July 2, 2019

Hi-vis motoring

Putting the super in supercar, the road-legal McLaren 570S is just as exciting to drive as its Grand Prix cousins.

It may be pure coincidence, but on the weekend I have temporary possession of a searingly bright orange McLaren 570S Spider, other McLarens in a very similar hue are blasting around the Grand Prix circuit in Melbourne.

And, every time I take the car out onto the local roads, I seem to be the target of just as much attention as those highly-paid racing Formula 1 drivers.

The 570S coupe is the “entry-level” McLaren, although at this end of the market, such a description is definitely relative, and the convertible ups the ante by more than $40,000 to $435,750 (plus on roads and options — and there are lots of options!) The open-air experience and greater exposure to the sound of the engine, added to the practicality of a folding hardtop, make the Spider the smart buy.

But let’s start with the brand, which may be almost unknown to many people. New Zealander Bruce McLaren was a very capable Formula 1 driver for British team Cooper before starting his own team in 1963, making it the second oldest team (after Ferrari) currently competing in Formula 1. The team’s first Formula 1 victory came in 1968 in Belgium and through 1967 to 1971, they dominated the US Can-Am Series and won the Indianapolis 500 in 1972, 1974 and 1976.

In 1988, McLaren decided to expand into building road cars and aimed high. The resulting F1 sports car, released in December 1993, has been described as the “the finest sports car the world has ever seen”. If you’re thinking of buying one of the spectacular three-seaters (the driver sits in the middle), finding one won’t be easy ­— just 104 were produced and only 64 were road-legal.

The 2019 models won’t be anywhere near as difficult to buy and, since the few F1s that come onto the market command prices in the multiple millions of dollars, comparatively affordable.

One of the most appealing things about the 570S, compared to its even loftier siblings, is how approachable it is. Supercars can be a daunting prospect, and some of them are less than accommodating around town. Not so the 570S.

Because the 570 is built around a carbon fibre tub, removing the roof has no effect on torsional rigidity. That roof neatly folds away in 15 seconds and, even with the roof up, dropping the rear window makes the engine note more audible inside the cabin.

The engine is a 3.8-litre twin turbo and the noise it makes through its twin tailpipes is quite different from the high-pitched wail of a Ferrari, the flat six thrum of a Porsche or the apocalyptic fusillade of a Maserati. Outputs, whilst really only useful for boasting, are 419kW and 600Nm. One hundred km/h comes up in just 3.2 seconds, and if it were legal to do so anywhere in Australia (other than a racetrack), you’d see 200km/h in 9.6 seconds, less than most cars need to get to half that speed. Top speed with the roof up is 328km/h (315 with it lowered).

As you’d expect, the driving experience is far beyond anything you can approach on public roads. The steering is light but direct (and you’ll feel every cat’s-eye reflector as you ride over it). The engine responds from almost idle, but things start to liven up above 3000rpm and the thrills keep on coming all the way to the 7500rpm redline. It would take a brave (or foolhardy) driver to discover that the 570S will, ultimately, understeer. With familiarity, owners will want to explore the Handling and Powertrain toggle switches, customising the characteristics of the car to their preferences and intended use.

Like all supercars, there are some quirks — the mirror adjustment controls are hidden away behind the steering wheel; the seat adjustment buttons are harder to find than a dollar coin dropped down the back of a couch; the sat nav is impossible to read in daylight; the doors (known colloquially as scissor doors because they open upwards, but officially “dihedral”) are operated from the outside by a hidden release button and inside by a small lever and a hefty shove upwards (while taking care not to put too much pressure on the switch); the thoughtful (and absolutely necessary) control to raise the whole car for traversing speed bumps is fiddly and takes time to activate (sorry, following traffic, but I hate to think how much a replacement front spoiler would cost, and I’m glad I didn’t have to ask).

But by any assessment, the McLaren 570S Spider is a superb motor car.

Sadly, only one of the F1 McLarens finished the race in Melbourne. Lando Norris crossed the line in 12th position, while teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. made a fiery retirement on Lap 11. I’m happy to report no such dramas with my borrowed 570S Spider. 

Confirm prices with dealer and add statutory on-road costs and dealer delivery.



This story first appeared in the May 2019 issue of SALIFE.


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