- What’s best: The handling and powertrain are top notch, which is expected. How easy it is to use around town, however, is not.
- What’s worst: The Porsche 911 Turbo starts at quite a bit less, and it’s really, really good. Much more common, too…
- What’s interesting: Dihedral (read: “scissor”) doors are a lot more natural to use than you’d think.
It’s funny; the more I read about the latest tech-laden supercar to come out of Italy, Germany, US or the UK, the less I seem to be interested.
“What?!?!!?” I hear you saying. “What kind of a car writer would say something like that?”
To which I respond: please do bear with me.
I love fast cars. I had Lamborghini Diablos and Ferrari F335s on my wall growing up just like so many kids my age, and as I grew older, I started to realize more and more why I liked those cars so much, and it wasn’t their looks. Wasn’t their brand pedigree, wasn’t even the power they offered, really, especially when you consider that some SUVs now have more power than did a 1993 Diablo.
For me, it was all about how pure they were. The stories you read about having to open a Countach’s scissor doors and sitting on the sill so you could park, or the way a Ferrari F40 would spin you into the hedgerows at one tenth throttle on even a slightly wet road. There was a danger there, and if you could master it, you were a hero in my book.
For me, you could say the wave finally broke with the McLaren F1. With the exception of the Porsche Carrera GT, I can’t really think of a modern supercar released after that famous BMW-powered Brit that has given me such a fizz, has provided such a compelling avenue into the unknown world of laser sharp knife-edged driving. It’s probably why my dream garage is filled with cars from the ‘80s and ‘90s, and Porsches from all years as through all this, the German brand has managed to somehow keep that feeling of purity they’ve had for years – I guess that’s what happens when you stay so true to an original design as Porsche has with the 911.
That’s not to take away from the technological masterclass put on by the likes of Ferrari and Lamborghini today; it’s just that I see it all through a filter of what I think is a case of over-engineering. If a brand can take the roadgoing race car-like attitude of the McLaren F1, and couple it with the simplicity of a Porsche, it may really have something.
Which brings me to what you see here: the 2018 McLaren 570S Spider.
The “S” denotes this car as part of McLaren’s “Sports Series”, which is joined by the “Super Series” and “Ultimate Series” – think 720S for the former, and Senna for the latter.
Right away, what attracted me about the 570S is how it looks properly modern – even futuristic – without being Ferrari or Lamborghini over-the-top, even with it’s somewhat gaudy yellow and black ‘do; opt for one of the more subdued hues with classy names like “Bourbon”, “Onyx Black” and “Storm Grey”, and you can really get that supercar-as-GT effect. It’s taut, squat and because it’s a McLaren, you know that every cut in the bodywork, every aero add-on and air vent is functional and has been meticulously crafted in a wind tunnel for maximum effect. I love it, and it strikes a huge win for McLaren in the first impressions department. It also achieves the neat trick of looking as good top down or up, thanks to its targa-style roof. Lovely.
Swing open the surprisingly easy-to-use dihedral door—this never gets old, by the way—and the best way to describe the environs is “spartan”; it’s a little dark, admittedly, but it is a drop-top, so there’s that.
Clambering in is a bit of a challenge; I found the best way was to drop my butt into the seat and swing my legs over. Once in, it’s as coddling as expected; everything is easily within reach, and the gloriously simple three-spoke steering wheel falls nicely into your hands. There are no buttons attached to it save for the horn, a few stalks for wipers, cruise, trip computer and turn indicators and that’s it. No F1-esque multi-button trickery as you’ll see in a Ferrari, and overall, it’s much more “Lotus” than “Lamborghini”. Far as I’m concerned, it’s right on the mark.
As I sat in the snug confines, though, I had an epiphany: here I was in this no-bones supercar, yet I was surprisingly comfortable, had 12-speakers courtesy of Bowers and Wilkins, Bluetooth streaming audio, nav, even heated and cooled seats. It’s all accessed by two simple button sets: one below the touchscreen—yes, touchscreen—display on the centre stack, and one on the transmission tunnel, where it’s joined by the drive mode toggles. There are two of these: one for the powertrain, and one of the chassis. What’s strange is while you may think all you have to do is flip the toggle between one of the three settings—normal, sport, track—in order to activate the different modes, it’s not quite that simple. Do that, and you’ll receive a message on the gauge cluster that reads something along the lines of “drive mode inactive”, because you haven’t done the first step, which is pressing a button marked “active” between the two drive mode toggles. It’s weird at first, but then you realize how it kind of makes for more of an event in the end; I likened it to what I pictured as the start-up protocol for a top-fuel dragster. Or an F-16 Tomcat.
The 570S runs a twin-turbo V8, yes, but at 3.8 L it’s quite small by V8 standards. Not only does this help with fuel economy—we saw a (paltry for the circumstances) 12L per 100 km in mixed driving—but its small packaging means better airflow ‘round the car, as well as better visibility out. I thought I’d be sat in the driver’s seat, only to look over my shoulder or in my mirror and have a massive air intake blocking the whole thing, but that’s simply not the case as the visibility is undeterred. Add the backup camera – yes you read that right—which appears in the modifiable gauge cluster (makes sense, until you turn the wheel and realize the wheel spoke is blocking your view of the camera) once you select reverse, and let’s just say I didn’t have to sit on the open door sill to park after all. Shame.
The engine’s also light, which does well to go with the rest of the 570S mantra. It’s an all carbon tub, and all manner of further lightweighting can be done, from the addition of a carbon engine cover, superlight wheels and more. Better still, the spider version weighs just 46 kilos more than the coupe; compare that to the 120 kilo gulf between the Lambo Huracan LP 580-2 Spyder and coupe siblings, and you can see the fruits of McLaren’s labour. Of course, the styling tweaks exist outside of the realm of performance, too; you can turn almost every bit into exposed carbon fibre if you choose, the colour swatch is impressive and can be ordered in any combination, and all sorts of interior detailing stuff is available.
Of course, why just “see” them, when you can “feel” them? Off we go, then.
The first part of my drive has me in the clogged city streets of downtown Vancouver (many heads turning, there), so right away I get the chance to see if you can navigate city streets in this as well as you can in, say, a 911. We’ve talked about the over-the-shoulder visibility, but you have to think that with a pillars as slanted as this, you’d have some fairly significant forward blind spots.
Luckily, because it’s mostly fashioned from carbon, the a-pillars are properly thin so there’s very little visibility issues; they extend pretty much to being sat so low—but not that low. There were times I actually had to remind myself I was seated in such a low car, as the low-profile dash and wheel do well to mostly stay out of your peripheral vision, having you feel like you’re sitting a little higher. Normally, this would bug me, but since you are so low to start—butt just a few inches off the ground—it’s a fine balance.
The transmission is a 7-speed “seamless shift gearbox”, which is kind of a fancy way of saying “dual-clutch gearbox”. Like other transmissions of this type, the next gear is pre-selected, so switching to it means far less power interruption at speed. At slower speeds, however, it is a little clunky almost as if it can’t wait to get on the open road any more than you can.
While the transmission’s a little clunky, the ride does well to handle most of the hindrances often presented by city driving such as bus ruts, raised crossings and saggy tarmac. I did, however, make sure I kept it in the higher of two ride heights – done by flipping the same lever used for your trip computer. It takes about 12 seconds all told (which, as it happens, is the same time it takes for the roof to deploy or stow), and can be done on the fly. It automatically reverts to low mode once you hit 80 km/h, or if you give it a particularly aggressive dollop of throttle.
Which is what I did soon as I got the chance after leaving town and on the Upper Levels highway towards Whistler, BC, a picturesque route that is a perfect fit for a car like this.
Activating “Sport” and stepping on it unleashes a fury that is one of the most surreal accelerative experiences I’ve ever had, and I’ve sampled everything from the Porsche 911 GT2 RS to the Dodge Challenger Hellcat. The small-diameter turbos spool instantly, and the 570S is propelled down the road on a wave of torque as if it were a bungee jumper on the way back up. Just raw, unfettered forward force that blurs the scenery alongside, so that you literally have to catch your breath before you can unscramble your brain enough for it to be able to tell your outstretched digit to flip the “+” paddle, and do it all over again. More experienced supercar drivers may feel differently, but for most drivers, there may as well be no weight at all. It’s that quick.
The other place that you can really feel just how light and efficient the 570S is, is during braking. There’s a nice little backroad on the way up to Whistler that I love testing cars like this on. It’s properly sinewy, with nice cambers and, for the most part, good visibility. While much of it is smooth, it is pockmarked in places and said places seem to always be changing; one week, a pothole you knew used to be there will be filled, but another may have popped up elsewhere. It adds a level of nervousness to the proceedings, as you’re sometimes left to choose whether you want to swerve around said pothole, straddle it, or pass gingerly through it, and pray for you’re a-arms.
Not so the McLaren; there, I was happy to just toe the left pedal, as the brakes are able to haul the whole shebang to a standstill in a matter of seconds. Yes; they take a little bit of work in the city as there’s very little pedal travel, but once you learn to work with them, you see just how effective they are.
Of course, it should come as no surprise that the 570S handled pretty much everything that road would lob its way; plus, when you’re sat so close to the front axle, you get that much clearer a look as to just how fast a car changes directions. Read: instantaneously. There is a steering column, but it’s short – remember, most of the car’s behind you – so you really get that feeling that you’re right there, operating the front axle with the tips of your fingers. It’s an addictive feeling, and while you need a track to really get the no-holds-barred experience (we left the chassis setting in “sport”, and the powertrain in “track” for this bit as it’s a little harsh otherwise), what you do get out on the open road is absolutely worth the price of admission.
It sounds like a racing car, and the gearchange is so instantaneous (the paddles are actually one paddle, mounted on a single rocker, which is interesting), that it’s hard to imagine any race car feeling much different; just a cacophony of bwuaahhhhhhh-click-bwuahhhhh-click-buwhahhhhhh-pop-pop-pop. Wash, rinse, repeat. There is so little out there on the road today that feels quite like this. So very little.
I could go on and on about this absolute gem of a car, but in the end, it speaks for itself, really. McLaren has managed to do what I’d hoped, and made a monster of a performer that does so with as little sacrifice to everyday usability as possible. From the excellent view out, to the modifiable settings, to the tech on-hand, the 570 is a pleasure. Plus, there’s an even more usable model, to boot; it’s called the 570 GT, and it actually gets a hatchback of sorts to go with the frunk it shares with the 570S. Unreal.
Now, what’s the Lotto Max jackpot up to this week?
2018 McLaren 570S Spider
BODY STYLE: Two-door coupe
DRIVE METHOD: mid-mounted motor, rear-wheel drive
ENGINE: 3.8L V8, twin-turbo; Power: 562hp; Torque: 443 lb-ft
TRANSMISSION: 7-speed automatic
CARGO CAPACITY: 150 litres
FUEL ECONOMY (EST): 15.7/10.2 L/100 km city/highway
PRICING: $302,800 as tested
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