any roof-down driving virtually impossible under its golden orb, it was easy to give in and head for the hills before sunrise.
The empty, open roads and cooler, dense air feeding its twin turbochargers was a potent mix, and within seconds I’d come to my senses and realised that this would be the best decision I could make all weekend.
The 650S may look like its sister 12C model, but there’s been some substantial tweaks carried out underneath, which are immediately felt from behind the wheel.
A reason for these mods is that you need to be confident in your product to come out and take on an automotive giant like Ferrari with your first car, which is effectively what McLaren did in 2011 with what was then known as the MP4-12C.
The renowned Formula One constructor decided to take on its track rival head-to-head on the street and set itself an ambitious target of releasing a new model every year to fast track its challenge to the supercar crown.
Not only has the UK company managed to fulfill that promise with Coupé and Spider versions of the 12C as well as the track day-focused 12C Sprint, the full-blown GT3 race car and the range-topping P1 hypercar, but it’s showing no signs of taking its foot off the gas with the arrival of the 650S and more, further down the track.
Only now is the 650S beginning to filter into showrooms globally in both Coupé and Spider form after its Geneva reveal earlier this year and fortunately for us, the Middle East is among the first regions to take deliveries.
What began as a midlife freshen up with a new nose and a few tweaks to iron out the usual bugs any first-generation product typically gets, has resulted in a major makeover that’s been good enough for it to complement – rather than replace – the 12C, which remains the company’s entry-level model.
The most notable change is the nose, which resembles the P1 and now carries the corporate look of McLaren with its ‘swish’ logo incorporated into the dramatic headlights.
Admittedly, the rest does look identical to the 12C, but a closer inspection reveals new carbon-fibre aero blades at the base of the doors, revised side scoops which feed more air into the mid-mounted 3.8-litre, twin-turbo V8 and a significantly stiffer carbon fibre tub.
The result is that 25 per cent of the 650S is completely new compared to the 12C, while the nose is also more than just a pretty face, contributing an extra 24 per cent in downforce at 250kmh.
From the rear it looks virtually identical save for a new diffuser, which complements a recalibrated dynamic rear wing that pops up at speed to act as an airbrake, and while the car may not look too dissimilar or drive much differently to the 12C around town, it showed a different persona at pace.
Our early morning blast through the Hajar Mountains with the roof down was like a shot of adrenalin as its two, giant, centre-stacked exhausts barked and crackled on gear changes while both its turbos whistled and puffed under acceleration, responding in a rapid-fire sequence to the tiniest movement of the right foot or click of the seven-speed, dual-clutch paddle shift box.
Likewise, the steering was just as responsive turning in on command returning a positive feel, cocking a wheel here and there as it squatted through the tighter turns but never stepping out of line.
Like the 12C, occupants sit low to the ground in the 650S thanks to its wrap-around carbon tub, which makes climbing in and out not as easy as its competitors, but once strapped in, it gives a very sure feel and makes you more at one with the car than most others.
With your legs stretched more flat than down, the pedals feel like an extension of your toes, always cupped under your feet for an instant blat of the throttle or a sharp stab of the brakes to invoke that giant rear airbrake spoiler.
And the good news continues for fans of drop-top supercars because the 650S Spider we tested is just as stiff without its roof compared to the Coupé and boasts identical performance figures. Those being 3.0 seconds flat to 100kmh (down from 3.2 for the 12C) and a 331kmh top end.
The roof folds away in 17 seconds, which can be done at speeds of up to 30kmh, however as the sun began to peak above the mountain range and bring with it the swiftly increasing temperatures, we were able to continue enjoying the full aural experience from that 641bhp engine just inches behind our head by putting the roof up but keeping the central back window folded down for maximum impact.
To my eyes, the 650S - like the 12C - is one of the few designs where the car looks equally as good with the roof up or down as there’s no obvious compromise made to its lines in order to accommodate the folding roof and stowage area.
Pricewise, there’s a slight premium for the Spider, which retails at AED 1,161,000, compared to the Coupé’s AED 1,048,500 asking figure and then there’s an additional charge of around AED 30,000 if you want the carbon fibre seats that were fitted to the test car.
Pricey perhaps, but they save 15kg from the already feather-light 1,330kg kern weight, and aside from Alcantera leather now standard and an upgraded infotainment system taken from the P1, it’s the only major change that’s been made inside over the 12C.
Brakes have been beefed up with carbon fibre ceramic discs as standard and overall, while it’s hard to find a major change in any one area, there’s numerous changes spread across the performance, handling, aero, braking and comfort envelope that make this a more focused, sharper, more comfortable drive than the 12C.
As the sun showed its full face, the morning weekend traffic began to infiltrate what were barren roads on the way out and it was time to head home, park the bewinged wonder back in the bat cave and settle in for a freshly brewed morning coffee and a read of the weekend papers.
Details: Visit Mclaren.com