Have you ever seen a hippo driving a Mini? No, then you really want to read on… The start of this journey commenced with a telephone call from McLaren, yes, that’s right, the F1 people, asking me If I’d like to come along and test drive some of their cars.
My reply, as you might well imagine, was quicker than Usain running the 200m. So, off to Mar Hall in deepest, darkest Bishopton I trundled in the trusty old company Ford. And believe me, when I say darkest, that’s exactly what I mean. It was tipping down, blowing a hoolie and I swear I saw a trampoline racing me along the M8 at one point.
I drove into the car park and tried to hide the ‘company car’, while surreptitiously hanging around a nice shiny BMW as the valeters put the final touches to the line-up of some very smart looking motors. I’m certain nobody noticed my faded canary yellow V-reg Escort.
A quick video presentation later and I was ready to sign on the dotted line. If truth be told, I’d actually have scribed my name in blood to be able to park my ample carcase in what is fast becoming an iconic brand.
Now for a wee bit of the boring stuff. McLaren as a company is a self-funding and fiercely independent privately owned manufacturer with no plans to change that status any time soon. An investment of £1 billion to its research and development programme by 2022 proves how serious its people are about the manufacture of ‘cars’.
Just by way of an example. If you had bought one of the very first F1 cars in 1992 at a snip under £600,000, you would now be looking at slapping a sale ticket on it of £10 million. Now that’s what I call a solid investment. Such is the brand’s popularity; new models sell out before they’ve even rolled out of the factory. In 2015 the company-produced 1,600 cars and sold every one.
THE CAR IN FACTS●●Price: £143,250●●Engine: 3.8-litre V8 petrol producing 562bhp, 443lb/ft●●Transmission: Seven-speed automatic gearbox driving the rear wheels●●Performance: Top speed 204mph, 0-62mph in 3.2 seconds●●Economy: 26.4mpg combined●●Emissions: 249g/km of CO2
But that’s enough of the data chat – how did my 570s and the 650s drive?
No doubt you’ll have heard the saying “moved like a cat on a hot tin roof”, good, as we’ll start there and work our way up. To liken these cars to rockets is perhaps unfair. I’ve had more than my fair share of uneventful firework situations on 5 November, where they’ve simpered, before half-heartedly launching themselves 30 foot in the air before finishing on more of a pop than an explosion. Let me tell you here and now, neither of these cars was a damp squib. Don’t be drawn in by the nice simple clean lines, these are muscle powerhouses on steroids, and then some.
The drivetrain contains more than just horsepower, there’s a herd of raging stallions just waiting to be let loose. My first challenge, however, was to actually get into the things. Despite a nice big opening courtesy of the dihedral door – that’s a gullwing to you and me, this was my challenge for the day. These cars, to be fair aren’t built for the, ahem, larger than average body size. But I’ll be damned if I was going to let a few extra stone keep me out of the driving seat. So, with a 20-step process any circus contortionist would have been mightily proud of, I eventually managed to wedge myself in. The thought of “how will I get out again?” never even crossed my mind. So, with more than a little trepidation I pressed the start button on the 570S.
I now realised I needn’t have worried about getting out – I was halfway there already. Surprisingly, I didn’t expect to find as many mod-cons as were evident. But I suppose when you’re paying a minimum of £148,000 you’d be a bit miffed to get nothing. Even the purists like some toys apparently. But don’t go looking for your typical assortment of buttons, lights, and bells, many from other marques, you won’t find them. It’s a pared down cabin, and, in my opinion so much better for it. What you do get is clean, uncluttered and sensibly laid out consoles that still gives you access to all you’ll need. As I carefully rumbled my way to the M8, overtaking a line of traffic, a glance at the speedo revealed that’s far too easy to lose track of the speeds you’re travelling at in these cars, which have the potential to be licence killers very quickly.
So, tentatively testing my right foot again, the A82 North seemed a good bet to give the 570s its head. This is a hugely responsive beast, as they all are, and the slightest pressure on the right pedal will see you launching forward at an eye-watering warp speed six. The 570S is more consumer-led, with an altogether softer suspension setup than, say the 650S, which is much less forgiving in every respect, but it’s faster. Both versions had automatic gearboxes, but a flick of a button activated the paddle shifts on the steering and put me in charge. Unexpectedly, both were actually very comfortable to drive once I was in the seat. Enhanced by electric multi-function seating controls and a fully adjustable steering wheel I could tweak it to a perfect position for me.
Even at a decent lick, cornering and stability is excellent, partly due to the low centre of gravity, a large piece of rubber on four corners and the excellent suspension systems. At no time did I feel that safety was being compromised, despite the torque levels available. Even in some atrocious weather conditions, both cars handled themselves with distinction, and I was very impressed – something that’s not easy to do.
However, there’s always a downside, isn’t there? If you like anonymity, then forget a McLaren. You’d be better off dressing in pink PVC and taking a bus. They’re like a magnet to every car enthusiast within a one-mile radius who can hear that engine burble. No matter where I was; in lay-bys stopping for pics, in lines of traffic, at traffic lights, it drew attention everywhere. At one point I even had ‘white van man’ sitting on my bumper as I realised I was being filmed on his mobile, before he passed with a cheery wave and a thumbs up from his passenger.
Now, where did I put that lucky lottery charm?