McLaren 650S review – 2014 first drive


  • New 650hp McLaren supercar takes the 12C to the next level
  • Aerodynamic makeover influenced by P1 hypercar, awesome driving experience
  • £195,222 (Coupe) – £215,222 (Spider) | On sale now

CJ Hubbard | April 2014

About now, the McLaren 12C could well be preparing a round-robin email to all its friends and acquaintances, entitled: Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated. For suddenly, with the arrival of the new 650S, the 12C looks like the odd one out in the rapidly expanding McLaren range.

For the 650S not only borrows its look from Woking’s world-altering P1 hypercar, it’s based on the same fundamental structure as the 12C. But McLaren is adamant that the 650S is not a facelift, and although production has temporarily halted to fulfil early orders for the new car, the 12C will continue to be offered – at least for the time being. Apparently, some buyers appreciate its subtlety.

From our perspective, however, the new 650S makes the 12C irrelevant. True, it costs a little more, but you get extra kit, extra power and a hardware update that means this is arguably as much a junior P1 as it is an enhanced version of McLaren Automotive’s original model.

We’ve just spent two days driving it on road and track in Spain and it is sensational.


What is the 2014 McLaren 650S like to drive?

It’s hard not to start with the engine. The 650S uses a 3.8-litre twin-turbo petrol V8, like every other McLaren, but in this case tuned up to 650hp and 500lb ft of torque – 25hp and 58lb ft more than the 12C musters. 10% of the engine’s parts are new, the radiators repositioned and the air intakes enlarged to improve cooling. 0-62mph takes 3.0 seconds, 0-124mph takes 8.4 seconds; top speed is 207mph for the Coupe, 204mph for the Spider.

It looks fast on paper. In reality, it’s like riding the wake of a nuclear grenade. The performance here is utterly mind-blowing – so much so you can’t help wondering what on earth the 907hp, electric-motor assisted P1 must be like. Travelling to another dimension, we imagine.

The 650S is rear-wheel drive only, and if you’re clumsy with the throttle on cold tyres you won’t be needing a hit of espresso to wake up, that’s for sure. But beyond this, McLaren’s true genius is in making its cars so incredibly user-friendly – the 650S is a fearsomely horizon-worrying device, but with such communicative handling and a brilliantly developed set of carbon-ceramic brakes as standard, you could genuinely drive it every day.

The secret to this is the ProActive Chassis Control suspension, which uses a complex arrangement of interlinked dampers with electronically controlled valving to deliver what is quite probably an unmatched blend of ride comfort and body control. The damper units in the 650S are derived from those in the P1, giving a greater range of adjustment, and allowing McLaren to fit stiffer springs – especially at the rear, enhancing its eagerness to turn into corners.

A seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is your only option, but this works very well – an automatic “ignition cut” system adding an exhaust pop to moderate speed changes, while something new called “inertia push” uses a pulse of torque to fire through upshifts when you’re really pressing on. This is only available in Track mode though, the most extreme of three settings.

Normal and Sport are your other choices, and all three can be selected independently for the chassis and powertrain, using what McLaren calls the active panel in the centre console. So good is the damping that we found Sport suitable for all but the most extreme road surfaces, with Track giving you just that little bit more when the circumstances allow. Around the Ascari Race Resort, in this instance.


Is the 2014 McLaren 650S better than the Ferrari 458 Speciale?

If the McLaren 12C is a rival to the Ferrari 458, then the 650S would appear to be McLaren’s answer to the highly-focused 458 Speciale. Except that’s not quite right, because the Speciale is built as a highly strung, highly focused road-racer, while amongst its other talents, the 650S is McLaren’s most luxurious vehicle yet.

The P1-style front end that differentiates the 650S from the 12C is joined by a new three-part rear end treatment modelled after the 12C GT3 racing car. Both these features and the new lower strakes along the doors improve the car’s downforce – by up to 24% at 150mph.

The standard active aerodynamics have also been fettled, with the moving rear spoiler continuing to function as an airbrake – fascinating to watch – as well as adopting a new automatic DRS mode. DRS is an acronym from Formula One, standing for Drag Reduction System; here it basically means the wing goes flat to reduce air resistance when you’re screaming along in a straight line. Handy.

Many of the exterior parts can be optioned in carbonfibre, which rather than just being a cosmetic fop, actually saves up to 6kg in weight. New carbonfibre bucket seats save a further 15kg if you specify them, while the standard forged wheels and carbon-ceramic brakes shave off more kilos. Both variants are lighter than the 12C equivalent, but the Spider remains 40kg heavier than the Coupe.

McLaren expects to sell more of the Spider, even so, since it not only adds some extra flash – hardly needed – it offers a small amount of extra storage when the roof is up. Both versions have a class-leading 140 litres of luggage room in the nose. The Spider’s automatic roof mechanism takes 17 seconds to operate, and can cope with speeds of up to 19mph, so no need to stop at the side of the road.

The 650S’ interior is similar to the 12C’s, but you get an upgraded infotainment system complete with reversing camera, and there are some new options – including a choice of leather headlining if you’re into that kind of thing. Getting in and out isn’t too difficult, but being graceful with it takes practice.

We love the cross-linked paddleshifter – genuinely just like an F1 car – and have no complaints about the angry V8 noise, which is overlaid with whooshing and hissing from the turbos when you’re going for it, but settles down into the background during a motorway cruise.


MR VERDICT: McLaren 650S

When McLaren launched the 12C in 2011, everyone was impressed by the technology, but a few found the driving experience left them cold. With the 650S, the firm has utterly vanquished those reservations, and delivered one of the finest ways to spend £200k we have ever experienced. Not that we have that kind of experience on a regular basis – but the point remains.

This car is enormously fast, but also enormously capable – it’s easy to get to grips with but has huge depths to explore for your on-going gratification; a passenger ride with one of McLaren’s tame racing drivers proving how we were only just scratching the surface. Ours’ll be a coupe, with all the carbon extras, please.

We’re sure the 12C will enjoy its forthcoming retirement…





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Engine M38T 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 petrol

Drivetrain Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic with paddleshifters, rear-wheel drive

Prices from £195,222 (Coupe), £215,222 (Spider)

Power 650hp @ 7,500rpm

Torque 500lb ft @ 6,000rpm

0-62mph 3.0 seconds

Top speed 207mph (Coupe), 204mph (Spider)

MPG 24.2mpg

CO2 275g/km

Review Date
Reviewed Item
McLaren 650S
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