People often wonder how automotive journalists can jump out of a car like a Toyota Corolla and into something like the 2016 McLaren 570S and be able to evaluate those two polar-opposite vehicles effectively. The answer is simple: Good reviewers are able to retain their experiences in competing vehicles and compare them against newcomers. So because I've driven monsters like the Audi R8 V-10, Nissan GT-R, Dodge Viper and other supercars, I can tell you about the new 570S and let you know if it's any good.
McLaren has been around for more than 50 years, mostly in racing circles, and it pioneered the use of carbon fiber in Formula One. The modern McLaren was launched in 2010 as a stand-alone auto manufacturer with three tiers of products: an "entry level" Sports series, a more powerful Super series, and a highly exclusive, very capable Ultimate series. The 570S falls into the entry-level Sports range, which is meant to be the brand's introductory point for new buyers. If only all entry-level cars could do what the McLaren 570S does so very, very well.
Exterior & Styling
Here's your first and only warning: The McLaren 570S is not a car for introverts. If you're shy, if you hate talking to strangers, if you don't like having your picture taken in traffic or at gas stations, or even having random people walk to your driveway or knock on your door to get a better look, a Corolla may be better suited to your taste.
It's the styling that gets them — impossibly low, shark-nosed and bescooped, with waves of visible heat rising from the mesh-topped engine cover that sits behind the driver and passenger. The bright Vermillion Red paint on my test car didn't hurt, either. If not for the recent presidential election, I'd call the McLaren's styling the biggest stunner I've seen this year. It's simply gorgeous in a way the Audi R8, with its angles and lines, can't quite match; the McLaren is more animalistic, less mechanical. And even though only the Dodge Viper or Lamborghini Huracan can match the visual punch of the McLaren 570S, looks is not the only department in which the McLaren punches you.
How It Drives
The McLaren punches you in the back whenever you put your right foot down and spool up its compact, twin-turbo 3.8-liter V-8 engine. If that sounds like a small engine, that's because it is; most V-8 engines have considerably larger displacement, but McLaren's racing background has left it with decades of engine-building expertise. Even though the engine is small, it packs one hell of a punch.
The 570S' engine produces 562 horsepower and 443 pounds-feet of torque, and its small pistons mean it's eager to rev like an F1 engine. It sounds like one, too, especially when you find yourself in a tunnel and decide to punch it: The 3.8-liter engine screams more than it roars. The 570S takes off like the proverbial scalded cat, its excellent dual-clutch, seven-speed automatic transmission downshifting with lightning speed and launching the car forward in a rush of ungodly acceleration.
This car is an excellent exercise in the idea of a power-to-weight ratio. The 570S is extremely lightweight thanks to its carbon fiber and aluminum construction. It weighs just 3,186 pounds, which is almost 400 pounds less than an Audi R8. It's also lighter than a Chevy Corvette, Ford Mustang, Nissan GT-R, Dodge Viper, Jaguar F-Type and a host of other sports cars, as well. That lightness shows through in the nimble agility of the 570S, with its quick-ratio steering that offers outstanding feel and feedback.
Even more amazing is the 570S' dual personality. Around town at reasonable speeds, the McLaren is quite civilized, its transmission operating seamlessly and lacking the herky-jerky pogoing action of many dual-clutch systems (I'm looking at you, Audi). The paddle shifters change gears in a millisecond, allowing you to bang off shifts one after the other while keeping your foot to the floor. Keep things in automatic mode, and the transmission does an excellent job of knowing what you're doing and keeping you in the proper gear.
The mode selector switches are independent for powertrain and suspension, allowing you to select between Normal, Sport and Track mode for each. They behave as expected, making the suspension firmer and the powertrain more responsive as you dial up the sportiness settings.
Here's your first and only warning: The McLaren 570S is not a car for introverts. If you're shy, if you hate talking to strangers — a Corolla may be better suited to your tastes.
While the powertrain is fantastic, I'm less enamored with the 570S' carbon-ceramic brakes. While they're the first I've tested that don't squeal in low-speed braking (at all), they come with mushy, vague pedal feel that doesn't inspire confidence in slow or fast situations. The effort to engage them is surprisingly high, and stopping the lightweight car requires more leg effort than many other high-performance cars I've tested. Sadly, my brief weekend with the car did not include track time, where I suspect the McLaren's brakes are more at home, lap after lap.
With gasoline prices low nationally, maybe fuel economy isn't the most important factor in the grand scheme of McLaren ownership, but here it is: The 570S is EPA-rated 16/23/19 mpg city/highway/combined — better than the Audi R8's 14/22/17 mpg and the Viper's 12/19/14 mpg. The new Acura NSX, however, is a hybrid that's rated 21/22/21 mpg by the EPA. My stint in the 570S was too brief to record a meaningful fuel economy reading.
Your first challenge in getting into the car is determining how. The pressure-sensitive soft switch pad that opens the door is completely hidden under a side strake leading to the rear scoops, but once you find it and push it, magic happens. There's just something ridiculously cool about car doors that don't open conventionally, and the 570S' doors are decidedly unconventional. They swing up, scissor-style, adding further exotic flavor to what's already an incredibly spicy feast.
Your second challenge is figuring out how to sit down. The driver's seat is very low, and it sits on the other side of an upswept sill that's higher than the seat. The only solution is to sit on the sill, slide your posterior into the seat and basically fall into the McLaren's cockpit in a controlled slide. Once you're there, it's surprisingly comfortable; there's decent headroom for driver and passenger thanks to height-adjustable power seats, and the outward view isn't too compromised by the low windshield (though the rearview mirror does obscure half the forward view). Views to the sides are open thanks to long, upswept windows, but the view out back is narrow — naturally.
The company's roots as a racecar manufacturer show through in the 570S' driving position and pedal placement. The steering wheel itself is unusual. Cars in general are increasingly offering ever-thicker steering wheels, to the point that it's getting a little ridiculous; in some vehicles it's hard to grip all the way around the rim.
Not so in the 570S. Its steering wheel is thin, almost delicate, but is molded in the right places and grippy to boot. The footwell is impossibly narrow; people with bigger feet or wide shoes will find themselves accidentally hitting the pedals, and there's no dead pedal for your left foot, which would have been useful given there's no clutch, either. The rest of the interior design is racy and minimalist, with material and assembly quality that's excellent. There's also a wide range of colors to choose from for your 570S interior, allowing for a fair bit of customization.
Electronics & Ergonomics
The 570S' interior is minimalist and racecar-like, with most controls for ancillary systems like audio, climate and navigation incorporated into a vertically oriented touchscreen. Some controls, like the parking sensors, are hard to locate, obscured by the steering wheel and paddle shifters. The backup camera is astonishingly primitive, with the screen resolution of an original Nintendo Game Boy. And the vertically oriented multimedia screen isn't as easy to operate as dedicated buttons would be for some functions, such as climate control or navigation. Trying to follow a map on a vertical screen not much bigger than a large smartphone isn't my idea of a good time.
Some of the functions of my 570S also became inoperable during my time with it (McLaren eventually traced the problems to a ground fault issue). It started with a battery issue and eventually disabled the turn signals, windshield wipers, some console controls and the automatic climate control, as well. None of the issues affected the car's drivability (thankfully I didn't need to use the function that raises the nose of the car a few centimeters to clear curbs and speed bumps), but it's still an annoyance one doesn't expect in a car this expensive.
Cargo & Storage
Inside the cabin, storage space is at a premium, with not much in the way of cubbies or nooks to stash things. Door pockets aren't possible, as anything you put in them would tumble out every time you swung open those super cool scissor doors. There are cupholders, but they're small — not that you should be drinking anything at all while driving this beast.
Since this is a mid-engine car, luggage space is up front, with a decent-sized frunk (that's a front trunk) that can swallow your average roll-aboard suitcase or some groceries. Really, though, if you're using a McLaren 570S as a grocery-getter, well, kudos to you for your achievements in life.
The frunk affords you 5.3 cubic feet of cargo space. It's not much, but if you need to carry more, McLaren now offers the 570GT, as well. The GT includes a large glass hatch over the engine that offers an additional 7.8 cubic feet of room, plus optional matched luggage to fit snugly in place. By contrast, the Audi R8's frunk accommodates a full 8.0 cubic feet of stuff, while the Acura NSX makes you leave everything at home, with just 4.4 cubic feet of room. Going to Costco? Take a Dodge Viper, which gives you 14.7 cubic feet of cargo room under its hatch.
As is expected for a limited-production supercar, the McLaren 570S has not been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Supercars like the McLaren 570S also don't often come with a lot of the fanciest electronic safety equipment, since their low-volume production runs would make developing such systems extremely expensive. So while you get the standard airbags, antilock brakes and stability control on the McLaren, you won't see things like forward collision warning, lane keep assist, blind spot warning, automatic emergency braking or automatic parking functions. But you won't find them on its competitors, either.
Value in Its Class
You won't find the McLaren 570S on every street corner, regardless of how well-heeled your neighborhood is, given its exclusivity and starting price: $187,400, including a rather eye-popping $2,500 destination fee. My tester added quite a few of the available options, including $24,600 in carbon-fiber appearance packages, a $4,150 coat of Vermillion Red paint, $1,060 for yellow brake calipers, $3,860 for sport exhaust and $6,530 for a Lux Package that included branded floor mats, a backup camera, parking sensors and Pirelli P Zero Corsa summer tires.
The most useful option is one I think should have been standard: $1,500 for the electronically activated vehicle lift function, which lifts the nose a few centimeters to allow you to clear simple driveway lips, inclines and low-to-moderate speed bumps. Total price as tested: $229,100.
The 570S' starting price is within a few grand of the new Audi R8 V-10 Plus, which was recently redesigned for 2017. You can get a cheaper R8 (the base model starts at $164,150), but it doesn't include some of the electronics that help the R8 go from being merely fast to being blindingly fast. The V-10 Plus starts at $191,150, and while it's a more comfortable car with more advanced interior multimedia electronics, it also feels more like a grand touring car than a racecar adapted for street use, like the McLaren does.
Acura's brand-new NSX is finally here, as well, starting at $156,940 and featuring a different take on crafting a supercar: It's loaded with hybrid powertrain technology for efficient speed. But the bargain of the group has to be the Dodge Viper, which starts at just $90,390. The Viper's days are numbered, however, as Dodge has announced its discontinuation after the 2017 model year. At least it's going out with a bang, with free customization programs to buyers that guarantee no 2017 Viper will be identical to another. Compare all four here.