The 650S is part of McLaren Automotive’s Super Series, and therefore distinct from the slightly tamer (though still extremely fast) Sports Series models.
Like every supercar the company has ever built since it was founded in 2010, it’s a two-seater based on a carbon fibre structure called the Monocell, has scissordoors and uses a version of the 3.8-litre twin turbocharged V8 petrol engine known internally as the M838T. It will cost you around £200,000.
Media reaction to the 650S has been overwhelmingly positive. The general view is that it is better, or at least more interesting, to drive than the mechanically similar MP4-12C which it replaced in 2014, as well as being able to challenge most other high-performance sports cars on the market.
1. You can have it with or without a roof
The 650S is sold in two body styles. The Coupe has a fixed roof, while the Spider has one that’s removable and is therefore the one to choose if you like open-air motoring.
The Spider is over £17,000 more expensive than the Coupe, which is perhaps not too much of a consideration when both cars cost around £200,000. Unlike other convertibles, though, the Spider is not noticeably compromised when it comes to handling. The Monocell structure is so stiff that it’s not greatly affected by whether or not the car has a roof, and the Spider has none of the usual, and dreaded, scuttle shake.
2. More about the Monocell
Looking roughy like a square, shallow bath tub, the Monocell is made of carbon fibre, a material McLaren has been using to build road and race cars for over 30 years. It is therefore lighter (at 75kg), stiffer and stronger than it would be if it were constructed using steel or aluminium.
The McLaren F1 supercar had a similar structure, but that one took 4000 hours to build. A Monocell can be built from scratch in just four.
The Monocell is the largest of the very few 650S components not built in this country. It is manufactured by Carbo Tech of Austria, which can produce more of them in a shorter time than any company based in the UK.
3. Investigating the engine
The M838T engine was developed jointly by McLaren and the West Sussex firm of Ricardo, which also has the contract to build it. At 3.8 litres it’s not unusually large for a supercar engine – both the high maximum power output and the flexibility across the rev range are largely due to the two turbochargers, which are supplied by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
The same unit appears in different states of tune in different McLaren models, the highest figure so far being 727bhp in the P1. The 650S’s name is derived from the 650PS output used here, which translates into 641bhp. This power is taken to the rear wheels through a seven-speed semi-automatic gearbox.
The M838T was named International Engine of the Year in the 3- to 4-Litre category for three consecutive years starting in 2013. In 2016 it lost out to Ferrari’s 3.9-litre twin turbo V8.
4. The performance is exceptional
From a standing start, the 650S can accelerate to 62mph in exactly three seconds, to 124mph in under nine and to 186 in less than half a minute. McLaren quotes a top speed of 207mph for the Coupe and 204mph for the Spider. On full throttle the scream of the high-revving engine is quite thrilling, and the transmission switches from one gear to the next dramatically quickly.
This performance is far greater than you can realistically use on public roads, and even most race circuits – certainly in the UK – are too small to let the driver take full advantage of it. On the other hand, the ability of the 650S to go quickly in a straight line, though undoubtedly impressive, is not its best feature, as we’re about to see.
5. It's friendlier than it sounds
If you’re not used to driving a car like this, the 650S sounds quite intimidating. It roars into life when you switch it on and rumbles aggressively even at idle.
To some extent, though, this is play-acting. The 650S is actually very user-friendly. You don’t have to drive it for more than a few yards before realising that the steering is super-accurate, allowing you to point the car in any direction you want with minimal effort. The traction is tremendous and there’s a phenomenal amount of grip – certainly more than even the 641bhp engine can easily overcome.
On top of all this, the ride quality is superb, and perhaps the most surprising thing about the car. Cats’ eyes and other road obstacles that would cause great disturbance in hot hatches with low-profile tyres are easily dealt with by the McLaren.
6. The brakes are fantastic
Any car that can move as quickly as this one needs to be able to slow down in a big hurry. In the case of the 650S this is not a problem. The brake system, featuring carbon-ceramic discs, is absolutely up to the mark. You can apply them very hard indeed with great confidence. Other than the tremendous deceleration, you may feel a slight twitchiness, but no more than you’d expect in a car with a light front end.
McLaren’s spacing of the pedals is a little unusual, and makes your left foot the more convenient one for operating the brakes. If you’re right-footed, the relative lack of sensitivity in your left leg won’t be too much of a problem because the brake servo assistance is minimal by road car standards.
7. The doors are more dramatic than useful
Scissor doors have been around for a long time, but they’re still rare enough to be an object of fascination. You can draw a crowd round the 650S simply by getting in or out of it.
Both these operations require some thought, as the sills are very wide, though at least you can sit on them halfway through to gather your wits and limbs. Sports Series McLarens have narrower sills which make entries and exits easier.
The problem with any type of door that opens above roof level is that it won’t work if you land upside down. The consequences of this could be very alarming, though it seems that nobody has yet inverted a 650S. Its doors are also electrically operated, which would be another cause for concern except for the fact that there’s a manual over-ride in case the electrics fail.
8. You wouldn't buy one for the practicality
Since nearly all the space behind the driver and passenger is taken up by mechanical components, the luggage compartment is in the nose. This means it’s compromised by the wheels, steering and suspension, but McLaren has nevertheless been able to offer 150 litres.
By nearly all standards that’s not exactly generous, but it’s actually more room than you’ll find in the boot of a Mazda MX-5.
If you want more still, there’s always the 570GT. It’s not as good a car as the 650S, but its different body shape has allowed McLaren to provide an extra 220 litres of load space in the rear.
9. What it's like inside
The 650S can easily accommodate two adults at least six foot five in height. The interior is beautifully made, and upholstered in notably high-quality leather. The standard seats are very supportive, though if you’re not satisfied with them race-style bucket ones are also available.
Other than the large, analogue revcounter, all the instruments are digital. The graphics on this panel and the central touchscreen are clear and effective, but they’re not particularly beautiful. Some of the minor controls appear to have been located in places where there was room for them rather than with any thought of convenience for the driver.
The general sense is that McLaren spent a lot more time on driving dynamics than on interior ergonomics. This is a problem on the Sports Series cars, which are meant to be the refined and luxurious ones, but less so on the 650S.
10. The warranty can last up to 12 years
As with all the other cars in the McLaren range, the 650S is eligible for the Extended Warranty package. Introduced in 2014 and revised towards the end of 2016, this allows customers to make the warranty last until the car is 12 years old.
The package is available on all new or used McLaren Automotive models (so not the F1, which went out of production long before the company was formed) as long as they have not yet covered 100,000 miles and have been owned for at least 90 days.