First Drive: 2018 McLaren 570S Spider

It’s no coincidence that McLaren hosted the international launch for the open-top version of its 570S mid-engine junior supercar on the fabulous roads that emanate from Barcelona, Spain. It just so happens that McLaren, the British-based firm of F1 legend that is now very serious about building road cars, has a vehicle development centre in this southern Spanish city, and along with a closed proving grounds, McLaren spends quite a bit of time sorting its cars on the very roads I’m driving.

This is no relaxed V8 torque pump that easily huffs you around town just off idle. Nope, this is a mighty racy unit that sports two big turbos and asks for a whack of revs before it really wakes up.

So perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that this full day of piloting a Curacao Blue 2018 McLaren 570S Spider over smooth, winding, and largely deserted mountain roads counts as one of my best days ever behind a steering wheel.

And in this case, said steering wheel is Alcantara-trimmed and festooned with carbon-fibre spokes and the most fabulous spears of carbon-fibre shift paddles. Oh yes, these bits are optional, but those forking out $247,500 for this edgy Brit when it arrives in September will likely be fairly free-spirited when it comes to checking option boxes.

That is certainly what McLaren expects, as the cars assembled for this event are part of an initial run of 400 “Launch Edition” models that are spec’d with about 30 grand worth of upgrades – ones that typical buyers opt for.

But let’s start with the basics. The core of the 570S consists of a rigid carbon-fibre tub that required no additional strengthening for drop-top duty. The body panels are aluminum and composite. In McLaren world, weight is the enemy, and the 570S Spider weighs in at a relatively svelte 1,486 kg. McLaren tells us the V10-powered 2018 Audi R8 Spyder presses down on terra firma with an additional 228 kg.

Behind the seats and below the two ultra-sexy flying buttresses sits a longitudinally mounted 3.8L twin-turbo V8 that makes 562 hp at 7,500 rpm and 443 lb-ft of torque from 5,000 to 6,500. It powers the rear wheel through McLaren’s seven-speed dual-clutch Seamless Shift Gearbox (SSG).

Have a look at that torque peak. This is no relaxed V8 torque pump that easily huffs you around town just off idle. Nope, this is a mighty racy unit that sports two big turbos and asks for a whack of revs before it really wakes up. The 570S Spider needs to be worked a bit, but get this wedge up on its toes and the rewards are manifest.

A sense of lightness permeates every move the Spider makes out here in the Spanish countryside. As much as the McLaren hates negotiating the mess of Barcelona traffic (lousy rear visibility and a drivetrain that just wants to be let off leash), it absolutely comes into its own given the right environment.

McLaren is sticking with hydraulically assisted steering here because, as head of vehicle development Ben Gulliver puts it, “We have yet to find an electric rack that delivers the steering feel we need.” Well, there’s some music to the enthusiast’s ear.

Speaking of music, the sound emitted by the V8 through the optional sport exhaust is more raw and raucous than rich and mellifluous. It may not be pretty, but it sounds all business when sitting at a blatty idle. Give it some welly and blat turns to blare, and from about 4,000 rpm a full-bore wail erupts to underscore the blistering forward pace. A totally unique aural signature.

Two rotary switches down on the centre console, for Handling and for Power, adjust the car’s dynamic parameters. There are three settings for each – Normal, Sport, and Track. This is a clever setup, having chassis adjustments separate from the drivetrain, as you don’t always want a super-stiff ride when the engine and transmission are in full attack mode.

But on these smooth twisties, everything is up to eleven. The steering is a living entity with super-quick turn-in and it’s more talkative than a Russian envoy. The balance of the Spider is superb – the more you get comfortable with it the more you can push. Quick transitions are dispensed with like tasty hors d’oeuvres, and in Track mode the transmission bangs off perfectly timed upshifts and downshifts with just enough violence. Play with the paddles and it will gladly hand you the reigns. Press the M button and it becomes fully manual.

The standard carbon-ceramic brakes initially feel wooden but once on pace they are linear, easily modulated and, well… epic.

The Spider is so intuitive and engrossing out here that you tend to forget what it looks like. That’s until your pace (and heartbeat) slows for a rumble through a sleepy rural hamlet. Then it’s all stares, smiles, cellphones and things yelled in Spanish (hopefully positive).

The composite roof panel tucks itself away under the rear tonneau in 15 seconds, and it will operate at speeds up to 40 km/h.

The car I’m driving is painted in optional Curacao Blue with optional lightweight forged alloys (19-inch front, 20-inch back) in a dark “Stealth” finish. Once you stop and swing up those dihedral doors, well, you couldn’t garner more attention if your hat was on fire and Elvis was riding shotgun.

The option list on this specimen is long. In addition to the paint and wheels, it benefits from an Almond White and Carbon Black Sport Design interior, orange brake calipers, sport exhaust, carbon-fibre interior package, Security Pack (front end lift, front and rear parking sensors, rear-view camera, alarm, car cover) and Luxury Pack (power adjust, heated, and memory sport seats; power adjust steering column; Bowers & Wilkins audio, soft close doors, McLaren-branded floor mats).

McLaren divides its road cars into three categories. The entry Sport Series is inhabited by the 540C (a slightly detuned and de-contented 570S), the 570GT (slightly more civilized 570S), the 570S (first in this series) and now the 570S Spider. The Super Series currently consists of the 720S and the 650S GT3 off-the-shelf race car. The Ultimate Series is presently vacant as the P1 is done and the 1,000 hp hybrid V8 BP23 won’t arrive until 2019.

Currently the 570S Spider is the only convertible in the McLaren stable, and there are no spider variants planned for 540C or 570GT. McLaren predicts the Spider will be it highest-volume car, and this I don’t doubt as its performance specs are identical to those of the 570S Coupe despite the extra 46 kg for the roof and its mechanisms: 0–100 km/h in 3.2 seconds, 0–200 km/h in 9.5 seconds, 0–300 km/h in 30 seconds and a top speed of 328 km/h (315 km/h with the roof open).

The Sport Series has availed McLaren to a new breed of customer (read: less filthy rich) and as a result sales jumped from 1,600 cars in 2015 to 3,300 cars in 2016.

In the words of Ben Gulliver, “With the Sport Series we’ve distilled the McLaren DNA into a more usable car.”

Lightness of being. 7/25/2017 5:00:00 AM