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Going Rogue In the McLaren 650S Spider

Outrunning LA traffic, blasting up to Malibu, and defeating zombies in an everyday supercar.

2015 McLaren 650S Spider Review

Before I step foot in or even see the McLaren, the mere thought of driving gets my heart racing to a significant beat. A shot of adrenaline is coursing through my veins, dilating my pupils and making me incredibly giddy. It’s similar to the feeling you get when sex is imminent. This is supercar lust on a primal level.



Malibu Malibu Malibu Malibu

Malibu

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In the real world, though, you will notice the increased road feel directed through the front wheels during transitions, a direct result of the downforce. Pair this with McLaren’s wildly ingenious ProActive Chassis Control suspension setup and the combination is frighteningly fun to exploit. It’s black magic in its own right because of the ability to decouple the wishbone suspension on the straights, which in turn allows incredible compliance with the road because of the ability to forgo traditional mechanical antiroll bars. McLaren brags that the 650S isn’t just suited to do one thing well but several, and it’s true. For a supercar — a car that can do the quarter-mile in 10.5 seconds — the 650S is incredibly compliant and not just a car acceptable for only a weekend at a time.

 

Make sure you option out your 650S according to your specific expectations. If you’re really serious about using this thing for meeting-to-meeting transportation, the racing seats are overkill. Even the standard buckets get to your back after a while. There’s cushion there because the engineers had to compromise with the bean counters. If they had their way, you would be sitting on raw carbon. They’d make you suffer for performance.


After getting quickly acquainted with the controls of the 650S, especially how to control the hardtop, we run to our secret destination up in the hills of Malibu. Barely using the potential of the 3.8-liter mid-engine twin-turbo V8 thanks to some congestion, the hierarchy of the mountain becomes apparent. As the elevation rises, the houses get more elaborate and breathtaking. If San Andreas did happen, you could be under the assumption you’d be safe up here from the crumbling world below.

Downtown Downtown Downtown

Downtown

We reach our Tony Stark house to see that it, along with the neighbors’ houses, are completely abandoned and devoid of life, almost as if they were waiting for our arrival. Call it supercar luck, but these are the benefits of going rogue in the Hills. Houses like this could easily fetch $5,000 a day for location fees. The excitement and the tad bit of fear of getting caught are free, so we choose to keep our broccoli wad full.

 

After shooting some amazing photography for what seems like an eternity, patiently waiting to drive the 650S, we punch in one of L.A.’s most famous (and overused) spots for automotive photography — Lower Grand in Downtown L.A.

 

Being the photo assistant had gotten me antsy. The hour drive back down the mountain, along the Pacific Coast Highway, and on some of L.A.’s (hopefully not more congested) highways would offer the chance to open up the 641-horsepower M838T engine. Revised for the 650S, new pistons and cylinder heads allow for even greater response than its brother, the 12C. You have to love the fact that an engineering company such as McLaren still has some fun with the products. Once Sport mode is engaged, “cylinder-cut technology” interrupts spark and adds more fuel on reignition, producing a visual exhaust flare on upshifts and increased sound.

 

It’s pure theater.


Because of the seating position — you’re essentially sitting on top of the front wheels for better weight distribution — everything seems to happen faster. This adds to the sensation of speed. Think about riding a boogie board down a 40-foot wave; it’s a low, gravity-fed rush that increases the further you dive into the throttle.

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Extra

It's a shame Bruce McLaren never got to see his legacy of automobiles go into mass production, because he would have loved diving deep into the throttle of the 650S in California. The responsiveness, the low center of gravity and the power are intoxicating. You push more and the car responds. McLaren was an engineer and a racer, and this car is just one of his gifts to modern automotive technology.

 

One thing I will say is that there tends to be a bit of understeer at low-speed, high-throttle engagements. It’s to be expected with a mid-engine supercar, as the 641 horsepower is trying to rip the tires off the road, but once settled, the 650S alleviates the symptoms. It’s a balance of power, grip and patience.

 

We finally reach downtown after getting some proper burn time with the V8. Let’s just assume it will do 165 mph…. McLaren calls the navigation system installed in our tester an “upgrade,” but the fact is that the “IRIS Upgrade with Satellite Navigation and Meridian Surround Sound System” is a cross between a Playskool toy and a Kindle. It’s laggy, often showing you the wrong physical location, and an atlas would be better suited for getting you to a destination. Spend your $4,170 elsewhere.

 

If you’ve never been to Lower Grand at midnight, it’s a strange dichotomy of self-proclaimed photographers getting their next Instagram snap and tramps in endless search of the next settlement walking around like zombies. With a $341,355 McLaren in a swatch of bright Volcano Yellow paint contrasting with the darkness of subterranean Los Angeles, it was like moths to a flame.

Born In Racing Born In Racing Born In Racing Born In Racing

Born In Racing

You would be surprised how effective a fresh pack of cigarettes is at defending your personal space until it is used like a shuriken to fend off a rogue nightwalker. We can laugh about it now, but it was frightening at the time, alone with a $300K car along with tens of thousands in camera equipment. Next probably would’ve been the McLaren keys, but luckily fight or flight didn’t come into play.

 

After that little incident and the rest of our photos completed, the safety and security of the McLaren embraced our tired, anxious states of mind. In complete auto mode, the McLaren is happy to truck along at 70 mph in seventh gear, and I think that’s the real genesis of the 650S.

 

It’s a machine happy to be at your beck and call with the press of a few buttons. From sedate to downright terrifyingly fast and agile, the 650S represents a wave of new technology that allows you to explore everything in one package.

 

 

2015 McLaren 650S Spider Specifications

 

Engine:           Longitudinal mid-engine V8 twin-turbo
Drivetrain:      7-speed dual-clutch rear-wheel drive
0-60 MPH:      2.8 seconds
Top Speed:     207 mph 
Quarter Mile:  10.5 seconds @136 mph 
Horsepower:  641 horsepower @ 7,250 rpm
Torque:          500 lb.-ft. @ 6,000 rpm
Efficiency:      16 city, 22 highway
Cost:              $280,225 (base)/$341,355 (as tested)
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