Baby supercar

Supercars are for the truly rich. So McLaren has created one that costs about the same as a Porsche. You might be able to afford it, but can you tame it? Michael Ryan reports.

What’s it like to hop into a $501,000 supercar that’s been built purely for extreme performance? Terrifying, actually!

There is nothing about the McLaren 570S that’s inside your automotive comfort zone. It’s not like jumping into a Mercedes C63 or a BMW M5 — cars that let you experience being a racer while still coddling you in cabins and controls not much different to those of an ordinary sedan.

A McLaren 570S is something else entirely. It’s a supercar, not a sports car, which means it lives in Ferrari, Lamborghini or even Bugatti territory.

First, you have to lower yourself into what feels like a go-kart, just a few centimetres off the ground. The dihedral doors — which open upwards — make it easier than expected to slip in, but then you look to your side and find yourself parallel with the adjacent car’s hubcaps. It’s an intimidating experience, and you keep thinking: “am I going to be able to handle this?”

You press engine start and a storm of sound pours into the cabin through the back window, from the mid-mounted engine. You scan your surroundings to make sure there are no objects for at least 10 metres, and very carefully and gently, you press the accelerator, expecting this thing to want to rocket out of your parking space.

But instead, the McLaren is surprisingly sluggish: not going anywhere unless you press the accelerator harder than you really want to. It’s like trying to rouse a reptile in the winter cold.

This is your first hands-on lesson about supercars. They’re not really designed to operate at a normal pace of life. Supercars are the next level up from sports cars such as Porsches and Aston Martins, but designed for brutal performance, they only come alive at speeds well in excess of our road limits.

It was only when we got the 570S up to 100km/h down a freeway that it started to stir. We pressed the accelerator a bit harder and in barely a second, we were screaming at 140km/h and slamming on the brakes to avoid a massive fine.

We knew then that the 570S suddenly wanted to play. The sluggishness was gone, the electric-mechanical steering (for better road feel) felt beautifully calibrated and the engine was begging to be revved. At this point, we weren’t driving it anymore, just holding it back from what it wanted to do.

An exclusive category, supercars are exhilarating, single-purpose examples of just how insanely fast a car can accelerate, and what neck crushing G-forces it can inflict on you before it even thinks of losing traction in a sharp corner.

The only problem is, you need to be well heeled to be able to afford one. As the head of Aston Martin, Andy Palmer, told Fitness First magazine when he was in Sydney last year, supercars are generally for people who have at least one million dollars in cash sitting in their bank accounts.

That is, until the McLaren 570S came along. The 570S is a “baby” supercar. For just $501, 644, you get the supercar experience at a sports car price. With a genuine supercar engine (which also powers the higher spec McLaren 720S) and supercar carbon fibre construction, it destroys the top end of the sports car class on pure performance. If you’ve ever wanted the ultimate car but couldn’t afford something that costs as much as a house in Sydney, the McLaren is what you want in your garage.

The looks

Even before you get into it, the McLaren stuns. It looks like a supercar; a low, wide machine with an engine cover that seems to go on forever. McLaren says the 570S was designed purely to maximise airflow and cooling around the car (not a surprising approach from an F1 company which designs cars for extreme performance). Indeed, there’s more air intakes and ducts than on a jet fighter, but making it airflow-friendly has also made the 570S stunningly beautiful. The car is one giant collection of sensuous curves designed to let air flow smoothly over them in a wind tunnel and, of course, at its top speed of 320km/h.

Crucially, the 570S doesn’t have the aggressive, testosterone-filled looks of other supercars, which is one reason
women apparently love it as much as men. One cyclist even got off her bike to take a photo of the 570S when we parked in Sydney’s Mona Vale.

When you glance at the 570S and its fellow McLaren supercars from a distance, there is a family resemblance. Their headlights, or eyes, hint at aliens. They give the 570S a sinister ambivalence, sort of like it’s come to earth in peace to be your friend, or to destroy your civilisation, depending on how you treat it.

The performance

Performance is what makes a supercar, and the McLaren is terrifying when unleashed. When you have a really, really fast car, you don’t tend to talk 0-100km/h (which the McLaren does in an astonishing 3.2 seconds), rather the quarter mile, which is almost 400m. Over that distance, the McLaren keeps up with the fastest Ferraris and destroys the top sports cars, such as the Mercedes AMG GTs and Porsche 911 Carreras. Of course, on the speed-limited city roads, you can get only hints of this.

The 570S is also regarded as the world’s best convertible. Why? Because it doesn’t have the Achilles heel of other convertibles: without a roof structure to add rigidity, most convertibles flex in the middle and can never truly be considered proper sports cars. The McLaren, on the other hand, is built around a carbon-fibre monocoque, a box-like structure that gives the car coupe rigidity, as well as making the car extremely light and giving the driver and passenger a safe cocoon in case of an accident.

The sound

The McLaren sounds different. It’s not as operatic as some other supercars, missing the highs and lows of most Ferraris and Lamborghinis. When driving around the city, its V8 engine has a flat, raspy note which some critics have labelled disappointing. But they’re only revealing their ignorance, because the McLaren sounds just like a GT race car as it goes past you in the pits at Bathurst; it’s exactly what it should sound like if it was designed purely for performance rather than entertainment.

Raise the engine above idle as you potter around some back roads and suddenly the noise from the back starts to overwhelm any conversation in the car. Rev it more on a test track and the McLaren starts to sounds more like a Formula One machine.

When filming the car, our crew could hear its high-pitched scream coming from nearly half a kilometre away, giving them plenty of time to set up their shots before it shot past in a blur. Now that’s an entrance.

If you can afford it, this is the most raw, enjoyable experience you will ever have in
a car. Trust us, we’ve tested them all.