OK, so you’ve read plenty about both these cars before. But how do they compare? Glen Waddington finds out...
In six short years McLaren has built on the promise of its MP4-12C to develop a range of cars in three categories: Sports Series (the newest 540C, 570S and 570GT ‘hatchback’), Super Series (the 650S coupé and Spider, plus limited-edition 675L/Ts) and the Ultimate Series (the P1 hybrid hypercar, now discontinued. But watch this space…).
The two cars at the heart of that now are the 650S at £198,000 and the 570S at £143,250. They share much architecture, not least a 3.8-litre flat-crank twin-turbo V8 (though with 30% different internals and distinctly different states of tune), a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, and a carbon-reinforced plastic tub (with larger openings in the more user-friendly 570S, which requires further bracing and hence gains a little in weight).
There are wider differences elsewhere. The 650S runs on interconnected hydraulically controlled suspension whereas the cheaper 570S runs on adaptive dampers and conventional anti-roll bars, and the 650S is clad in composites while the 570S has aluminium panelling. They’re surprisingly close in weight, however, both hovering around a mass of 1300kg – some 400kg less than an Audi R8. And the nomenclature? The numbers refer to outputs in metric horsepower; Olde Englyshe ones come in at 562bhp for junior and 641bhp for daddy.
Both offer some drama as you get in, thanks to those up-and-over forward-hinged dihedral doors. First, the 650S. It’s looking kinda familiar these days, dating back as it does to the re-emergence of McLaren as a road-car maker and the launch of the MP4-12C in 2011. Hunker down into the seat and the ambience impresses; it’s really professionally finished in here, as it should be. You can adjust the driving position to millimetric perfection, although the electric seat adjusters are fiddly. Once in place, hit the starter button and the V8 fires angrily. Like other flat-crankers, it sounds a bit like two fours gargling on something a bit caustic but the real fireworks are yet to happen.
Head off down the road and two things strike you immediately: the fluid, elastic ride and the writhingly feelsome and hyper-accurate steering. To say the 650S feels like an extremely grown-up Lotus is meant as a compliment. Furthermore, the soundtrack isn’t so far removed from that of the flat-crank V8 Lotus fitted in some of the last Esprits.
But the performance on offer is far more grown-up. This is an epically quick car: 0-60mph in 2.9 seconds and a top speed of 204mph bear that out. Throttle response, improved over that of earlier cars is sharp though not hyper-sensitive, and you’re aware that two turbos are spinning up every time you plant it one, but the thrust builds into a seamless flow, backed up by extremely quick-acting transmission that responds instantly via paddleshift or will seem to sense your mood when left to its own devices.
If only it sounded a bit more special. On a steady throttle it hammers away like something humble ennobled by a pair of Webers. You can change that, of course, by heading north to the redline, close to 9000rpm. Naturally, it sounds far more impressive then.
Same goes for the 570S. It’s the same engine after all, though lesser power alters the 0-60mph time to 3.2 seconds. I’d defy anyone to suggest it feels as though it’s shoving you with any less force, however, and its top speed is the same. McLaren F1 pace for 911 Turbo S money: there goes a headline.
There are no hydraulics in the suspension here and there isn’t quite the same other-worldly suppleness, though it’s still extremely refined in that regard. Certainly quiet and comfortable enough that you’d consider using it every day, and getting in and out is a little easier here too, thanks to the deeper cut-outs in the sills.
Again, you can scythe your way along twisting B-roads, dicing with inch-perfect precision: it’s that kind of car. There are buttons to alter the car’s dynamic programming: Normal, Sport and Track settings for both the suspension and the powertrain. The effects are more noticeable in the 650S, mainly down to the wet suspension, but on the road in the 570S Normal is perfect for the ride and handling, and Sport for the rest, as it tautens the throttle response and lets the auto-trans hang onto lower gears longer. Track should be saved for… yes, you guessed it.
If they’re both pretty much as scorchingly quick, handle in a similarly breathtaking way, offer decent on-road refinement and attract masses of attention wherever you go, is it possible to have a favourite of these two? Well, yes. Many will simply go for the 650S, because it has more power and isn’t the junior, more ‘everyday’ sports car. I’m fine with that. But I came away more impressed by the 570S, not because it offers all that capability for a lot less money, but because it also feels so much more up-to-the-minute than the older car in its styling and its interior design. If only it was a bit more appealing to the ears, it could well be the greatest sports car I’ve ever driven.
Words: Glen Waddington