Join Date: Feb 2014
With the beans well and truly spilled on the McLaren 650S before the sanctioned reveal it's a case of mopping up the facts - now officially confirmed - and taking stock of where the new model sits. But we've also had a chat with McLaren's Chief Design Engineer Dan Parry-Williams for some unique insight into the car.
First the basics though.
You might see the 650S as a response to the Ferrari 458 Speciale but McLaren views things a little differently. The Speciale follows in a tradition of track wannabe evolutions of standard Ferraris, like the 360 Challenge Stradale also mentioned today. And the Speciale follows the pattern, losing 90kg and delivering a much rawer drive than the 458 Italia on which it's based.
The 650S deliberately doesn't try and match this recipe and weighs only 6kg less than the standard 12C. It is, in the words of McLaren's product man Jamie Costorphine, "more fun but with no compromise in driveability and usability." Yes, he actually used the word 'fun'. The presentation even boasted of the 650S's ability to hold drifts, McLaren facing the reality that such 'sub-optimal' driving behaviour might actually be something desirable to those with more than lap times on their mind.
650S gets added P1ness thanks to new nose
McLaren might not want to be seen responding to the red rag Speciale but at the same time it couldn't ignore the fact it's also got some clever stuff, active aero included. No surprise to learn the 650S has expanded the ability of the 12C's airbrake and now uses it in a more intelligent manner to reduce drag on the straights but pop up to generate downforce in the corners.
Which it'll attack a lot more aggressively, thanks to a stiffening of the rear suspension, redesigned front top mounts, more advanced damper valving and significantly increased turn-in bite from the tailored Pirelli P Zero Corsa tyres.
At more everyday speeds McLaren has modulated the brake feel to reduce grabbiness and improved the gearbox and throttle calibration to improve everyday driveability. Revisions to the cylinder head, pistons and airbox - among other things - result in "quite significant" performance gains, unleashing 650hp and 500lb ft from the 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 compared with 625hp and 442lb ft in the standard 12C. Downforce is increased by 40 per cent, there's a tenth off the 0-62mph and a more significant four tenths off the 0-125mph time which now stands at 8.4 seconds. Top speed is the same at 207mph.
"I think we were keen to improve engagement," Parry-Williams told us. "We've been able to use a lot of what we learned [on the P1] both in terms of upshift and downshift and even the sound inside the cabin and the way we've used the ISG is improved. Your whole feeling of connectivity to the car when you're driving is very different."
But is this contrived through electronics? "It's making what you do with the throttle, the brakes, the steering and what you feel through your backside much more direct in terms of what the car's doing," he counters. "So whether it's better turning response from the tyres or just a cleaner upshift or faster downshift or whether it's control of the car on corner entry where it's more stable it's just more rewarding."
Is this a response to accusations of the 12C being a bit aloof then? "I think that's right," he admits, frankly. "We're a new company and we still are learning. We focus on the numbers and the performance metrics and we're still learning about the subtlety of the driver and machine interface. We're still making physical changes to the car - springs, dampers, weight distribution, aero - but we're adding to that with software. It's a big, big part of it."
Racy, yes, but this ain't no pared back track special
And what about this new-found driftability? "I suppose we're all enthusiasts," he grins. "I don't know what percentage of people want to push the envelope, some people do and so that's obviously rewarding as well and that's certainly an area we were criticised for failing in compared with some of our competitors. We needed to make sure we got on top of that. It's not the fastest way round the track but it's supposed to be fun isn't it!"
Unlike the Speciale this isn't achieved with an actively controlled locking differential but with an improved version of McLaren's Brake Steer. Parry-Williams admitted they had tested the 12C with an active diff early in the development phase but binned it for cost and weight reasons. He insists Brake Steer works just as well. "You can generate the same torque across the axle," he says, "and the advantage of using Brake Steer is that it's a lot lighter and it's easier to control because you're controlling the tyre contact patch at source." It does place additional demands on the rear brakes though, lessons learned from the P1 meaning extra cooling for the rear discs and calipers.
The 650S will, for the time being, sell alongside the standard 12C though the relatively small leap from £176K for the 12C to £195K for the 650S (£215K in Spider form) - and insistence that it does all the extra stuff with no compromise in creature comforts and liveability - should make it something of a no-brainer.