Plenty of car manufacturers have tried their hand at Formula 1. Renault, Lotus, Ferrari and even Caterham have used the pinnacle of motorsport as a marketing tool, to such an extent that ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday’ has become a popular adage.
McLaren, though, has turned the principle on its head. The F1 team has opened up a car factory, designed to give customers the engineering excellence of the racing cars in a vehicle they can use every day.
This process started with the F1 hypercar in the 1990s, before McLaren combined with Mercedes in the 2000s to create the McLaren-Mercedes SLR. Then, in 2010, McLaren branched out on its own. From a strangely shaped building in Woking, Surrey, this company now produces a six-model range of supercars, and this is the latest effort: the 570S Spider.
Only the second convertible McLaren has made in its seven-year history, the Spider is essentially identical to the 570S Coupe, except it’s 45kg heavier thanks to the mechanism that folds the roof away.
Other than that, the two cars are absolutely identical. They share an ultra-stiff, ultra-light carbon-fibre tub, which is attached to the same 562bhp twin-turbo V8 and sends power to the rear wheels via the same seven-speed automatic gearbox.
McLaren hasn’t even bothered to fit the extra stiffening you’ll find in most convertible supercars, because the special tub means the Spider has no less torsional rigidity than its hard-top sibling.
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As a result, the 570S Spider has all the qualities that made the 570S Coupe such a well-received car. It’s blisteringly fast, supremely comfortable and absolutely beautiful to drive.
Rather than using a new-fangled electro-mechanical power steering system, like almost every other new car on sale, the McLaren uses old-fashioned hydraulics, and it’s all the better for it. It’s precise and perfectly weighted, and the supreme feedback means you feel every force acting on those four enormous tyres. Granted, some won’t like the way it tugs at the wheel as you drive along, but for keen drivers it’s brilliant.
And the balance is simply epic. It’s a very agile car – it’ll change direction in a heartbeat – yet it still manages to be very stable. Even four-wheel-drive supercars such as the Audi R8 and Nissan GT-R don’t feel as planted as this thing.
It has other qualities, too. The build quality is incredible, with everything in the minimalist cabin feeling like a demonstration of engineering might, and it’s even vaguely practical. The boot’s as big as that of most city cars.
But for all its genius, the 570S Spider is missing something.
Prices start from £164,000, but once you’ve got all the toys you want you’re looking at a £200,000 car, and for that money we’d like it to have a little more occasion.
When you start it, the 570S sounds muffled, as though those turbochargers are sucking the life from the exhaust pipes, and while the seemingly never-ending grip is great for driving on a track, it does mean the car feels docile and simple. It’s easy to drive in a way that a true supercar really shouldn’t be.
That said, it’s still a far more characterful and likeable car than the Audi R8, and if you need an everyday convertible supercar, it really is in a class of one. If you want real excitement, on the other hand, you should probably look elsewhere.