McLaren is on a roll. In the short seven-year period the British brand has been in business (McLaren Automotive, the road car division, was only founded in 2010 and is separate from the Formula One team), it has blossomed, achieving success – well, relatively so for a sports car and supercar manufacturer. It sold a record 3,286 cars last year, up from 1,654 units in 2015, as McLaren notched up its fourth consecutive year of profitability.
This incredible growth from nowhere has been underpinned by McLaren’s Sports Series models. The 570S Spider is the fourth variant in this group of cars, sitting alongside the entry-level 540C, the 570S Coupe and the 570GT.
The Spider was actually designed alongside the Coupe in 2012, a process that was made possible by its construction. First the details: McLaren’s MonoCell II carbon fibre chassis needs no additional strengthening in the transformation from 570S Coupe to Spider, weighs just 75kg and is 25 per cent stiffer than an equivalent aluminium chassis. The mid-mounted 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 kicks out an identical 562bhp and 600Nm to its 570-badged siblings, too.
Despite the lack of chassis bracing, the Spider weighs an extra 46kg, due to the roof mechanism, but at 1,359kg, the 570S is lighter than a Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet or Audi’s R8 Spyder. The Spider’s 3.2-second 0-62mph time is identical to the Coupe’s, and the drop-top is one tenth of a second slower from 0-124mph. A top speed of 204mph is identical to the Coupe’s with the roof up, although you’re capped to 196mph with the top down.
On the move, you’d be hard pushed to notice that extra mass, because the car handles with the same level of agility as the fixed-roof models, responding to your inputs directly and with little slack. The beauty of the McLaren is it feels more organic to drive than something like the R8 Spyder, which doesn’t offer as much feedback; what detail that is relayed back in the Audi feels more synthetic, too.
McLaren says the 570S Spider is not about ultimate downforce or track performance; it has the latter, but it’s more focused on having fun on the road, and you pick that up straight away from the steering, which is a real highlight.
It’s electro-hydraulically assisted because McLaren believes this is the best system to involve the driver – and it’s hard to argue against given how much detail is delivered through the narrow-diameter wheel rim. It squirms gently in your hands, wriggling slightly as the front wheels track over bumps and cambers. Not to the point where it becomes irksome or tiring to drive, just always delivering messages that give you confidence to push the car.
Partly helping are the dimensions of the chassis itself. The carbon fibre underpinnings mean the dashboard and scuttle are low, while the A-pillars are fairly slim, so despite the Spider’s relatively significant width, it’s not intimidating to place, even on a narrower road.
The car generates a level of grip that forces you to clench your core – on the public road that’s special – and the set-up is so well sorted that, even without engaging McLaren’s Active Dynamics Panel, it corners with just a hint of roll. The rigid carbon tub provides a stable platform for the race car-style double-wishbone suspension to do its thing, allowing the dampers to envelop bumps in bends without skittling the car off your chosen line.
The brakes need more pressure than you might imagine to slow the car, but the solid feel to the front end allows you to lean on the standard carbon-ceramic discs and bury the McLaren’s front tyres into a corner unbelievably hard.
And this all in its default driving mode. Pressing the little button marked ‘Active’ on the centre console unlocks a level of user-configurable settings for the chassis and powertrain, with three modes selectable independently for each, ranging from Normal to Sport and Track.
Flick both the bespoke metal dials to Sport and things get a notch more serious, with roll controlled more tautly as the Spider takes on a greater focus.
Track is an evolution of this. Whereas Normal mode allows fluid vertical movement, moving over surface ripples and imperfections with remarkable tranquillity for a low-slung sports car using conventional springs, dampers and roll bars, Track communicates more readily the performance potential on offer.
It’s indicated not least by the 10-inch digital dash’s display morphing from a conventional imitation analogue dial to a bar of shift lights above a big gear indicator. The screen now shows tyre pressure and temperature, as well as the status of the car’s vital fluids. There’s a lot less compliance in the dampers in this Track setting, and they limit body movement more fiercely. Hit a sudden depression and the car’s absorbent edge is replaced by a solidity to the suspension – sometimes sending a clonk through the structure. But it’s actually never overly harsh, because even in this firmer mode there’s a refined edge to the way the suspension works, rounding off what little movement there is with finesse.
Normal mode should be all you need for anything other than a circuit, but even in the stiffer settings and with the roof open, the 570S Spider doesn’t feel wobbly.
Removing the roof on a conventionally constructed steel or aluminium car reduces torsional rigidity, but according to Sports Series chief engineer, Geoff Grose, the extra flex in the McLaren’s structure is so negligible that you simply don’t notice it. And he’s right.
The top is more of an electrically assisted targa panel, and it can fold in 15 seconds on the move at up to 25mph. Like the glass wind deflector behind you that can be dropped with the roof up, it gives you better access to that rampant engine.
However, if there are any flaws with the 570S Spider – and there are a few minor ones – the motor is one of them. But this is only because the bar is set so high by the rest of the package. The twin-turbo V8 is best described as effective, but it’s not an engine that stirs emotion like the V10 in an R8 Spyder or the V12 in any Aston.
Even breathing through a sports exhaust, the flat-crank V8 buzzes away. There is a little turbo lag that you have to push through, but once the turbos are blowing the 3.8-litre unit takes off with a ferocious, hard-edged blare.
Traction is good, despite the car lacking a limited-slip diff, while a click of the right gearshift paddle sends a snappy upshift through – although the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission does give you a jolt in the back occasionally in manual mode.
Downshifts are announced with a staccato flare of revs and a tight pop from the exhaust, while the transmission is as accomplished as an auto at a more sedate pace. With the roof down, it’s not too blowy inside the cabin, and you can sustain a conversation at a cruise without much in the way of raised voices. With it up there’s only a little more wind rush from around the door seals, so refinement is pretty much on par with the Coupe.
With the roof in place there’s also a useful 52 litres of extra luggage space underneath a hard tonneau cover behind the passenger cell. Combined with the 150-litre front boot, it makes the Spider surprisingly practical. However, like every 570 variant, the seven-inch portrait touchscreen IRIS infotainment system isn’t the most user-friendly interface, which is at odds with what the rest of the car delivers.
The carbon tub’s waisted sills and dihedral doors mean entry and exit isn’t too bad for a showy sports car, and access is made even easier when the roof is off.
Forward visibility is great, it’s civilised inside and there’s no compromise dynamically or when it comes to refinement. A hydraulic nose lifter means speed bumps aren’t even a concern around town. The controls are delicate, perfectly weighted and nicely matched. Throw in the 570’s switchgear, digital dash and luxuriously trimmed interior and the Spider looks well worth its hefty £164,750 price tag.
That’s a lot of money, and you can hike the price significantly from there with all manner of options and bespoke touches. But the core of the car is what delivers a unique driving experience at this price. The 570S Spider opens you up to so much more than just the atmosphere.
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