McLaren 570S: A topless wonder a superhero of the road
The McLaren 570S has all the speed of the coupe with better cafe cruising, writes Michael Taylor
Most cars pile on the kilos in convertible form, and not just because of folding roof systems. McLaren doesn’t, with the new Spider barely heavier than the successful 570S coupe and barely slower. If you’re looking for a megafast, strong, comfortable convertible, look no further.
There was a time when a convertible in this rarefied air meant either a 911 Turbo, or a junior Ferrari, with an Aston Martin on the periphery. Now it’s getting crowded.
Unusually, every major aspect of the winning 570S coupe is transferred to the Spider. There’s not a trace of additional bracing beneath the body to keep it stiff in corners and over bumps and that means it’s probably the lightest step-change from a coupe to a convertible in recent memory.
Going topless has only cost the 570S 46kg of additional mass. It’s not just that the folding bits, storage engineering and powered systems that drive the 15-second electric roof are light, but they are light where it counts for a sports car.
Sports car engineers love to keep the weight low, to help the cars handle better and corner with more enthusiasm. Folding roof systems normally lift a car’s entire roll centre, along with reducing rigidity. That’s what makes them less agile than their hard-hatted cousins. Taking the roof off an Audi R8, for context, adds 125kg. Decapitating a Lamborghini Huracan costs it 183kg, while doing the same to a 911 Turbo S adds 166kg.
McLaren has managed to make its roof work on less than a third of the weight cost of the Porsche, around a quarter of the Huracan’s roof weight and just 20% of the Audi’s. McLaren claims the coupe weighs 1,313kg dry, while the Spider is just 1,359kg without fluids and fuel.
It loses almost nothing to the coupe, sharing a top speed of 328km/h when it’s acting as a hard top and doing 315km/h when the roof is folded down.
The handling package is almost the same in structure and feel, and so is the powertrain package. The Spider delivers McLaren’s blend of controllable lunacy wrapped in a bundle that can be genteel, sophisticated and easy to handle.
It’s easy to handle largely because of the stiffness of the chassis, the unending communication from the hydraulic steering system and a chassis layout that throws back to anti-roll bars instead of fancy interconnected hydraulic versions.
The body itself reverts, like the coupe, to aluminium instead of the carbon fibre you get in the 720S and there’s none of the active aero tricks. This is the entry-level (Sports Series) McLaren, not the la-de-da Super Series.
It’s dubbed the 570S because its M838TE engine delivers 570 English horses, or 419kW of power, and that’s enough to make it mighty fast. The Spider rips to 100km/h in the same 3.2 seconds as the coupe, tears past 200km/h only 6.4 seconds later (a mere tenth of a second off the coupe’s time) and runs a standing quarter-mile in 11 seconds.
For all its power and fury, the engine still gives McLaren a problem, though the muffled turbocharged exhaust note has become almost the norm in the class (apart from Lamborghini and Audi) because it was a muffled twin-turbo V8 living in a world of free-revving, intoxicatingly endearing naturally aspirated engines. Now, though, the world has come to McLaren, with Ferrari turbocharging its 488 family, while the closest Porsche to the 570S has always been turbocharged.
McLaren has worked hard on the engine note of the 570S and it has sort of paid off. You’re never going to mistake it for a 488 GTB’s turbocharged engine note, though, much less an atmo R8 V10. The expensive, optional sports exhaust makes it louder without making it remotely more charming.
There’s nothing remotely harsh about it, but there’s never a trace of sweetness to it, either, and it doesn’t build timbre or character as its revs rise, but it does build noise. The topless variant of the 570S makes it even louder inside.
The engine is so intuitively fast that you rarely need to push to the 7,400r/min power peak or go anywhere near the 8,500 revs redline. On the Catalunya roads in Spain it was usually safer and no slower to short-shift it back into the thicker parts of its 600Nm torque curve, between 5,000 and 6,500 revs.
It’s a hugely flexible motor, giving urge from as little as 2,000r/min. While it’s usually quiet at highway speeds, a constant-throttle setting can drone annoyingly in Sport mode and our car had a slight powertrain harmonic at 110km/h.
Charmless but impressive noise apart, though, there isn’t much you could think to do to improve the Spider’s driving experience. The 570S coupe is razor sharp, yet rarely uncomfortable, and the Spider is astonishingly like its sibling.
It’s not just fast, either. It’s light-footed, stable and accurate, and one of its major points of difference to the core opponents is the McLaren only comes with rear-wheel drive. Where its foes prefer the stability of driving all four wheels, McLaren entrusts the power delivery to 285/35 R20 Pirelli P Zero Corsas and the 225/35 R19 front tyres are largely responsible for turning and braking.
Grippy as they are, the Corsas might not be the best option on a lumpier road or one with sharp undulations. At speed, we found they led to the nose being tugged around, but only on the worst roads. The gentler PZeros, as fitted to the 570 GT, would work better in that narrow window of uncertainty.
On smoother roads, the Spider is untouchable in its class. It’s blisteringly fast, adept at either flowing its way through corners thanks to its high static grip levels, or being tossed in brutally. Or, indeed, everything in between.
But for all that, it’s imperfect at the job it has been sent to do. As a convertible, it’s just too noisy and has too much buffeting inside the cabin. In part, that’s because it gathers speed so stupidly quickly that the wind noise gets loud before you think it ought to, but it’s mostly because the wind noise actually does get loud before you think it ought to.
It’s lovely and quiet with its roof up, remaining true to the coupe’s ideas about sliding through the air, but the issues begin when the roof comes down in 19 seconds at the touch of a console button.
You can talk at 110km/h and you can easily talk at city speeds. You can talk, too, at 140km/h, but nobody else in the car is likely to hear you. The window behind the car seems to push the air lower, towards the back of your elbow, rather than swirl it away from the cabin, while the most effective wind blockers are the side windows.
There are other doses of weird that don’t quite work. The seat controls are frustrating, forcing the driver to wedge his/ her fingers down between the console and the seat to change any angle. Pity, because the driving position is perfect.
The infotainment system isn’t industry leading and it’s slow to change from what it’s doing.
But it’s the easiest supercar, probably, for a remotely skilled driver to leap up to 8/10ths in and it won’t bite if you go charging towards 10 or even 11. It’s comfortable, it’s brutally fast and now, at low-speed cruising, it’s a brilliant topless wonder.