The McLaren 570S Is Kicking Down Porsche’s Front Door

McLaren’s newest rewrites old supercar logic. Quickly.

McLaren

The McLaren 570S hurtles us to the End of the World, or at least where it stood when Columbus first commuted across the ocean blue. Progress is halted by a 250-foot cliff at Portugal’s Cape St. Vincent. We park at the edge. This is the southwestern tip of mainland Europe, where a seemingly infinite shimmer of Atlantic led sailors from the Romans to the Moors to consider the shape and substance of the Earth itself. The Cape’s squat lighthouse, wave-battered coastline and vertigo-inducing views should be tourists’ sightseeing priorities. But the camera-toting horde pivots toward the McLaren 570S. The car’s raised dihedral doors are bright red magnets to the starstruck crowd.

They’re curious and sunburnt and simply will not get out of our shot, firing off questions about the McLaren. How fast? How much? One stout Brit reminds us that actor Rowan Atkinson, aka Mr. Bean, sold his twice-crashed McLaren F1 for $12 million. In a universal gesture of approving surprise, his eyebrows lift and his mouth puckers when he learns that the 2016 570S will start from “just” $187,400—at least in the colonies due west of here.

McLaren

That price is on rough par with machinery from far less rarified corners of the super sports-car market. Think: Mercedes-AMG GT SAudi R8 V10 Plus and, of course, the Porsche 911 Turbo S. The 570S is the first of McLaren’s more affordable Sports Series, an integral part the British firm’s plan to be handcrafting more than 4,000 cars per year by 2017.

That’d be roughly half the output of its bête noire Ferrari, yet represent a nuclear expansion for a company that, between its creation as a racing outfit in 1963 and rechristening as McLaren Automotive in 2010, achieved a dozen Formula 1 driver’s championships while bothering to build a single street-legal car, the F1. (We’re not counting you, Mercedes SLR McLaren.) It’s crazier when you consider that all 106 road-going F1s were, in the U.S. government’s eyes, as illegal as Mexicans on the wrong side of Donald Trump’s delusional Wall.

Here in Portugal, where the native tongue confounds even those fluent in Spanish, we have no trouble translating the mid-engine 570S: It’s muito encantador, an enchanting blend of racing-bred carbon fiber, a 562-horsepower twin-turbo V-8 and the approachable attitude that’s the new target for everyone from Lamborghini to Ferrari.

It’s also, in some ways, a better sports car than the far pricier 650S, itself an improvement on the MP4-12C, McLaren’s first foray into showrooms since its record-shattering F1.

Start with the steering, as we do on a quick jaunt from seaside Faro to the Algarve International Circuit, an exciting but often opaque stew of blind crests and tricky apexes in Portimão. The rack is quick, as in 14.1:1 quick, versus a ratio of just 15.3:1 for the 650S. Stiffer, 19-inch Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires up front, with 20s at the rear and softened rear-end tuning, fight understeer nearly to the death.

For the 570S, McLaren worried less about creating aero downforce at superhero speeds and more about creating an engaging, dynamic sidekick for mortals. Chris Goodwin, McLaren’s chief test driver, says the idea was to make the car “work first on public roads, and then try and harness that to make it quick on track.” Mission accomplished.

McLaren

Though it necessarily forgoes some signature-yet-costly McLaren tech—mainly a hydraulic anti-roll system and pivoting rear airbrake—the featherweight 570S cuts no corners on performance. Road or track, it dives into corners with Spitfire aplomb. (The World War II dogfighter, not the Triumph). It feels more playful than the 650S, easier to twirl like a tango master. On curlicue Portuguese roads, it presents almost unlimited opportunities mid-corner: Tighten the line, force the limits, perhaps close your eyes—the McLaren lets you try anything twice. The buck-naked steering wheel, with nary a button or switch, testifies to the car’s singular intent.

McLaren versatility is accessed via console toggles: one for the mechanical adaptive suspension, one for the engine and transmission, with smartly tuned Normal, Sport and Track settings. Set both to Normal, and it’s all smooth and sluice-y around town. Dial up Track, and the 570S literally blurs any distinction between sports- and supercar. That includes a fine seven-speed, twin-clutch automated gearbox. It’s straight from the “Super Series” 650S and 675LT models, but with even sprightlier gear changes that remain gentle on the spine. Carbon composite brakes are standard-issue, including six-piston units up front. They’re mighty strong and a breeze to modulate.

It helps that the 570S weighs as little as 2,895 pounds. Note: That’s a “dry” measure, meaning no fluids aboard. Still, impressive, and McLaren claims that’s at least 310 pounds lighter than any rival. Passengers are cocooned in McLaren’s signature carbon-fiber monocell, which weighs all of middleweight boxer. It’s been reworked to trim costs while easing ingress and egress: doorsills are slimmer and lower, set 3.3 inches below those on the 650S. Between a small parcel shelf behind the seats and a generous “frunk” below the hood, there’s ample cargo space for five-star weekends, from Sonoma to Sardinia.

The McLaren’s 443 pound-feet of torque can’t touch the 516 of the 911 Turbo S, let alone the 650 for the Corvette Z06. And the McLaren’s 3.1-second rip to 60 mph is well behind the magical, four-wheel-launching Porsche, though just 0.1-second off the 650-horse Z06.

But here’s where the tables turn, and quickly: McLaren cites an epic 9.5-second rip to 124 mph, nearly a second faster than the Porsche or Z06, and a surpassing top speed of 204 mph. It’s hard to imagine traveling that much faster, and quicker, than a Turbo S or Z06. But there you go.

McLaren

The 570S may not be beautiful per se, but McLaren’s “biomimicry” design language grows in confidence with each new model—this one looks more organic and less coldly technical than its 12C or 650S predecessors (if not as sweet as the 675LT). An air-piercing front bumper with angled carbon-fiber flaps divides air over, under and through the car. Concave “tendons” along the dihedral doors adhere to F1 principles, concentrating and accelerating airflow into side intakes to feed the hungry V-8. The rear end, with its cateye taillamps, hex-shaped mesh heat extractors and curling diffuser, had Portuguese drivers speeding through traffic for camera shots.

“Tighten the line, force the limits, perhaps close your eyes—the McLaren lets you try anything twice.”

Our reaction to the sound is harder to gauge, because it changes like a turbocharged chameleon. McLaren worked overtime to address the inherent aural handicap of a turbo engine, reworking the thing for maximum efficiency and sound with 30 percent new components. At cruising speeds, some droning, coffee-can frequencies still intrude. But whisked past 5,000 rpm to the 8,200-rpm limit, the V-8 unleashes a boisterous new tune, aided by longer, finely tuned exhaust plumbing and a new cylinder head and exhaust manifold for the 3.8-liter block.

The answer, clearly, is to always be on-throttle.

The only downside comes inside, where a cost-conscious interior reveals fleas on this British underdog. Yes, McLaren’s has justifiably focused resources on things that make the car go, stop and turn. But Porsche, Audi or Mercedes-AMG buyers, spoiled by luxury economies of scale, will notice the McLaren’s tech-challenged, barely posh atmosphere.

Even a $55,000 Corvette beats the McLaren on ergonomics. Seat adjustment switches are buried in a carpal-tunnel-inducing grave along the center tunnel. Then there’s IRIS, McLaren’s notoriously wonky infotainment unit. I’ve taken to calling it ISIS: eager to terrorize any innocent who encounters its baleful digital gaze. Connecting a phone via Bluetooth, this system wouldn’t control a single aspect of music playback, not even advancing tracks. The navigation system is bog-slow. McLaren needs to rip this touchscreen weed from the roots and adopt something worthy of the company’s engineering brilliance. But, hey, at least the 1,280-watt Bowers & Wilkins audio system positively rocks.

And, considering the McLaren’s electrifying performance, the iconoclast who chooses its less-traveled road may overlook its warts. They might even call the 570S a deal, if that can be said without offending middle-class sensibilities. Just think: a new McLaren for the price of a used Ferrari.

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2016 MCLAREN 570S
PRICE (BASE): $187,400
POWERTRAIN: 3.8-liter, twin-turbo V-8, 562 hp, 443 lb-ft torque; 7-speed dual-clutch automatic; RWD
WEIGHT: 2,895 lbs (dry)
0-60 MPH: 3.1 sec
TOP SPEED: 204
MPG (est.): 17 city / 24 highway
ON SALE: Now