The McLaren range is growing all the time, but what’s interesting is the company is making that growth possible by using the same basic components. We have the carbonfibre Monocell chassis at the core of every single one of Woking’s current cars, and the same 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 mounted mid-ship. So when the 570S was revealed, some dismissed it as just being a cynically detuned 650S to plug an Audi R8/Porsche 911 Turbo-sized gap in the range.
Once you dig deeper however, you find that despite sharing much of the same ingredients, the end result tastes very different. After getting the two cars together at the swanky McLaren Technology Centre in Woking, here’s what we found separates the two:
While both cars do use the Monocell carbonfibre passenger compartment, the 570S gets a modified version: Monocell II. Here, the sills are slimmer and lower, making ingress and egress a little more dignified. It’s still not an easy car to get in to, but it’s definitely easier than the 650S. The whole structure weighs less than 80kg.
The Baby Mac - which is actually ever so slightly longer and wider than its big brother - doesn’t share a single body panel with the 650S, and although the family resemblance is clear, the 570S looks very different. It looks better - to my eyes - but the panels aren’t quite so exotic. While the 650S uses composite panels, the 570S makes do with aluminium as it’s cheaper to produce - especially at the higher volumes expected for the car - and less costly to repair.
For many of the panels though, it’s no ordinary aluminium. Certain components are made using a ‘Superform’ process, which is where the aluminium is heated and ‘blown’ into the right shape over a mould. This results in a piece that weighs exactly the same as it would if it were made from composite.
The 570S also loses the fancy active-airbrake-come-rear-wing of the 650S, but what the 570S gains is wider opening dihedral doors, further helping the whole ingress/egress thing.
As this is supposed to be the more practical, useable McLaren, you get a lot more space to put stuff in the interior. You get a glovebox - something you don’t get on a 650S - various cubby holes plus storage bins in the doors with snazzy lids. After all, it wouldn’t look so good if you turned up to your destination, opened the cool doors and then smashed all of their contents on the floor now would it?
This is the biggie. Both cars get adaptive dampers and have double wishbone suspension, but the dampers on the 650S are a little more special, as they’re part of something called ProActive Chassis Control (PCC). In this system, the dampers are hydraulically linked to a gas-filled ‘accumulator’, which negates the need for a conventional anti-roll bar.
Sensors monitor body movements, and stiffen the dampers only when required, ‘decoupling’ them when the car is being driven in a straight line. The way the system behaves changes via the three driving modes of Normal, Sport and Track. The system means the 650S feels vastly different to drive, but more on that later.
The 570S and 650S share pretty much the same 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8, which has a rather interesting history, as it can be traced back to the Nissan VRH engine which first appeared in the late 1980s. The now defunct Tom Walkinshaw Racing developed a version of it for an aborted Indycar project, the rights of which were purchased. Woking transformed the engine into the M838T, with little of the TWR unit retained by the time they were done. All McLaren’s engines are built by Ricardo PLC, the same people responsible for manufacturing the Bugatti Veyron’s seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox.
The engine in the 570S is an evolution of the original MT838T, gaining the designation MT838TE. 30 per cent of its components are new, including new camshaft phase controllers which help reduce inertia to the benefit of engine response and efficiency.
Naturally, it’s a lot less powerful and torquier than the V8 in its big brother, with 562bhp and 443lb ft to the 650S’s 641bhp and 500b ft. Figures can only tell you so much, however - they can’t tell you just how different the engines feel. As with the suspension, we’ll get back to the different feeling of the two engines later, but it is also worth noting that thanks to new equal-length exhaust manifolds, the 570S also sounds quite a bit different. Take a listen to the sound comparison above and you’ll see what we mean.
After driving a 570S and the gorgeous Volcano Red 650S Spider you see here back-to-back, I was taken aback by just how different they felt. If you look at the performance stats there’s not a huge amount in it: the 650S will do 0-62mph in three seconds dead but the 570S isn’t far behind, doing the same in 3.2 seconds. But the mid-range clout of the 650S feels far more potent, and the power delivery much more aggressive. Put it this way: the 650S is a lot more keen to light up the rear boots under heavy acceleration than the 570S.
What’s also interesting is what happens when you wind these cars right around to the redline. It’s something you need to do in both cars, with peak power for the 650S coming in at 7200rpm, and 7400rpm in the 570S. But not long after 6000rpm there’s a noticeable drop-off for the 570S, whereas in the 650S, it gets more exciting the more you crank it round.
Delve a little deeper into how these two engines work, and you find it’s all down to the torque delivery. The 650S has a nice, wide torque band which gives 450lb ft at 3000rpm rising swiftly to the full 500lb ft, which is felt all the way up to 7000rpm. Peak twist in the 570S on the other hand comes in at 5000-6500rpm, contributing to the less punchy mid range and less dramatic top end.
On the flip side, all of this makes the 570S a little friendlier to drive than the 650S, and that’s exactly what McLaren has been going for with the whole usability remit of the ‘lesser’ car.
What doesn’t fit quite as well with this ethos is the suspension: without the PCC system, the 570S doesn’t ride anywhere near as smoothly as the 650S. The more expensive car has an uncannily smooth ride, and as well as making it a more pleasant car to potter around town in, it also means it’s a far more confident machine to attack uneven back roads in since it remains entirely unflustered by poor road surfaces, where the 570S starts to skip around and feel nervous.
Both cars have ultra-quick, ultra-sharp steering, but comparing feedback is a little difficult, with our drive of the 570S ‘corrupted’ thanks to the presence of winter tyres, where the 650S Spider we pinched ran summer rubber.
To answer my original question: no, the 570S isn’t just a 650S with the volume rather cynically turned down. It’s clear the car has been comprehensively reworked to make it more liveable, friendlier and more up-to-date thanks to McLaren’s own developments since the 650S was designed.
The other question concerns whether or not the 650S is better enough to justify the £50,000+ premium (the 570S is £143,250, and the 650S £195,000 in coupe form). When doing a little research before driving this pair, I came across an Internet forum topic full of 650S users venting at McLaren over concerns that the then newly unveiled 570S was pretty much the same car they’d bought but for a lot less money, and with damn near the same performance.
But they needn’t have worried: the 650S is a considerably more dramatic and more exciting bit of kit, and that amazing suspension is almost worth the price difference on its own. I feel like I’ve unfinished business with the 570S thanks to those tyres skewing proceedings and our test route being not the most interesting, but out of the two it’s the 650S that excited me the most on the day.
If you asked me whether the 570S was a proper supercar, I’d hesitate ever so slightly before saying ‘yes’. If asked the same about the 650S, it’d be an instant ‘Hell Yeah’ with a capital H. And Y.
Additional photography by Alex Carmichael