McLaren 650S, motoring review: Haven't we seen this car before?

 

Price: £195,250
Engine: 3,799cc, V8 cylinders, 32 valves, 650bhp at 7,500rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed double-clutch sequential gearbox, rear wheel drive
Performance: 204mph, 0-62 in 3.0 seconds, 24.2mpg, CO2 275g/km

You look at this low, sleek, very rapid-looking sports car and you feel a bit confused. Is it that ludicrously speedy hybrid, ultra-scarce thing which is now sold out, the McLaren P1? Yes, it's definitely a McLaren. But it seems a cross between that P1 and the other recent McLaren, the 12C launched three years ago.

The car you see here is indeed exactly that cross-pollination. It is called the 650S, and is in essence a revised 12C. As you have by now detected, the McLaren model-naming policy is in ruins. Another new model is due next year, based on the same lightweight carbon-fibre structure that underpins all three cars so far mentioned but with simpler mechanicals and a lower price. McLaren currently calls it P13, but that might change.

McLaren asserted that the 12C would continue alongside the new, £20,000 more expensive, 650S, only to announce the end of 12C production just a few weeks later. It seems that no one wants to buy the old car when they can have the new one.

It's strange to see a company of McLaren's reputation floundering like this. Yet it reveals an engagingly fallible, human side which adds to the warmth of an encounter with a 650S. And be in no doubt, this is an extremely hot car.

It comes as a coupé (from £195,250) or a Spider (from £215,250), the latter with an electro-hydraulically retractable roof. This extra cost brings you that P1 nose, good both for increased aerodynamic downforce and visual conformity, plus an extra 25bhp (making the 650 of the model name) from the 3.8-litre, twin-turbo V8 engine. There's an extra 57lb ft of torque, too, to bring it to a round 500lb ft. Some in the motoring press found the original 12C a bit "clinical" and McLaren responded with a fruitier engine sound and crisper control responses. The 650S takes it a stage further.

One obvious enhancement concerns the satellite navigation system. There are Alpine electronics behind the unusual portrait-format screen. This matters, because it seems many owners of 12Cs don't use their cars just as weekend pleasure machines, but are high-mileage daily drivers.

Truth to tell, were you to be blindfolded before driving a 650S (metaphorically speaking) you might not immediately tell it apart from its predecessor. The driving experience is simply as before, plus a tiny bit more of everything. Of course it's mind-bogglingly rapid – and sticks to the road.

The paddleshift gearbox shifts more quickly and smoothly now, cleverly using an "inertia pull" system which harnesses the energy of the decelerating engine during a split-second upshift while emitting sonic pops and bangs. At the same time the "active" suspension manages to soak up bumps with uncanny efficiency, keeping the driver fully in touch with the 650S's vast dynamic forces. This is a very easy car to drive licence-threateningly quickly, but there's enough theatre here to make it an amusing companion while keeping the vital licence safe. And you could always take it on a track.

So that's the McLaren 650S. New name, slightly different car, still brilliant at what it does. Of course no one needs a car like this. But it certainly makes the world a more interesting place.

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