McLaren 570S review: The Audi R8 destroyer?

McLaren 570S in Muriwai White

In the Recombu Cars McLaren 570S review, Ben Griffin puts the second cheapest McLaren in the range to the test – and then spends the time working out how he could actually buy one for himself.

I’ll be honest with you, I would be really disappointed if you fail to get to the end of the review. Because for the next umpteen words and photos I’m going to explain why the McLaren 570S is sensational. Why, of the entire McLaren range, it is the one I would buy and why you consider it, too.

As the cheapest McLaren until the lesser powerful 540C came along, the 570S really has no business sticking its British-built nose into the business of the range-topping 720S or even the 675LT. Nor should it make you realise the MP4-12C was a bit lifeless and that the 650S, though immensely potent, also lacked a touch of drama. Hell, you could make a case for it over the McLaren Senna.

It has no right upsetting the likes of the Audi R8 V10 Plus or a Porsche 911 Turbo S, either. Even McLaren calls it a ‘sports car’, which is the underselling equivalent of saying the aftermath of a nuclear explosion is ‘a bit of a mess’. Make no mistake, this is a car that is super where it counts.

The fact you can spend a mere £149,000 for the coupe or £164,750 for the ‘Muriwai White’ 570S Spider convertible I had on test (before extras, of which there are many and none of them are cheap) and get the closest thing to a motoring orgasm is startling.

There has to be a catch, though. Well, there are a few as you shall find out. Because you did promise to read to the end, remember?

McLaren 570S review: What is it?

McLaren cars come in three categories. Ultimate Series, which is home to the P1, P1 GTR and Senna (the test drive of which will take place at the Estoril circuit). Then there is the Super Series, where the 675LT and 720S live, and Sports Series, occupied by the 540C, 570S and the 570GT, which is a slightly softer, more practical take on the car on review today.

A lot of what you find in the £70,000 more expensive 720S and the £1.98-million P1 forms the basis of the 570S, which goes a long way in explaining its potency. It has, for instance, the 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 found throughout the McLaren range although a third of it is different to what came in its 650S predecessor. Also new is the addition of a stop-start system, which is good for the lungs of pedestrians.

Also inherited from its scarier siblings is the carbon fibre MonoCell II, which weighs a mere 75kg and improves rigidity beyond that of an aluminium equivalent. Except to make life more livable, it is 80mm thinner to make getting in and out easier – and the difference is noticeable.

Obviously the power output has taken a hit, given the lower price. You get 562bhp instead of 641bhp and torque is 443lb/ft compared to 500lb/ft. Not that you really notice because 0-62mph takes 3.2 seconds and 6.6 seconds later you are doing 124mph, which I can assure you feels fast. It also has a similar torque pattern.

Gears are changed by a seven-speed automatic, but you can take over using the paddles attached to the steering wheel and the manual shift mode if you prefer. As for braking, a very necessary function in a car capable of 204mph, carbon ceramic brakes are standard. 124mph to zero requires 120 metres of road and 62-0 in 30 metres, just to give you an idea of potency.

Where money has been saved is by removing any active aerodynamic trickery and the use of a less sophisticated suspension setup. Independent adaptive dampers and double wishbone equipment replace the usual ProActive System that can decouple the dampers hydraulically.

In terms of design, it is easy to assume the 570S is smaller than the 650S, thanks to various design tricks, but the opposite is true albeit the difference is marginal. On the inside, meanwhile, a ‘floating’ central infotainment display makes it appear you have more space without actually adding any. It sure feels roomier, although it is still more jet fighter cockpit than anything else. Not that we mind.

Despite being a bit larger, the 570S is very well placed in terms of weight. Weighing 1,313kg (1,359kg for the 570S Spider) and another 100kg-odd more in terms of its kerb weight (1,486kg for the Spider), the 150kg heavier R8 V10 Plus and the 250kg heavier Porsche 911 Turbo S appear porky in comparison.

McLaren 570S review: How does it drive?

Once you have lowered yourself in, which is even more of a challenge if you park near a kerb, and closed the lovely dihedral doors that open towards the sky, you get this overwhelming sense the 570S means business. There are far fewer buttons to take your concentration away from what is a well-designed cabin. It looks serious, yet everything is either smooth or soft to the touch, as you would expect from a mix of Alcantara and carbon fibre.

Beneath the homemade infotainment system, which has a few flaws that we will get to in a second, is the driving mode selection area. With the ‘Active’ button turned off, you get the softest combination of the suspension and gear changes. Switch it on, as indicated by a yellow light around the edge, and you can now twist the dials into Sport and Track for added ferocity.

You can also engage the aforementioned ‘M’ manual gears mode, which provides full control of the gears without interruption, and, in the case of the 570S convertible, hold down a switch to put the hard-top roof down or up. Or if the weather is bad, you can roll down the rear window that separates your eardrums from an unfiltered, turbocharged V8 howl and enjoy the best of both worlds.

What really matters is, of course, how it moves. Initially, it is actually rather subdued. With the roof and windows up the car makes relatively little noise beyond the start-up roar and higher temporary rev idle. For a car so dynamically focussed, it is surprisingly well-mannered. Even the suspension is largely forgiving, although large pot holes and collections of small bumps swiftly remind you it is built more for speed rather than comfort.

Given that my house is surrounded by those nightmarish square speed bumps that have nearly claimed the lives of various press cars, including two Caterhams, the ability to raise the suspension of the 570S (by holding up on a stalk on the left of the steering wheel column) is a game-changer. For tackling a steep driveway to parking half on a kerb, it spares you a horrible noise and some DIY sanding of the carbon fibre beneath the car. Once moving, it automatically lowers at around 40mph.

Even the air-conditioning system, which uses the jet engine-esque style vents you get in an R8 and TT RS, managed to cope with 28-degree heat (according to the car’s own thermometer). And the seats, though incredibly supportive, ensured multiple hours of driving never caused discomfort. Unless you only drive on track, the carbon bucket seat option is both unnecessary and expensive.

Tripping to Sainsbury’s (the 570S is not really an Asda kind of car, is it?) was a bit of a challenge for the 570S. The front boot is deep but about a tenth of what you can have in a hatchback, while the lack of door bins means storing a water bottle is more difficult. But you do get multiple cup holders, although they lack much in the way of support, and a modest glovebox, which will manage gloves and not a lot else.

The real home of a car like the 570S is, of course, away from swarms of Uber drivers and pollution and it is here where you can see what the 570S is made of. From standing, it accelerates so rapidly that you can feel your bones compress. Forget to check the speedometer and it is likely you have inadvertently left the large fine area and entered into prison territory.

Despite a lot of safety systems there to keep you alive, the 570S is extremely responsive. It lacks the same snappiness as the R8 V10 Plus, owing to its turbocharged nature as opposed to naturally aspirated and rear-wheel drive instead of quattro, and the revs need to rather high before it really sings, but once there it blurs the surroundings like very few cars.

In fact, never once did I pine for anymore power. Perhaps if you stepped out of the 720S and straight into the 570S, you would notice the former’s significant power output. But in isolation, the latter comes across as explosive.

Being so low down enhances that sensation of speed and the whoosh of the turbos as you approach 7,500rpm, where full horsepower becomes available, is a sound to savour. It is quieter than an R8, admittedly, and less exciting but the overall engine note is a compelling blend of raw efficiency and V8 terror.

As for cornering ability, you really need to go to a track to see what the 570S can do. A lack of body roll and bags of grip from the Pirelli P Zero Corsa tyres make achieving the edge of grip nothing short of dangerous, while it puts the power down after a corner far better than the lack of a limited-slip differential would suggest.

Luckily, the highly talkative electro-hydraulic steering makes it easy to place the car where you want it and know when you are pushing too hard. The flip-side of ditching a full electronic system, however, is that badly kept roads can cause you to fight to keep the 570S in a straight line (aka ‘tram-lining’).

The brakes take some getting used to, which makes the first bit of travel largely feeble but then those big ceramic discs start to bite hard. It takes some getting used, but once mastered it is easy to be precise with your braking. Most of the time, that is.

McLaren 570S review: So it is total and utter perfection?

Cool your jets, sport. The McLaren 570S is, like most supercars, packing some flaws although a few could have been avoided without too much effort on McLaren’s part. For starters, the DAB digital radio spent most of a drive back from the New Forest to London struggling to maintain a radio station, which is a shame because the optional Bowers & Wilkins system kicks out a lovely sound, one you can spend far too long fine-tuning within the touchscreen infotainment system.

On that note, I can bring up the fact McLaren’s attempt at an infotainment system is good and bad. Good, because I like how it looks and because it is relatively simple. Bad, because it has weird quirks. Like the fact you have to use the ‘Destination’ option to set a destination, as opposed to being able to do it from within the map view.

Other functionality is harder to find than it should be, too, although learning everything never feels like hardship and you should only need to set up the likes of WiFi and Bluetooth once.

Another niggle is the reversing camera, which is useful because the metal above the engine sits rather highly and can be virtually impossible to see over. So McLaren has connected a camera to the digital dials, which works well until you need to steer. At this point, the lovely carbon fibre steering wheel spokes and paddles obscure the view, putting you back to square one unless either you a) squint or b) move your head awkwardly and look through the postage stamp-sized gap.

There is another time when the the 570S is somewhat hair-raising – and ironically it is when travelling the slowest. Though it is easy to judge where the wheels are for parking near a kerb, thanks to the large door mirrors, the enthusiasm at which the 570S creeps forward and the aforementioned brakes make precise parking unnecessarily worrying. Even in slow-moving traffic, you need to concentrate more than usual, especially as the brake and accelerator pedals are rather pally.

I had assumed there would be some quality issues, something I noticed on the 720S, but the 570S escaped my criticism. Nothing fell off, creaked, broke or stopped working during testing. Nor did I see any panel gap oddities, although being a press car you would hope not. The Audi is perhaps a little better held together, but the McLaren makes a much larger impression. It feels expensive, as expensive, anyway, as pricier McLarens.

McLaren 570S review: What about value for money and extras?

The sheer cost of some of the extras you can have attached to the 570S is also worth a mention. Red brake calipers, for instance, cost £910 presumably because the paint contains gold and unicorn horn. Soft close doors? Why, that is another £620. Extra security? £4,090.

These are small-fry, to be honest. The press car had two carbon fibre exterior packs fitted, one costing £10,180 and the other £8,770. That is a family hatchback right there.

Then there is the paintjob, which is unable to decide if it is blue or white (but looks stunning) is £6,120. The MSO Defined Titanium SuperSports exhaust, meanwhile, is another £4,750. And the black and red interior will set you back £2,570. A lot of this you can go without, admittedly, which helps keep the 570S in ‘good value’ territory.

McLaren 570S review: Should I buy one, then?

You would be mad to avoid considering it, that is for sure. It does the daily thing rather well, which is what McLaren set out to achieve, but there is little compromise elsewhere. Only those who have recently sampled a 720S or P1 would miss the extra performance, everyone else will find it delightfully intimidating. As for the looks, the 570S looks so like the 720S that most onlookers will never know you ‘cheaped out’.

Quite honestly, only those who want to eat food without the help of a tube will ever reach its limit. Even on a track, it will take serious guts to maximise. As for turning the traction control off, well that takes testicles as big as the turbos. Yet the beauty of the 570S is that you can leave the safety stuff on, travel to a winding stretch of road in comfort and enjoy its ability to eat corners for breakfast.

The Audi R8 is all-weather friendly (quattro all-wheel drive will have that effect), more refined and a little easier to live with on a day-to-day basis, but the steering is a little muted and there is slightly clinical edge to the experience. It is fast, but you never respect it in the same way as the tail-happy 570S, neither does it get under your skin so effectively.

Ultimately, as a combination of comfort and involvement the 570S is as good as it gets. As an indication that McLaren is adapting to criticism and that each car it launches gets that little bit better, look no further. As something to make driving fun, McLaren has nailed it.

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