Building on Success

<< Back to Robb Report, October 2014
  • Paul Meyers

McLaren’s 650S retains the best parts of its predecessor, the 12C, and adds elements from the marque’s P1 supercar. 

McLaren’s status with car enthusiasts is such that the British brand sold out three years’ worth of production of its MP4-12C sports car shortly after introducing the model in 2011. That was about 3,000 examples of a roughly $240,000 vehicle that no one had ever driven. Being closely associated with a Formula 1 team that at last count had won 182 races, 12 drivers’ championships, and eight constructors’ championships is apparently good for a carmaker’s reputation. Being involved in the development and production of the benchmark McLaren F1 and Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren road cars has also earned the marque some fans. 

Successful as the 12C has been (the MP4 was eventually dropped from the name), McLaren has moved on to its next model. “The 12C was really our first road car, and already it is not enough for us,” says Chris Goodwin, the auto racer who serves as the company’s chief test-driver.

The new car, the 650S, retains 75 percent of the 12C’s components, making it more of a refresh than a full-on replacement. “The 650S stands on the shoulders of the 12C,” says McLaren’s marketing and communications manager, Hud Giles. “We’ve taken everything that the 12C did well and improved upon it.” 

McLaren is producing the 650S as a $265,500 coupe and a $280,225 hard-top spider. The drop-offs in performance, stiffness, and drivability between the coupe and spider are so negligible that the company expects the large majority of the examples sold in the United States to be spiders. 

Like the 12C, the 650S is a rear-wheel-drive sports car built around a carbon-fiber tub that McLaren calls a MonoCell. The MonoCell weighs just 165 pounds and, according to the company, makes the car more rigid and safer—in addition to lighter—than vehicles with steel or aluminum frames.

The 650S is powered by a mid-mounted 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-8, as is the 12C. However, the 650S’s engine has lighter pistons, re-ported heads, revised cam timing, and larger exhaust valves for the turbochargers, all of which enhance the V-8’s power—as with a well-trained athlete, more efficient breathing improves performance. The engine produces 641 hp (or 650 Pferdestärke, the European standard for horsepower and the measurement that gives the car its name) and 500 ft lbs of torque, which is 25 more horsepower and 57 more foot-pounds of torque than the 12C’s engine generates. The 650S can reach 60 mph from a standstill in 2.9 seconds—faster than the Ferrari 458 Spider. Top speeds are 207 mph for the coupe and 204 mph for the spider.

In addition to a re-engineered motor, McLaren gave the 650S a front fascia that is more aggressive-looking and more eye-catching than the 12C’s. The design, which resembles a sneer, derives from the company’s P1 supercar. The 650S’s Alcantara interior, LED headlamps, and carbon-ceramic brakes also come from the P1. 

Following the 650S’s official debut at the Geneva International Motor Show in March and its U.S. launch the next month at the New York International Auto Show, McLaren invited a group of writers to the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., to test-drive the car on the 2.2-mile, 11-turn track. There, they could experience the car’s high-performance capabilities and test such features as McLaren’s Brake Steer, which is banned from Formula 1 racing because of the competitive advantages it provides. It allows the driver to brake later when entering a corner and accelerate earlier when leaving it.  

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