McLaren 540C Quick Review

By Alex Inwood, 18 May 2016 Car Reviews

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McLaren 540C Quick Review

We drive the cheapest McLaren ever offered in Australia.

TELL ME ABOUT THIS CAR

It’s McLaren’s cheapest ever supercar. Dubbed the 540C, this ‘baby’ McLaren is a new entry-point to the British marque’s supercar line-up, thanks to a $325,000 price tag. The 540C features the same 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 engine as the rest of the McLaren range, though it’s less powerful and is designed to be more usable than McLaren’s other offerings.

STRENGTHS

  • That engine. Don’t be put off by the fact this is the least powerful McLaren you can buy – it still has plenty of grunt. The 397kW/540Nm twin-turbo V8 rockets you from 0-100km/h in a blistering 3.5 seconds and when you’re high in the rev-range, the 540C feels seriously quick.
  • The big difference with the 540C though, is the way it uses its power. Where other McLarens are ferocious all the time, the 540C is much friendlier below 4000rpm. Here the V8 feels refined, smooth and docile, which makes the 540C more usable, especially in heavy city traffic.
  • Adding to the 540C’s usability is its improved entry and egress. All McLarens are built around a special carbon fibre chassis that can make getting in and out tricky , but the 540C (and its more powerful 570S bigger brother) use a modified chassis with a slimmer and lower sill and doors that open wider. While it’s an improvement, getting in still isn’t as easy as a conventional door.
  • And don’t think McLaren has skimped on the 540C’s looks either. It might be the cheapest model, but only trainspotters will be able to tell the difference from McLaren’s more expensive variants. Visually, the 540C ticks all the supercar boxes.

McLaren 540C

WEAKNESSES

  • The sound. You might imagine all supercars produce an amazing exhaust note, but McLarens are the exception. Unlike the screaming V8 you get in a Ferrari 488 or the howling flat-six engine of a Porsche 911, the V8 in the 540C sounds more functional than beautiful.  
  • Then there are the sports seats, which are beautifully bolstered for excellent lateral support but are too firm on your lower spine. They’re manually adjustable too (no electric seats here), which seems a little stingy in a $350K car.
  • Speaking of stingy, there’s no reverse camera as standard either. Coughing up a few hundred bucks extra to have one fitted mightn’t be a big concern when you’re paying this much, but it’s a necessary expense given the 540C’s poor rear visibility and should be standard.
  • There’s also a question mark over build quality. The car we drove, which McLaren stressed was a pre-production model, had a few rough corners and rattles inside which isn’t ideal in a car this expensive. Hopefully these will be ironed out on production versions.

ANY RIVALS I SHOULD CONSIDER?

You can’t shop for a sportscar at this price point and not consider the Porsche 911. For 540C money you could buy the brutally fast 911 Turbo or even opt for the 911 GT3 or GT3 RS, which have been fettled by Porsche’s iconic motorsport division.

You should also look closely at the new Audi R8, Mercedes-AMG GT S and Aston Martin V12 Vantage.