When does something stop being a sports car and become a supercar? You might think that’s just a question for car bores in pub arguments, and on some level at least, you’d be right – if a car looks good and is fun to drive, who cares?
But the question does help us unpick the new ‘baby’ of McLaren’s range, the 570S a little bit.
Because to most of us, anything with 570 horsepower that will accelerate from 0-62 in 3.2 seconds (and 0-124 in 9.5!) and run out of steam only when it hits 204mph, is a supercar.
Not in the world of McLaren: the 570S is the first model released from its ‘entry-level’ Sports Series (sitting beneath the 650S and 675LT, which are ‘Super Series’ cars), and in accordance with that system, it’s meant to be the most usable (and affordable) McLaren yet.
This does all sound a bit like false modesty from McLaren, but when the top tier of your range is the all- conquering P1, maybe the 570S does seem like ‘only’ a sports car.
Starting at £143,000, the 570S is up against rivals like the Porsche 991 Turbo S, Aston Martin V12 Vantage and Audi R8 V10 – but from the numbers alone, we already know it’s able to live with the likes of a Lamborghini Huracan, which costs some £40,000 more than the mini-Mac.
To find out if the 570S is really the shortcut to supercar status that it sounds like, I took a trip down to the Algarve region of southern Portugal. Arriving into Faro late one evening, I checked straight into the Conrad Algarve and slept the fitful sleep of one who knows tomorrow holds something special.
I recommend the experience: opening the curtains in the morning, you realise that the nice-but-nothing-overwhelming Conrad by night was concealing a sensational view.
The rich red and green scenery of the Algarve spreads out beneath you, as if to say, “today, you lucky chap, you will conquer this land by road.” Just in case you hadn’t got the point, McLaren had plonked a bright orange 570S on a nearby roof terrace.
My conquest of this Iberian corner began somewhat sluggishly, as quite sensational levels of rain kept my driving firmly on the sensible side.
I was able to start scoring the 570S on usability factors right away, and the news was good. The cabin is the smartest the brand has yet turned out, and features such everyday frills as door pockets, and an electronically adjustable steering wheel.
There’s ample storage, the controls are easy to find and operate, and getting in and out has been made purposefully easier thanks to a redesigned carbon fibre tub (this forms the bulk of the chassis, and accounts for the 570S’s incredibly low weight).
And the in-car computer system has been extensively improved since its debut in the 12C.
In short, whether you get the thin, rigid racing seats and keep everything muted, or go all out with the heated leather seats and Bowers & Wilkins hi-fi system, the 570S is a very nice car to be inside – as passenger or driver.
Fortunately, the weather in the Algarve can change in minutes, or this review would have to end there.
The sun came out almost apologetically fast, and I was able to do what one is always supposed to do in a ‘Mantis Green’ McLaren – drive endless hillside roads from bend to bend, overtaking rust-covered tractors driven by equally aged farmers, receiving grins of approval from all I passed.
(This last point is 100% true and never ceases to give me hope for mankind: outside of Britain, people actually love and encourage flash cars, even if you have just blared through their morning coffee at 5000rpm).
I’ve already covered that the 570S is fast, and both on the road and later, on the racetrack at Portimao, it proved that amply. But it also feels fast at legal speeds, and this is a big part of what makes it fun.
The visibility and design of the front wings is such that you can easily see where you’re putting the car through each corner, and the steering has a good weight and rapidity to it.
Accelerating incurs a small amount of lag – the 570S uses the same turbocharged 3.8l V8 as, well, all other McLarens – and the paddle-shift gearbox isn’t as subliminally quick as some.
But you have to go to something costing significantly more to get the better of this car.
The price does mean McLaren has removed some of the aerodynamic and suspension cleverness of the 650S, but the ride is still pretty good, and you won’t notice the slight decrease in grip on the road at all.
The addictively good-looking scenery, with its rich red earth and rain-soaked olive groves, pine trees and crumbling brick farms of the inner Algarve got me thinking about the 570S’s looks. Is it a beautiful car? From some angles.
I’m not entirely sold on the rear end, with those squashed-oval lights – but the pinched-in styling helps disguise the fact that the 570S is actually marginally bigger than the 650S.
The best bits are the more aggressive angles of the front intakes, and the gloriously engaging, sculptural shape of the upward-swinging doors.
It suits the most garish colours best; red or grey paintjobs expose the fact that the Italians still shape a more coherent body. Outside of the P1, it’s the best-looking McLaren yet. I’d back it in a race against any Aston or Lamborghini – I just wouldn’t necessarily park it next to one.
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