If you think of the McLaren 650S as a replacement for the now defunct MP4-12C super car, you’ll be just about spot on – except you will need to redefine any previous notions you had of what ballistic speed really is.
Priced from $441,500 (plus on-road costs) for the 650S Coupe and $486,250 (plus on-road costs) for the Spyder, the McLaren easily undercuts the Ferrari’s much-lauded 488 GTB, which starts at $469,888 and the just-revealed 488 Spider, which should be more affordable than the existing $588,451 458 Spider.
The McLaren is only dearer than the Huracan, which sells for $428,000 in Coupe body only at this stage.
Positioned above McLaren’s new Sports Series model, the 420kW/600Nm 570S - and below its track-focused 496kW/700Nm 675LT sibling, the 478kW/678Nm 650S is capable of blasting from 0-100km/h in a blistering 3.0 seconds flat.
Push on, and it’ll hit 200km/h in a mind-warping 8.4 seconds. Top speed is 333km/h, and with 90 per cent of torque on song from 3000rpm, you don’t have to wait long.
This is no middleweight contender - not by a long shot.
Select Track mode, drill it, and the sheer ferocity unleashed by McLaren’s 3.8-litre twin-turbo engine at full bark is guaranteed to produce a certain degree of speed-induced nausea, at least before the cognitive part of your brain catches up to real time processing.
Before long, it’s my turn for a stint in the co-driver’s seat and without a steering wheel to hang on to, the g-force effect on the body is just that much more intense.
So is the onset of nausea – like so many others, I’m a terrible passenger.
The whole experience confirms my thinking. This is taking supercar performance to a whole new level, and dare I say it, beyond the current offerings from Ferrari and Lamborghini, at least in V8 and V10 guise.
Armed with a sizeable rear wing and larger front splitter, the 650S gets 24 per cent more downforce and greater stability under brakes – most noticeable on the track. This is a sports car that makes light work of the most demanding corner work, not to mention the colossal pace it can carry through the bends – courtesy of that active rear wing.
Impressive, too, is the car’s steering feel and directness on turn-in. Mind, it’s not as quick as the 675LT, but it's still sharp and there's a good deal of feedback through the tiller, so you can confidently place the car exactly where you want it.
The carbon ceramic brakes have a more linear feel to them than you would usually expect, even at low speed – often difficult to achieve with carbon ceramic discs.
On track, the brake pedal still demands a proper boot full before reining in really big speeds, but late braking is the name of the game with the 650S. And bite they do, with stupendous, fade-free stopping power applied to the standard-fit P-Zero Corsa tyres.
The seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox is brilliant – snappy F1 car-style shifts up and down the ratios, with proper weight to each and every tug on the paddle shifters. It all feels so right.
The car features four engine modes to scroll through - winter, normal, sport and track - along with three handling settings - normal, sport and track. Each setting changes the car’s characteristics, sometimes dramatically, and this is where the McLaren starts to make even more sense than its rivals.
Perhaps more than any other supercar in the current mix, the McLaren is a surprisingly easy car to drive. Even in its most focused drive mode, the 650S feels entirely well behaved and beautifully balanced, despite more rear bias than its 12C predecessor.
Even in sport mode, it's still an easy car to manage, every setting sharpened for instantaneous response. It’s like no other mid-engine sports car I’ve driven - and I've driven plenty. Never does it feel like it’s going to bite, and in that regard the 650S stands alone.
Switch to normal and it’s almost docile, precisely what is required for weekend traffic on these English B-roads. Throttle response is nice and measured and the steering is light enough to tackle the endless roundabouts in these parts.
Ride comfort is nothing less than sublime, with McLaren’s adaptive suspension containing all manner of bumps and cracks like no other in its class. For a supercar that packs this much punch, the ride quality is extraordinary.
Turn up the angry button, though, and the transition from comfort to firm is immediate. From the very instant you open it up and start carving up the twisties, body roll is non-existent and the car feels completely unflappable - regardless of how brave you dare to be.
But that’s the thing with this car. It doesn’t seem to matter where, or how you drive it, the marriage between McLaren engineering knowhow and the arsenal of tech wizardry on-board is seemingly able to accommodate a wide repertoire of driving styles.
Stylistically, the 650S and 675LT sibling is closer to McLaren’s Ultimate Series P1 Hypercar than to the 12C - in answer to a global consensus that thought the latter too generic.
Inside, it’s all Alcantara and carbonfibre, while the infotainment unit takes its cue from the P1 for a more premium experience. It’s also easier to use for first-time occupants.
Optional in some markets, the fixed-back carbon racing seats are a sensational piece of standard kit for Australian buyers, which remove another 15 kilograms of heft from the car’s already skinny 1330kg dry weight.
While I’m yet to track test the new Ferrari 488 GTB, it’s difficult to think of another car in this class that is more dynamically capable, yet offers such drivability (and liveability) on road or track compared to the McLaren 650S.
For those that want even more, check out our review on the McLaren 675LT at Silverstone.