2016 McLaren 650S Spider Review

by Heather Platt | Posted on Saturday, October 31st, 2015

All I saw was a cloud of dust. At some point during my 575-mile drive of the 2016 McLaren 650S Spider, I sort of became immune to gawkers. Phones snapped hundreds of pictures and videos, so I imagine I’m semi-famous on exactly 200,000 different Twitstagram accounts by now. But then a kid so intent on capturing my green machine actually drove off the road. Thankfully, he regained control, and in the process was hopefully taught a very important lesson about distracted driving. Probably not.

2016 McLaren 650S

That’s what happens when you drive a bright green McLaren through the heartland of America: everyone takes notice. Car enthusiasts or not, every single person I passed in the 650S gave it a second look. Usually they just stared and stared. Or honked. Or tried to race me (and lost – dummies). My road trip was a 575-mile-long case of distracted driving, and all I can say is, “sorry, not sorry.”

It all started over dinner in New York. I told our McLaren guy that he should send a car to Detroit, and instead of hiring a transportation company, should just let me drive it over. Next thing I knew, I was on a plane to Baltimore with intrepid video producer Chris “Roy Rogers” McGraw, where a $350,000-plus, Mantis Green 650S Spider would be waiting for me by the BWI airport rental car plaza. McLaren cars enter the US through the Port of Baltimore, so it felt right picking up the car there, instead of in New York. Plus, driving this thing through Manhattan seemed like a massive pain in the ass.

No car I’ve ever driven could draw a crowd like the 650S. It’s not uncommon to seesupercars rolling through big cities – people don’t bat an eye if one drives by in Los Angeles. But in the country, it’s a sight to behold. Say what you will about Mac’s derivative styling, I think the 650 looks killer. And so did everyone who stopped me on the street.

What I found most interesting was, just saying “McLaren” was enough to really draw people in. If they’re familiar with the British marque, they haven’t heard the name in a really long time. And if the word doesn’t ring a bell, they want to know what it’s all about. “It’s not a Ferrari – it’s a McLaren,” one guy said to his wife at a rest stop. The brand recognition might still be lower than McLaren would like – everyone instantly thinks it’s a Ferrari orLamborghini – but everyone I met took this car very, very seriously.

And you have to take it seriously. It’s a freaking supercar. Nevermind the way it looks, how much it costs, or how many kids will run up to it in a parking lot. On the road, this is one of the most impeccable machines I’ve ever driven. Ever. In terms of memorable motoring experiences, this 650S will stand out – and not just because of its color.No, there’s not much to set the 650S apart from its supercar kin in terms of how it stacks up on paper. There’s a twin-turbo 3.8-liter V8 right behind you, making 641 horsepower and 500 pound-feet of torque. You manage the power with a seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission. Perhaps the most notable part of the 650S setup is that it uses rear-wheel drive, whereas most supercars have moved to all-wheel-drive setups. But what gets me about this car is how dramatically its personality can change.

Day 1 of the road trip was mostly about getting some beauty-roll shots and general drive impressions – in other words, lots of freeway stuff and curvy backroads. Not exactly supercar territory, but even here, the 650S was a peach. In its standard setting, the suspension is so supple and nicely balanced that the car will happily eat up highways and side roads without breaking your back. It is honestly the most amicable suspension setup I can recall. To put it in perspective, I once drove a Nissan GT-R for 300 miles straight and emerged nearly deaf and in desperate need of a chiropractor. I put the same amount of miles on the McLaren and after a quick stretch of the legs, was ready to do it all over again.

But just as this car is quiet, refined, comfortable, and smooth, it can be a full-on assault weapon. Three drive modes are available, for both the handling and powertrain – Normal, Sport, and Track. I didn’t use the latter, because I didn’t track-test the 650S, and I’m not one of those guys who thinks you have to ditch the traction control and put a car in blast-off mode to see what it’s like on a public road (that’s not safe, friends). With both the handling and engine set to sport mode, the 650S stiffened up, hunkered down, and used the full might of its twin-turbo V8. With launch control, the 650S Spider will scoot to 60 miles per hour in under three seconds, and with the engine directly behind your head, it accelerates in a fury of noise and woosh and holy-crap-this-thing-is-quick.

At 3,250-ish pounds, the 650S Spider weighs about 100 pounds more than aVolkswagen GTI, but has 400 more horsepower. And with its slick aerodynamics, it slices through the air with supreme downforce and stability, including when you mash the brake pedal and the giant air wing flips up in your rear view mirror. As quick as it is moving forward, it’s just as urgent when slowing down. And there’s no drama from the front end – everything remains stable, poised, and with minimal body motions.

That’s how the car tackles corners, too. There is this sharp precision from the front wheels that communicates through the carbon fiber tub and up to the seat of your pants, while the steering wheel provides just as much feedback to your arms. You feel completely in touch with every move the McLaren makes. It’s brilliant.

This all came flooding into my mind while navigating the winding roads of southern Pennsylvania, plowing northwest toward Ohio. Get off the turnpike, explore a bit, and you’ll find some truly scenic roads that connect tiny mining towns. Hills, twists, and turns abound, the 650S was at home on these scenic roads. And despite McGraw yelling at me through the walkie-talkie to slow down so he could film, I couldn’t resist pushing myself to take each turn faster, brake later, and trust that the car’s fantastic suspension would treat me just as nicely in Sport mode as it did while highway-slumming in Normal.


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