We all keep little highlight reels of our better drives saved on the mental hard drive for later savouring.
A blast through a tunnel with the windows down here, the perfect drift in the rain there, all committed to memory to be recalled at will in the secret projection room of the mind.
McLaren’s new 570S will have you worried you’ll run out of mental disc space. It’s a baby 650S in price and spec, if not size, and while the older sibling throws around more performance muscle by way of 59 extra kilowatts, a more sophisticated chassis and active aero – adding up to a sharper driving experience – the younger brother may be the better entertainer. After two days in one, and several hours of hard driving in the back hills of Portugal, our grin was yet to subside by breakfast, day three.
McLaren says it’s released the 570S into the same jungle as Audi’s R8 V10, Aston’s V12 Vantage and the Porsche 911 Turbo S. On paper, this might seem to be the case, but on the road, the Aston would lose touch at the end of the very first long straight, the R8 would feel less playful and the 911, while super-sensible and super-competent, would be eerily cold-blooded and quite the introvert compared to the 570S.
It looks like a blueprint of the 650S, but in fact it’s 110mm longer and looks more restrained from certain angles. The main difference is revealed at a lift of a heron-wing door, for McLaren has tried hard to make its 570S as friendly as possible for daily use. To make it easier to get in and out of, the forward section of the sill has been narrowed and shortened by 80mm. The new seats offer more support and a slightly more generous range of adjustment (but beware, the top-of-the-line carbonfibre jobbies aren’t cheap).
For the first time there’s a lit vanity mirror, a proper glovebox and respectable storage space. You even get two windscreen wipers instead of one. McLaren is still playing catch-up in other areas, though. There’s no adaptive cruise control or head-up display, and while there’s start-stop, McLaren doesn’t yet do the kind of off-throttle coasting you might find in something from Stuttgart.
Day one’s weather makes us feel like we should be building an ark instead of testing a supercar, but the 570S wastes no time clocking up the brownie points. Despite the focused Pirelli P-Zero Corsa tyres, wet traction is strong, the 570S showing off mighty mid-range turbo punch, a willingness to rev and bullet-fast upshifts with the drivetrain set to Race.
Steering feedback is super impressive, but in the wet the grip is delicate; roundabouts getyour heart rate up time (front!) after time (rear!). Meanwhile the carbon ceramic brakes are wooden when cold, the engine note loud but one-dimensional, and the ride ho-hum on the brittle suspension and extra-stiff sidewall tyres. A lack of separate damper adjustment doesn’t help. At least the 570S shows off a nearly flat cornering stance when the speed starts to ramp up.
As you might’ve guessed, “570S” is a nod to the 570 horses under the engine lid (which, for the record, customers can’t open). There’s 419kW at 7400rpm and from there to the limiter, there is still 1100rpm to play with.
Maximum torque, a feisty 600Nm, is available between 5000 and 6000rpm. It all adds up to 0-100km/h in 3.2sec, 0-200km/h in 9.5sec and a 330km/h top speed – virtually on par with an R8 and Turbo S. Even the 488 is only a couple of tenths quicker off the mark and a token 8km/h faster. Father Ron will tell you the 570S uses 10.7L/100km, but it doubles to more like 22.0L/100km with Uncle Georg at the helm.
A stab at the launch control button turns every set of traffic lights into an opportunity to lay elevens. First gear is so short it requires a well-prepared index finger or you’ll snag the limiter. Second can cause mild whiplash. Third is where the 570S jettisons solid rocket boosters and hits warp drive.
It’s bordering on irrelevant in the real world, not least Australia, but it’s the 200-300km/h bracket where the 570S truly comes into its own. Seventh is not merely a cruising gear anymore, and fifth transfers all that grunt almost seamlessly to sixth.
McLaren launched the 570S in a dozy corner of Portugal, where laid-back farmers on tractors and pensioners full of booze are bigger dangers than Constable Plod in an underpowered Seat.
And along Portugal’s eucalyptus-lined back roads (some of which feel uncannily like Australia) the 570S reels in and spits out road like a tarmac-processing machine, with catapult-like briskness, an addictive appetite for corners and an overtaking punch that has to be felt to be believed.
Unlike a 911, which fights every corner and won’t fully relax even on straights, the British bullet rarely feels to leave its comfort zone. Despite a few character traits that could be considered rhythm-interrupting (ie, the braking distances compress as the hardware heats up) the 570S is all about riding the flow.
It’s also intolerant to careless driver inputs and ill-timed gear shifts, but get on the same wavelength and the 1406kg two-seater is incredibly good at maintaining and mastering momentum. It invites ever more daring corner entry speeds and covers ground with a certain sure-footedness and determination. In short, on the road it’s silly fast.
Yet when you’ve had enough, the 570S is only too eager to prove its mettle as marriage material, with a decent stereo, plush interior materials and the kind of features that make for a keeper, including soft-touch doors, front-vehicle lift and reversing camera.
All that is quickly forgotten, however, at a glance of the green light at the end of Portimao pit lane. Our black-over-green track chariot comes with AUD$95,000 worth of options including swathes of carbonfibre, thinly-padded buckets, an almost vulgar sports exhaust, racing harnesses and stealth-look wheels wearing Pirelli P-Zero Corsas. But it looks angry.
Before leaving pit lane we briefly familiarise ourselves with the half dozen knobs and buttons which tweak the car’s character from behaved to beast in three steps: Normal, Sport and Race. Handling (suspension, dampers, ESP) and engine (transmission, throttle) have separate controls, so you can combine an angry drivetrain with a supple chassis if you so wish. Separately, the ESP comes in On, Dynamic or Off.
Manual gearshift mode comes with a single-piece, see-sawing shift paddle arrangement. It’s a neat little detail, but in a sporty road car we still prefer the unambiguous fixed Ferrari paddles with “Up” and “Down”. Same applies to the one-knob-does-it-all manettino, which is much more accessible than the McLaren equivalent, hidden in the undergrowth of the centre console.
All modes set to Race and with the ESP in Dynamic, we blast out on to the Portimao track. This is no boring, Mickey Mouse circuit; it’s a challenging drive, fast and full of undulation, dotted with crests, dips and blind corners. At the end of the downhill start-finish straight the digital speedo reads 255km/h – 15km/h more than the R8 V10 Plus we drove here three months ago.
The payback for nursing the tyres through the second-gear kinks is just about enough grip for the third- and fourth-gear sweepers where we ballet dance on the edge of grip, lap after lap. The brakes gain bite as the session wears on, blending massive stopping power with easy modularity and just the right amount of pedal effort.
Again, it’s the mind-scrambling urge above 200km/h which particularly focuses attention. There’s no all-wheel drive but the nicely balanced weight distribution (42:58) makes the 570S hugely chuckable, transparent and responsive.
Our black-and-green beauty is only too willing to demonstrate its rowdiness and throw around its rather large ego as we move closer and closer to where the grip runs out. It’s only now that the chewing-gum tyres let out the first little squeals and the gearshifts become brutal to the point of sending a shudder through the carbonfibre chassis.
Getting ever more cocky with the turn-in manoeuvres, it’s only now that we begin to fondly remember the active yaw and roll control fitted to the 650S, or the self-adjusting and stability-enhancing aerodynamics. Over crests taken at ten-tenths, the front end of the 570S becomes momentarily light; in this super-aggressive zone, brake dive is more pronounced as well, and the somewhat squirmish attitude through very fast corners is not particularly confidence-inspiring.
But if nothing else, the 570S is certainly emotional. Sliding ever-so-smoothly in an arc – fourth-gear, no less – is grand cinema for the brain. Up there, in the secret projection room of the mind, you can’t help but constantly hit the repeat button late into the night.
4.5 OUT OF 5 STARS
Body: 2-door, 2-seat coupe
Engine: 3799cc V8, DOHC, 32v, twin-turbo
Bore/stroke: 93.0 x 69.9mm
Power: 419kW @ 7400rpm
Torque: 600Nm @ 5000-6000rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto
Suspension (f): double A-arms, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar
Suspension(r): double A-arms, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar
Steering: Electrically-assisted rack-and-pinion
Brakes(F): 394mm ventilated/drilled discs; 6-piston calipers
Brakes(R): 380mm ventilated/drilled discs; 4-piston calipers
Wheels: 19.0 x 8.0-inch (f); 20 x 10.0-inch (r)
Tyre sizes: 225/35 R19 (f); 285/35 R20 (r)
Tyres: Pirelli P-Zero Corsa
Pros: Class-leading pace; most engaging McLaren yet
Cons: Firm ride; steep options pricing
Up close: McLaren's new baby
The nitty gritty of Woking's new sports car
ONE: POWER GAMES
Dry-sumped 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 common to 650S, though 30 per cent of parts are bespoke to 570S. Seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox can use the inertia of the flywheel to fill in the torque gap during gearshifts resulting in uninterrupted acceleration at high rpm – clever stuff.
TWO: IN SUSPENSE
570S is the first McLaren not to use the clever ProActive Chassis Control, which uses hydraulically connected dampers. McLaren has instead developed a traditional mechanical suspension system with adaptive dampers.
THREE: HOT STUFF
Aluminium body panels are created through a process called 'Superforming', in which hot aluminium is blown into shape over a mould. Complex shapes are possible and McLaren claims the resultant panels are as light as composite equivalents.
FOUR: SUPER SLIM
As with all McLarens, 570S is based around a carbon fibre 'Monocell' which weighs just 75kg, helping to acheive a dry weight of just 1313kg. McLaren claims this is the lightest in its class, however it's very adamant the 570S is a sports car rather than a supercar.
FIVE: OLD SCHOOL
Steering remains electro-hydraulically assisted, McLaren claiming that the levels of feel that result cannot be replicated by a fully electric system, and based on the evidence of the 570S we'd have to agree. Front tyres are a mere 225mm wide, while rears are 285mm.