When McLaren launched the 12C in 2011, formerly known as the MP4-12C, I wasn’t entirely convinced. To be fair, I had no concrete reasons not to be convinced (I never drove it); it just didn’t initially click with me.
My perception of McLaren’s first production car since the iconic F1 slowly began to shift. I began to consume more information about the MP4-12C, about the car’s pedigree and how significant it was for the brand. I also started to notice how many Ferrari 458 Italias were on the road. Unfortunately, for McLaren, the 458 Italia was a far better looking car than the MP4-12C upon first glance, a fact that undoubtedly helped its sales. But as I began to see more and more of them, I began to tire of them and started to appreciate the rarer McLaren. When McLaren dropped the ‘MP4’ prefix, a romantic but not so user-friendly homage to the F1 chassis that delivered them considerable success since its inception in 1981, I was certain they were ready to take on the supercar market.
It wasn’t until I saw photos of Jenson Button climbing out of a 650S on Collins Street days before the 2014 Melbourne GP did I think to myself, “Wow, McLaren are going to kill it with this car.” And I can assure you, McLaren is well and truly killing it today. How do I know this? I was there this year, on the production floor, and there’s no room left.
McLaren literally cannot produce vehicles fast enough. With the addition of the 540C, 570S and 675LT to the existing 650S production line, the (new) factory is almost bursting at the seems. Fortunately, the last of the P1 and P1 GTRs are heading off to their owners, allowing McLaren to convert that production line to accommodate the new models. Even with the additional production line, they’re introducing extra night shifts for employees to cater for the demand.
After being at McLaren, absorbing their history with Amanda (Bruce McLaren’s daughter), seeing firsthand the relationship between their F1 and road car operation, and being behind the wheel of their cars, I can finally understand where the obsession for this brand comes from.
To say I’m hooked is a severe understatement. The combination of product, pedigree and principles are everything a motoring fan could dream of. The Technology Centre (factory) is a motoring wonderland, from the pristine F1 and production cars in the foyer to the F1 trophies, development and testing, to the production line, where absolutely everything is done by hand. Not surprisingly it’s the real enthusiasts who are buying McLarens, from gentleman racers, to technology boffins, to die-hard F1 fans. McLaren buyers choose the badge for the right reasons, not the wrong ones, and I find that refreshing.
When I arrived at Miramare Gardens in Terrey Hills to be greeted by not one McLaren, but three, I knew I was in for a pleasurable afternoon. Ultimately we were there to drive the 540C and 570S, two new releases in the McLaren Sports Series but they’d also brought along a 650S from the Super Series. What makes the attendance of the 650S especially significant, is the fact that, despite being in different Series, all three cars utilise the same engine. In fact, the all three cars share the same engine as the 675LT and the McLaren P1 (a baffling concept in itself). The 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 ‘M838T’ engine was originally developed for the 12C and won Engine of the Year in the 3-4 litre category for three consecutive years from 2012 to 2015.
I managed to spend a fleeting moment in a MSO (McLaren Special Operations) 650S while in England, so initially I wasn’t too fused with driving it in Sydney. Then it dawned on my why it was there so that we could discuss the similarities, make comparisons and experience the engine in its various forms.
While the engine has been detuned for the 540C and 570S, both cars deliver ferocious acceleration, so much so it’s almost impossible to pick which is quicker. On paper the 540C offers 397kW/540Nm and the 570S 419kW/600Nm, producing 0 to 100km/h times is 3.5 seconds and 3.4 seconds respectively. Both engines are mated to a seamless seven-speed twin-clutch automatic gearbox which allows the driver to shift up and down via either paddle – pull back for up, flick forward for down. It’s a very practical innovation that will coerce you into manual mode far more than you’d think.
I had an absolute ball jumping between the 540C and 570S as we winded our way down to Akuna Bay. Dialled up to Sport or Track mode both cars ache to be driven hard, combining epic torque, rapid gear changes, and excellent braking ability. The mode selection also adjusts suspension, which I found brittle to say the least, from Comfort through to Sport. The ride was noticeably better in the superior 650S which runs a more advanced suspension set up. Usually, ride comfort isn’t a huge concern for me, but I can see prospective buyers, especially those coming from Porsche finding it an issue.
Which brings me to my conclusion. McLaren has already attracted Porsche buyers with its existing models and has expressed more interest in their market share with 540C and 570S, starting at $350k (for the 540C). I, unfortunately, don’t have a lot of experience driving Porsche vehicles, so it’s hard for me to make a comparison between the 911 and the cars I drove. I have however driven the Huracan, and there’s no doubt McLaren have some stiff competition there. Ultimately it will be up to the individual, one who preferences pedigree and engineering, or a badge and some additional drama.