There’s no such thing as a cheap supercar, but the 2016 McLaren 540C Coupe is probably the closest thing to it.
Starting from a measly... ahem... $350,000 driveaway (before options) the all-new entry-point to McLaren’s Sport Series range is competitively priced if you think of it in the same echelon as a Lamborghini Huracan LP580-2 (from $378,900 plus on-road costs) and the Porsche 911 Turbo (from $384,900 plus on-road costs).
The latter, long-time benchmark sports car is a target for the McLaren brand – in fact, the company admits that about 50 per cent of Australian buyers of McLaren models are former Porsche owners. The intonation there is that there’s not the same degree of sports car exclusivity from the German maker.
And exclusive it is. McLaren predicts it will sell 100 cars this year, where Porsche – going on last years numbers – should shift at least 4000 units this year across its sports car and SUV ranges.
So should you help bolster those sales numbers and join the McLaren ownership fraternity? Based on a very brief drive of the 540C Coupe - which slots in below the 570S Coupe with less power and torque, a shorter equipment list and a lower price tag - this week in Sydney, the answer is “yes” followed by “if you can afford it, of course”.
How brief was the drive? Sum total of about 45 minutes behind the wheel, trying to stick to signposted speed limits on a public road dotted with lycra-clad bicyclists and the occasional wayward 4x4 towing a boat way too fast and way to far over double white lines.
From that limited drive, though, it was clear that this is a very likeable and very quick supercar. This test was far from exhaustive, and we’d love to get the car in the CarAdvice garage to learn more about its character, its quirks and its charms, but here’s a basic idea of what we thought.
Powering the 540C is a 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 engine producing 540PS (or 397kW) of power at 7500rpm and 540Nm of torque between 3500-6500rpm and it channels propulsion to the rear wheels through a seven-speed “seamless shift” dual-clutch automatic gearbox.
The engine is – it’s strange to say – both raucous and refined. At tootling speeds in traffic it is relatively quiet and smooth, though there’s some low-rev lag from a standstill, which is something you’ll want to keep in mind if you’re not in the correct drive mode.
When you’re pushing it harder – ideally in the car’s Sport mode or even in Track modes, which can be dialled up via manual rotary switches (one for the drivetrain and one for the handling – suspension and steering) – the engine is epic.
There’s superb linearity to the way it revs, and it amazing at building pace as it revs out. A look down at the speedometer can lead to you seeing a number much higher than you predict, such is the ferocity of the acceleration.
Admittedly under hard acceleration it doesn’t have as intoxicating a soundtrack as a non-turbo Lambo, but it is still addictive to rev out to redline and watch the horizon get closer.
When you’re driving it hard the transmission offers amazing shift speed and the way it thumps through the gears in track mode under full throttle is addictive. However, when you’re just driving it gently, the gearbox can be a touch slow to react, and – in the never-ending quest for better efficiency and lower emissions – it will aim for the highest gear possible, which can make for frequent gear changes.
Still, just use manual mode and the paddles with the rocker-style push/pull right lever to downshift and upshift with one hand if you so choose.
The brakes are excellent for high-speed driving, as they feel very solid under foot and you really have to push them to get the reaction you want. That said, at lower speeds the brakes can be bit hard to judge.
Through both higher-speed flowing corners and sharper more acute bends the steering of the McLaren proved to be innate. It is precise, accurate, and offers excellent weighting.
Further to that, there’s amazing grip at the front and rear ends, with a level of cornering balance and composure that is up there with the best cars on sale today.
The ride, too, was impressive, particularly given some of the bumps we were encountering near Akuna Bay were grimace-worthy when you saw them approaching. The front and rear anti-rollbars complement the adaptive dampers of the suspension by making sure the car sits flat in bends, and as a driver you feel entirely confident you won’t make a mess of it.
So what makes it more affordable than many other supercars on the market? Well, apart from the power deficit of 23kW and 60Nm compared to the 570S, it’s mainly bits and bobs that you could probably live without. Or just option it up…
Inside there’s a portrait-style media system with navigation, but you miss out on a rear-view camera.
Further to that, the seats are manually adjustable, and while that may seem less-than-special, it means you can more easily find your perfect position, as the electric controls on the brand’s other models are fiddly. As well as that, you can slide back quickly when you stop the car which helps when you try and lever yourself from the cabin.
The time we spent in the 2016 McLaren 540C Coupe was all too brief, so we're not going to give it a rating. We get the feeling it could be a supercar bargain, but we’ll have to try and convince McLaren’s local team to hand it over for a little longer for a full review.
Click the Photos tab above for more images - launch pictures by Matt Campbell, showroom images by Tom Fraser.