McLaren is quite handy at building Spiders, isn’t it?
It’s got a great track record. Because all its road cars are built around an ultra-stiff carbon tub, there’s no reinforcement come cabrio-time. So the only extra weight is what’s added by the folding hard-top, and because McLaren’s version is an elegant electric 46kg operation, that’s the only penalty. You get hard-top refinement at the press of a button, or full-blown intimacy with whatever bi-turbo V8 your chosen McLaren is pushed along by. With zero compromises.
And this is the cheapest, least powerful McSpider yet?
Those being relative terms, yes. But the 570S, even in boulevardier Spider guise, remains stupendously fast for an entry-level supercar.
It generates 562 imperial horsepower, and it’s good for 0-100km/h in 3.4 seconds, and feels faster still. Such is the potency, the sense of pent-up pressure when those turbos come on boost, and the lightness of the car. McLaren quotes 1,359kg dry, and 1,486kg ready to go with 90 per cent super-unleaded on board. That’s three hundred kilos less than the all-wheel drive Audi R8 V10 Plus Spyder.
Convertibles aren’t really about speed though, are they?
No, they’re about showing off, primarily. So you’ll want a decent top end whack to namecheck, if not to verify. McLaren quotes two top speeds: 328km/h with the roof erected; 315km/h (presumably quite noisy) with it hidden in its burrow behind the seats. When it’s playing coupe, incidentally, you can use that 52-litre hideyhole as a second boot. The 150-litre cavern in the nose is really generous too. McLaren thinks through practical supercars freakishly well.
You said it would be deafening with the roof off at speed. Is this not a very aerodynamic roadster?
The 570S actually makes for a cracking roadster. The two-piece roof motors into the rear deck in 15 seconds, at speeds of up to 40km/h. Convenience is the key to happy drop-top motoring – it’s something the MX-5 has had nailed for decades. If opening the roof (and getting it back up again when a deluge arrives) is child’s play, you’re more likely to indulge it more of the time.
Roof ops is one thing, buffeting is another. Again, the 570S does the job. Obviously the car is clever at managing airflow – just look at those gorgeous door intake ‘tendons’ and the 12mm taller rear spoiler to create the downforce lost by the Spider ditching flying buttresses. But aero for speed’s sake is one thing. Keeping the cockpit free of turbulence until you’re deeply into motorway speeds is a brilliant ability to have in the locker. Because it encourages keeping the roof down.
Just one note of caution. Don’t, whatever you do, raise the rear window to play windbreak. While that trick makes an R8 Spyder far quieter on the motorway, in the McLaren it has the opposite effect, acting like a sail between the humped buttresses and summoning deafening drumming. Save the rear window button for when it’s inclement outside but you fancy letting more noise – and hapless passerby comments – into the cabin.
Speaking of noise…
McLaren’s nemesis, its enemy within. Always has been. This 3.8-litre bi-turbo V8 doesn’t have the fine note-tuning of the 720’s larger engine, itself hardly operatic, and at times the 570S flits between sounding like an angry four-pot tarmac rally car, a wet fart, and, as it rampantly bears down on its 8,000rpm redline, finally a furious supercar. It’s a bassy, buzzy sound. McLarens are often described as sounding ‘industrial’, as if the V8 is too busy developing masses of power to be distracted making truly exotic noises. Same story here – it’s not unpleasant, but not addictive either.
This particular ‘Curacao Blue’ McSpider was fitted with the optional Sports Exhaust, by the way. It’s an option, and one you could probably do without. But we’ll come back to options spending in a while. Tip. Of. Iceberg.
Even with the roof down, you’re only faintly aware of turbos spinning and chuffing, and there’s greater tone and depth to the soundtrack than a 911 Turbo’s hoarse woosh. But if you’re an absolute audiophile, you need an R8 Spyder. V10 > V8. Audi has an atmospheric engine in every sense.
If you’re more excited by how refined the 570S is with its roof off than the noise its V8 makes, this must be a pretty dour supercar…
It isn’t, don’t worry. And I’m not falling back on the usual clichés of ‘aren’t the doors cool?’ and ‘ready-set-gearchange lights for the win’. The 570S Spider is just sensational to drive. It’s mind-pulverisingly fast, but speed is such a tiny slice of its repertoire. It has spectacular mechanical traction for a rear-drive supercar with such potency, but even once you’ve breached the limits, the systems have been beautifully set up.
As you can see from Mark Riccioni’s lovely photos, it rained while we were snapping the 570S, but never did the car feel like it was bleeding away power for the sake of holding its grip on the road. It will continue to accelerate violently even as the traction control light blinks. No juddering, no stutter. It’s enormously confidence inspiring. And because you’re located so low and forward in the car with the usual irreproachable visibility, the 570S isn’t intimidating.
You’re struggling for criticisms, aren’t you?
Not quite. And I’m afraid it’s the usual McLaren elephant in the room. There are a lot of niggles with these cars, and though McLaren is a young company without a range of hatchbacks and crossovers to share development costs with, this is far from the first Woking product that’s thrown up rogue tyre pressure warnings, failed to start, had its ‘Iris’ touchscreen freeze and suffered from disobedient windows while on loan to Top Gear.
In a P1 limited-edition spaceship, fair enough, you might say. But this car’s supposed to be a 911 Turbo competitor. It isn’t a ninth or tenth car in the garage of a billionaire. It’s intended for everyday use. So much of the design is brilliant at making that ‘daily supercar’ dream a reality, but the gremlins erode it again. This car’s roof also leaked rainwater. It collected in the seams where the windows met the roof, and then soaked my shoulder and puddled in my crotch every time I braked. People look at you when you clamber out of a supercar. They think you’re somebody. You try exiting with a nether regions damp patch and maintaining an air of cool. Thought not.
Isn’t that was used to be known as supercar ‘character’?
It’s fine for McLaren to target the boutique luxury goods market – its supercars are spectacular devices. But R8 and 911 roofs doesn’t leak, ever. And they start first time. That’s when you earn the right to go ultra-bespoke.
Ultra-fast, a bit flakey, super-refined, not much of a singer. What’s the Spider’s best bit?
None of the above. As usual, McLaren has made its Sports Series machines enjoyable way below their limits. The steering is so perfectly weighted, ideally geared, and able to communicate so much about the surface, the grip and your proximity to its limits. But does it get distracted by a camber, and need constant watchful parenting? Absolutely not.
It’s been said before, but bears repeating: the 570S behaves like a near-600bhp Lotus. There’s the same sense of utter stiffness in the structure, and similarly delectable steering that you savour leaning on. A truly great chassis eggs you on to push it harder, but stays entertaining when it’s not being thrashed, and that’s exactly what McLaren’s nailed here.
It’s miles more engaging and involving at a sane speed than an R8, but because you’re so immersed in the messages the car’s giving you, it’s also more confidence-inspiring than the Quattro-drive Audi. Some achievement, that.
Once you start breaking down each element, there’s loads to revel in. Tactile gearshift paddle clicks, and a dual-clutch gearbox worthy of McLaren’s ‘Seamless Shift’ marketing. It’s a bit hesitant in auto mode, like a lot of mega twin-clutchers, but when it’s so intuitive to take manual control, that’s barely a foible.
Sounds like we’re back on the good stuff. What else?
The ride is taut, but superbly controlled and damped just-so. ‘Normal’ Mode is the one for road use, though. Sport and Track tighten up the movements even more, but there’s just no need to unless you’re warping around a circuit.
Brakes? Probably the only bugbear with the drive. The standard carbon ceramics have unimpeachable power, but the left-foot-brake-ready pedal is stiff and misses the feel of Porsche or Aston brakes. It’s the only element that the Macca struggles with in traffic.
As a drive, there’s simply no argument: the 570S Spider is the best drop-top super sportscar in the world. Anyone at any level of ability could drop into it and have their mind utterly blown by its competence, and the sheer quantity of feedback it offers. But it’s not the most rounded, complete open-top supercar on the planet – yet.
STORY OLLIE KEW
PHOTOS MARK RICCIONI