Mention the name McLaren in most circles and you’ll find people automatically start to conjure up images of Formula One racing.
But the fact is, McLaren Automotive (the sister company to the Formula One business), currently offers more road-ready cars than Ferrari. And this from a division that only kicked off in 2010.
McLaren might seem like a late starter in the sports car business, but celebrated driver and founder, (the late Bruce McLaren) actually designed, built and drove the McLaren M6BGT prototype in the late 1960s as part of his plans to diversify and start building road cars.
Based on the successful M6 Can-Am chassis, it was not only quick, but people at the company’s HQ could hear him coming from about five miles down the road, according to McLaren’s daughter, Amanda.
Unfortunately, the road car project was shelved when McLaren was killed while testing the M8D race car at the Goodwood in the UK in 1970.
It would be another 22 years before the company produced its first production car, the now legendary McLaren F1, which, when launched in 1992, became the fastest road car in the world with a top speed of 372km/h (with the rev limiter enabled).
But that was a limited production run of only 106 units. Higher volume models didn’t appear until 2011, when McLaren launched the cutting-edge MP4-12C (later simplified to just 12C).
Here was a blisteringly quick, lightweight, carbon-fibre rocket-ship armed with a serious 441kW and 601Nm from its 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8. It was capable of going from standstill to 100km/h in three seconds flat, with a claimed a top speed of 333km/h.
McLaren had more than dipped its toe into the supercar arena, so in 2011 it launched its three-tier product strategy under Sports, Super and Ultimate Series, in order of outright performance ranking and price point.
At the top of the tree sits the Ultimate Series; the domain of the limited-production, hybrid-powered P1 and track only P1 GTR, boasting a raft of Formula One tech and mind-blowing performance. All 375 units were sold out in 2013, with production ending in 2015.
Entry level in the McLaren road car range includes the 540C Coupe, 570GT and the 570S – the most high-powered model in the Sports Series.
But to think of the 570S as an undercard contender in the junior supercar stakes would be a big mistake.
This is a car that punches not like a super welterweight, but a full-blown heavyweight – with the gloves off. The fact is, it’s not far off the main event, if we’re talking the fight game here.
It’s got solid credentials, too; carbon-fibre tub, engine mounted behind the cabin, rear-wheel drive, tricky dihedral doors and a lightning-quick seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that seems almost thought-reactive.
It’s also ridiculously light (1313kg dry), even for this weight saving-obsessed segment. By way of comparison, the Ferrari 488 tips the same scales at 1420kg. In a world where each kilo saved is considered an engineering triumph, it’s an extraordinary achievement and fast becoming a hallmark of McLaren road cars.
And it would be lighter still if the car was constructed with carbon-fibre body panels like its Super Series siblings, but that’s where the 570S differs, instead using aluminium for most of its bodywork.
All the right stuff then for proper head-to-head bouts with some of the quickest machinery on the planet. Which is why the ‘Sports’ moniker would seem to undersell the car’s ballistic performance capability, because in the end, we’re only talking a few tenths between all three Series.
It even uses the same 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 as its higher-priced McLaren siblings, only detuned to produce 419kW and 600Nm – still serious firepower whichever way you cut it.
Put the boot in, and after some momentary lag, the turbos kick in proper at around 3000rpm and unleash a level of fury even hard-core enthusiasts simply won’t be prepared for. Yes, ‘sports car’ is definitely the wrong description for the 570S – this is a bona fide supercar, no question.
In the absence of a thoroughly measured track test, McLaren claims 0-200km/h in 9.5 seconds, and the standing quarter mile in 10.9 seconds. And all this from McLaren’s least expensive junior series road cars.
You can feel the torque pile on, and there’s a feeling from the driver’s seat the turbos won’t run out of boost – ever. If I was a betting man, I’d say the performance claims by McLaren for the 570S are well and truly understated.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll be desperate to get the 570S onto a race track, because while it might be a tad slower than the almighty lord of the tarmac – the 675LT – it’s got similar levels of communication and chassis responsiveness that beg you to push on – perhaps to a level where even angels might dare tread, but seemingly without the nervousness and fear factor of some rivals.
It’s a combination of things, but mainly it’s down to the magnificently-tuned engine that never really feels (or sounds) stressed, despite its sub-4.0-litre displacement. This is top-shelf hardware and engineering at work here, maybe even a level above this rarefied segment standard.
But then, that’s also one of the McLaren’s few drawbacks, it doesn’t make those glorious sounds you get from the likes of a Ferrari, Lamborghini or even a current 911 Porsche Carrera S – at least not until the rev counter is knocking on 7000rpm plus. And then it sounds like a proper GT racer on the charge.
Our Mantis Green tester was equipped with the optional Sports exhaust (at around eight grand) and while it’s significantly louder on the decibel scale, even at idle, it’s by no means soulful and certainly not addictive like its rivals.
But if Formula One-style shifting is your thing, then the 570S has got you covered. The seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox isn’t just good, it’s brilliant. Upshifts even in Normal mode are imperceptible and with the least amount of torque loss. Sport offers slightly more punch with each shift, and Race is for track only.
But if you’re using your McLaren as a daily ride, there’s no need to take the transmission out of Auto. Even dawdling around at speeds as low as 40km/h approaching a school zone, it will drop three gears in a matter of tenths (with throttle blips to boot) far quicker than I could have pulled the paddles.
The steering is lighter than you might expect, but you’ll soon get used to it, and in fact, relish the light workload, especially around town – where most of our driving was done throughout this test.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate the sublime handling and ride of the 570S. Like the powertrain selector, there’s a separate knob for Handling with the same three settings; Normal, Sport and Track.
However, there’s no tricky interlinked hydraulic suspension system at play here, just adaptive dampers and anti-roll bars to keep the McLaren flat through corners and compliant over potholes.
And flat it is – even in the Comfort setting. But here’s the thing. It’s also extremely good at ironing out low-speed bumps, so you tend to choose the softest suspension setting, even if you’re pedalling along in Sport.
Back to the electro-hydraulic steering – it’s sublime. Thread a few roundabouts together, and you’ll barely need to move your hands, such is the quickness and directness of the rear-drive McLaren. It might be over two metres wide, but you can easily position the 570S on the road, or through one of those deadly, wheel-grinding carpark entrances with pin-point precision.
It may not be blessed with the widest section tyres (285/35 down back, 225/35 up front) but the 570’s bespoke Pirelli P Zero Corsas offer huge amounts of dry grip, so you simply won’t come unstuck on the road.
Combined with the standard carbon-ceramic brakes, driver confidence soars. Mind, you’ll need to get some proper heat into the rotors before they start slowing things down at a supernatural level, but even then, you’ll need to apply some serious muscle to the left pedal before they really start to bite.
Where the McLaren 570S loses a point or two for its lack of a thrilling exhaust note, it more than makes up for it with its all-balls styling. It’s got tonnes of presence – especially in this colour. The dihedral doors are a special feature, and we couldn’t imagine anything else, but as a daily, it can get a tad tiring.
Inside, it’s nowhere near as spectacular as any of its rivals. There’s little if any bling to speak of, but all the materials are top-notch and finely crafted.
The steering wheel is refreshingly devoid of even a single button or switch, and if Bruce McLaren was still with us, I bet he would have wanted it exactly that way.
The infotainment system isn’t anything to write home about, but at least it’s better than I remember in the 12C. All the important stuff is there though, including a high-res digital instrument display and beautifully fashioned instrument stalks. Like I said, all the important stuff is right where you want it.
Storage wise, it’s similar to a Porsche 911 (without the kiddy seats), decent soft bag stowage under bonnet and a small shelf for backpacks and stuff behind the seats. So, it’s easily useable as a daily, if you don’t mind the doors and the slightly awkward ingress and egress they bring.
At $379,000 plus on roads, the 570S is considerably less than the Ferrari 488 ($469,888) and stacks up well against the two-wheel drive Lamborghini Huracan ($378,900). But on performance, the McLaren is more than a match for the $428,000 all-wheel drive Lamborghini, $389,616 Audi R8 V10 Plus quattro and the $384,600 Porsche 911 Turbo.
Either way, the 570S is a serious McLaren road car capable of mixing it up with the best in class, as well as spectacular looks and enough breadth and practicality to be driven daily – if you had to.