I have something of a fetish for topless supercars…among other things. R8 Spider, AMG GT/C/S Roadster, Huracan Spider, 488 Spider, 911 Turbo/S Cabriolet – the list goes on, I am a fan of pretty much all of them. Why? There are a number of answers.
I have experienced all of the aforementioned cars in both convertible and coupe forms and there is something about adding a dimension, an element, to what are already titillating cars by ridding them of their tin roofs. In a number of cases removing roofs converts spine tingling levels of excitement into moments that will etched into your memory for years to come. Take the Huracan and R8 as examples. The ability to enjoy and celebrate the holy engineering marvels that are their V10 engines is an unparalleled experience that can simply not be matched in their coupe siblings.
Awesome becomes mind numbing, passengers giggle, and drivers glow with ecstasy. This is down, predominantly, to sound and means that you can have a slice of the supercar thrills and connection without pushing the boundaries and breaking the law. Then there are cars that have fallen victim to the battle against rising seas and polluted air to increase efficiencies using turbocharging in addition to the performance gains. The 488 is a better car than the 458 in every tangible way, except one – noise. Drop the top on a 488 Spider and the symphony of the naturally aspirated 458 is not matched, but the stimulation and levels of excitement are heightened immensely in comparison to the coupe and a polar bear will still happily hug you.
It’s known across the industry that these thrills come at a cost, a bendy one. Flex in a chassis occurs when you lob the roof of a cars structure. As you know, the solution is strengthening which adds weight, the enemy of speed, balance and handling. There is a solution – a carbon tub, no one does carbon tubs like McLaren do. Spring is late in London, it’s still bitterly cold but there’s only one convertible McLaren in the current range and it’s sat on my driveway. Not one of the roofless supercars I mentioned in the opening of this story are built around a carbon tub – all arguably are direct competitors of the 570S Spider. I’ve got 5 days with the McLaren to see what’s what.
First things first – it is cold. Stick your hands down your pants to stop frostbite cold. Roof up me thinks, and time to see if the ‘no compromise’ and ‘have your cake and eat it’ claims are true. There’s no real loss in practicality to be found. I am fairly short, relevant as I was only comfortable in the R8 and Huracan Spider when the seat was as far back as it could travel – I told you all there are benefits to effectively being an Oompa Loompa. In the McLaren there’s no encroachment on cabin space whatsoever. It’s spacious, airy and there are a couple of handy storage spaces.
Be sure to remember the 570 was the first McLaren to ever sprout a glovebox. It was also the first car to showcase the Monocell II where ingress and egress were reduced by 85mm – supermodels in miniskirts need fear no more. The theatrical doors remain to capture additional attention. First impressions are impressive indeed. The cabin is a pleasant place to be and on the move there is no hint of shimmy or wobble when clambering over potholes and speed bumps. On the topic of ride and comfort, all is very pliant. The hydraulic wizardry from more potent McLarens is absent and has been replaced with more conventional dampers and anti-roll bars but not simply because it’s cheaper (this is the baby remember) but because there’s more feedback and connection to the tarmac.
Then there is the steering. My golly, this a like nothing I’ve experienced before. Everyone reports that the hydraulically assisted steering is ‘Lotus-esque’. I’ve never driven a Lotus, but I can say that there is feedback and feeling like I’ve never experienced before. Even pottering around the streets of London, between the stop-start traffic, the wheel is alive, there is a palpable connection from the Pirelli P Zero Corsas, through the alcantara and into the palms of your hands.
London is the city I call home and I’ve had the keys to Papa Smurf for around eight hours. My job is fairly laid back, but when I need to work my world stops – for the past 45 minutes I’ve been sat at a desk craving the feeling of slamming my laptop shut and diving into the McLaren. But I can’t. In the corner of my eye sit the keys and an untouched virgin copy of TopGear Magazine. It’s the March issue…and there is a matching Curacao Blue 570S Spider on the front cover. It seems God and fate want me back into the car too. The centre fold is the McLaren, top down, driving on a frozen lake.
I planned on taking shots in the city and finding a quiet road near my family home to see if I could get anywhere close to reaching 3rd gear and listening to the V8 bellow behind me. It seems I would have to be far more creative to do this baby supercar justice if TG is anything to go by.
My commute in the morning’s traffic took me 75 minutes from the outskirts of the city to my brutalist concrete office. Much like my brutalist concrete colleagues, I had a no real desire to be at work the next day – Friday. Where could 75 minutes in another direction take me?
Friday morning – 5am. I find myself somewhere on the M3 motorway going in entirely the wrong direction from my detested office with the Starbucks mermaid being my only passenger. The McLaren hadn’t reached 3,000rpm and anything above 58mph on my commute the day before. The same cannot be said for today. The roads are deserted, slip-roads onto motorways have doubled as runways and the ‘active’ button is glowing orange as it’s engaged S for Sport on the handsome Handling and Powertrain toggles. In Sport and Track things get a little ‘lively’. Pirelli, current tire manufacturer of the year, worked with McLaren to formulate a unique Corsa compound for the 570. The tires aren’t particularly wide – 285/35 that struggle to transfer the power in such cold conditions. This means the mechanical grip can be overwhelmed with accelerator pedal in a number of gears. When there is a little heat in the rubber the compound catches the tarmac and the 570S obliterates the tarmac with reckless abandon.
As the horizon brightens the McLaren burbles. The folding hardtop is up, the rear window down. At motorways speeds the wind buffeting is a little too choppy for me, the rear window being dropped with the roof up offers the optimum combination of exhausts parp to keep me awake and comfort my fatigued limbs. The carbon backed sports seats are painful on the wallet but sculpted works of art that my small frame very much enjoys.
It is satisfying knowing that the 570S Spider loses nothing to the coupe in speed. 204mph (324kmh) is still achievable with the roof up. 3.1 to 60mph and 3.2 to 100kmh from 562bhp and 443lbs ft are identical and impressive too. It is the latter 443 figure that holds particular significance. The power delivery is blunted by a fatty wall of turbo lag below 3,000rpm, usually a trait that is detested. That being said, there is something so satisfying about having to work with the lag.
Knock the startlingly fast gearbox down a gear lower than usual and the turbos will reward you with breath taking torque that launches the 1,498 kilogram 570S Spider down the tarmac with brute force, just keep one eye on the traction control light to see if the Pirellis are breaking traction in third gear and keep the other on the speedometer. The way the speed builds will have your drivers license confiscated and you behind bars in the blink of an eye. That’s right, with fluids and the roof mechanisms the engineering geniuses at MTC made the Spider just 48 kilograms heavier than the coupe. I’m struggling to find compromises.
Soon I find myself in a forest bordering vast expanses of open land – I was hoping to find the sea or an ocean, however, I shan’t complain as this area of considerable natural beauty seems as good a spot as any to watch the sunrise and take a new cover photo for Facebook. Shameless, I know.
Roof down, doors up – this is how you cause a scene. The herds of tourists in London are replaced with a total of two New Forest ponies. -4 degrees celsius would be enough to stop most people dropping the top, the sunrise was inviting and the heating blew hot. With the roof retracted, the sensual lines that are all functional and delicate show their intricacies under the orange glow. Roof up or down, the 570S Spider is a pretty car, its innocence does well to hide the savage power beneath. One element clearly alludes to the purposeful, focused approach that McLaren has taken – the sports exhaust.
Turbochargers mute the sonorous glory of engines and McLaren have always been scrutinised on the sounds their cars produce as they have been turbocharged ever since the marques revival with 12C. The 570S with the sports exhaust does not sing a soulful song like a V10 does. An AMG GT conducts a cacophony of pops and bangs, but the McLaren sounds imposing, intimidating.
Even crawling away from the lights is a loud affair and it causes heads to turn. With the roof up and windows closed you are oblivious to the noise but drop the roof or the rear window and the V8 blare makes itself heard. When you really push the noise is intoxicating, again, it’s not a soulful noise but it adds tremendously to the experience. It is addictive; in manual Track engaged the turbos pull so hard you have to be ready to shift to not head butt the limiter. P1 styled shift lights and a useful beep cry for you to pull for an upshift.
That brings me onto an entirely different point. The McLaren is more than the sum of its gorgeous parts and high speed thrills. Even the hardest working, most dedicated person will have brief moments of madness, the desire to get away from routine, call in to work sick and do something that you enjoy – seek solitude if you will.
People daily drive 911s and have something hardcore and raw to liberate themselves from the troubles and tribulations that so many of us face. When you buy a McLaren you buy more than an engineering masterpiece and a supercar – you buy a lifestyle, a car that is designed to inspire moments of madness. Take a spontaneous day off work and put your phone on airplane mode, drop a pin on somewhere unexplored and relish the theatre and occasion that never wears off. You arrive at your alien destination and immediately look forward to the drive back. It is not just the destination that excites, it is the journey too.
Go back to the list I opened this story with. There is a smorgasbord of options in the segment. The Huracan and R8 are compromised – fantastic, but limited by practicality issues and harsh rides. Then there are the AMG GT variants and the 911 Turbo – in my mind, these are the sharp cut tailored suits that will be capable and enjoyable – then you will pull into the staff carpark in the basement of the hedgefund you’re employed at and see enough Porsches and Mercedes-Benz cars to open a medium sized showroom. That brings us onto the 488 – the mighty prancing horse, or does it? In base spec the 488 Spider is comfortably more than 200,000 eur/gbp which is 720S turf. Go light on the carbon and MSO options and there are hefty savings over the Ferrari equivalent.
The McLaren is faster and considerably lighter than all of its competitors. It is the only car with a carbon tub and the roof is a masterpiece that means there is not a single compromise to be found. The controversial IRIS system that was hated for long is simple and is there to fulfil exactly what you need and nothing more.
The 570S Spider is more special to drive than other cars but extremely capable to drive to work and back every day. The performance will re-arrange your facial features and the carbon ceramic brakes with happily pull them back into place. It’s rare, turns heads and will make you skip days at work and drive for the thrills and the pleasure of driving. It is everything you could want from a supercar and so much more. It is a way of life.