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2015 McLaren 650S - First Drive

Lighter, faster, sharper, better. The 650S is how the 12C should have been...

Kyle Fortune
Jun 25, 2014
Photographer: McLaren

2015 McLaren 650S Details:

  • 3.8L V8 twin-turbo | 650hp, 500 lb-ft
  • Twin-clutch seven-speed transmission with "inertia push"
  • ProActive Chassis Control | MonoCell carbon fiber chassis | Active and improved aero
  • McLaren F1-beating acceleration |Carbon-ceramic brakes standard

Electronics: Normal, Sport and Track modes | Optional rear parking camera

+ Pros: Incredible performance | Unrivalled ride quality | Steering response and feel | Greater stability | Excellent brakes | Looks great | Improved paddle-shift

- Cons: Sports exhaust required | Sat nav slow and inaccurate | Expensive options list

2015 McLaren 650S steering wheel 02 Photo 2/175   |   2015 McLaren 650S - First Drive

It hardly seems like three years since McLaren introduced its 12C supercar, and yet the British company has learned a lot in that short period. Officially, the 12C remains on sale alongside the new2015 McLaren 650S, but it's unimaginable that anybody would choose it over this new derivative.

Stung by criticism that the 12C was rather generic and lacked drama, McLaren's chief designer, Frank Stephenson, gave the Mclaren 650S a more dramatic look, taking inspiration from the P1 hypercar.

The LED headlamps mimic the McLaren logo and frame a new front splitter, which adds downforce and menace. Blades under the doors clean up airflow along the flanks, while the larger inlet behind the doors feeds more air into the engine bay.

The rear is largely unchanged, but follow a 650S - if you can keep up - and the active rear wing as well as the airbrake will be busier thanks to revised operating parameters.

2015 McLaren 650S brake caliper 03 Photo 3/175   |   2015 McLaren 650S - First Drive

The hood is adorned with a simple McLaren badge, leaving no ambiguity to its origin. However, its design is a reverential nod to the one on the nose of its legendary F1 relative.

The existence of the F1 was always problematic for the 12C because it was the first road car to roll out of McLaren's gates after its revered 240.3mph three-seater supercar. And while the F1 was game-changing back in 1992, perhaps too much was expected of the 12C?

To add to its misery, the 12C wasn't helped by the arrival of the incredible 458 Italia. And while the Ferrari bristled with passion, ground-breaking F1-derived technology and incredible performance, the 12C kept pace on the technical side but came up short on the emotion.

Somewhat fulfilling the role of class nerd, McLaren's supercar didn't have the easiest introduction. And while a series of model upgrades helped its case, the 650S is the product of three years of development, three years that included the arrival of the P1.

Even with the P1's arrival, the F1 still casts a long shadow. So the day we were driving the new 650S, social media was pointing out that on the same day in 1998, the F1 set a production car top-speed record.

The 650S can't match the F1's V-max, but by increasing the output of the M838T V8 biturbo engine to 650hp, McLaren has given it power surpassing its ancestor.

The result is an accelerative force that humbles even the F1; the 650S reaches 62mph in 3sec from a standstill, and 124mph in just 8.4sec. That's nothing short of sensational.

2015 McLaren 650S driver side rear quarter view 05 Photo 7/175   |   2015 McLaren 650S - First Drive

The power gains come courtesy of new pistons, cylinder heads, exhaust valves and revised cam timing. So the actual numbers are relatively modest on paper, with the 650S only adding 25hp and 58 lb-ft of torque over the 12C.

Combined with the other revisions, the numbers feel bigger. Significantly bigger. That's partially thanks to the seven-speed transmission offering quicker shifts - the very fastest Track Mode is aided by "inertia push," which punches an impulse of torque as the next gear is engaged.

Push the accelerator to the floor and the result is incredible. The 650S rabidly accelerates, its bespoke Pirelli Corsa tires squirming under the force.

The engine is a masterpiece. It doesn't have the operatic voice of its Italian rival, even with the $6490 Sports Exhaust option checked - blame the turbocharging for that - but its flexibility and ferocious response is remarkable.

Allied to a slight reduction in mass, a significantly quicker gearbox and more decisive shifting, and the Italian's advantage is less convincing.

The performance gains are genuinely shocking. Yet the defining, and arguably unique, characteristic is the ride quality. Lessons learned from the P1 have given the 650S even greater ability to exploit its performance, thanks to its unsurpassed ability to smooth poor road surfaces.

Lumps, bumps and ripples that would jar the driver, followed by intrusive thumps, resulting in line-changing corrections in rival machines, can be ignored by the McLaren thanks to its ProActive Chassis Control (PCC), which doesn't need anti-roll bars.

PCC mixes body and roll control with a ride that some luxury cars can't manage. Even in its focused Sport mode, the way the 650S shrugs off road imperfections is remarkable, while retaining the taut, confident control necessary in such a potent machine.

2015 McLaren 650S carbon fiber doorsill 04 Photo 11/175   |   2015 McLaren 650S - First Drive

The PCC, along with revisions to the suspension geometry, have resulted in not just remarkable ride comfort and control, but improved steering. The response is far more incisive and the nose turns in more eagerly than in the 12C.

McLaren also loosened the reins on the stability and traction control systems, allowing more movement before intervening. Chief Test Driver, Chris Goodwin, confirmed the 650S has more rearward bias and that's obvious on the track, where the 650S can be flung about with more wild abandon than its 12C sibling.

Its character is significantly more engaging and involving than before. There's understeer if you're too ambitious with entry speed, but the overall balance is largely neutral thanks to remarkable grip, while the front-end revisions give you greater confidence at the enormously high speeds it's capable of.

Switch to Track mode on both power and chassis and the 650S feels every inch the racer. The mighty performance and capability are only limited by the Pirellis' ability to absorb the punishment of enthusiastic lapping and power oversteer.

2015 McLaren 650S front view 08 Photo 12/175   |   2015 Mclaren 650S Front View 08

The standard carbon-ceramic brakes deliver a continuous, confident bite regardless of how much abuse you give them. Unlike many similar systems, these brakes also provide an assured feel at everyday road speeds.

If it's a big concern, McLaren offers the 12C's iron discs as a no-cost option, but why anybody would want them is a mystery...

The 650S is such a significant advance that McLaren insisting it will continue to offer the 12C looks like an exercise in futility. Its supercar has come of age, and while it's able to offer the same rounded, useable character of its forbear, it manages to add a layer of insanity that increases its appeal to a level that the 12C couldn't hope to offer.

The 650S remains a different supercar proposition, thanks largely to its lack of compromise, but it's a more complete package now. Admittedly, you pay handsomely for that, but to go any faster you'd need a P1 - and they're sold out!

Tech Spec
2015 McLaren 650S

Mid-engine, RWD

3799cc V8 twin-turbo

seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission

2015 McLaren 650S hood 14 Photo 16/175   |   2015 Mclaren 650S Hood 14

six-piston calipers, 394mm carbon-ceramic rotors f, four-piston, 380mm r, active aerodynamics with active air brake

Double wishbone, coilovers with ProActive Chassis Control f&r

Wheels & Tires
19x8.5" f, 20x11" r wheels, 235/35 R19 f, 305/30 R20 r Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires


Max power
650hp at 7500rpm

Max torque
500 lb-ft at 6000rpm


2015 McLaren 650S engine cover 17 Photo 17/175   |   2015 Mclaren 650S Engine Cover 17

Top Speed

3033 lb (dry)



2015 Mclaren 650S Coupe front three quarters Photo 21/175   |   2015 Mclaren 650S Coupe
2015 Mclaren 650S group Photo 148/175   |   2015 Mclaren 650S
By Kyle Fortune
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