2016 McLaren 650S Spider Review

All I saw was a cloud of dust. At some point during my 575-mile drive of the 2016 McLaren 650S Spider, I sort of became immune to gawkers. Phones snapped hundreds of pictures and videos, so I imagine I’m semi-famous on exactly 200,000 different Twitstagram accounts by now. But then a kid so intent on capturing my green machine actually drove off the road. Thankfully, he regained control, and in the process was hopefully taught a very important lesson about distracted driving. Probably not.

2016 McLaren

That’s what happens when you drive a bright green McLaren through the heartland of America: everyone takes notice. Car enthusiasts or not, every single person I passed in the 650S gave it a second look. Usually they just stared and stared. Or honked. Or tried to race me (and lost – dummies). My road trip was a 575-mile-long case of distracted driving, and all I can say is, “sorry, not sorry.”

It all started over dinner in New York. I told our McLaren guy that he should send a car to Detroit, and instead of hiring a transportation company, should just let me drive it over. Next thing I knew, I was on a plane to Baltimore with intrepid video producer Chris “Roy Rogers” McGraw, where a $350,000-plus, Mantis Green 650S Spider would be waiting for me by the BWI airport rental car plaza. McLaren cars enter the US through the Port of Baltimore, so it felt right picking up the car there, instead of in New York. Plus, driving this thing through Manhattan seemed like a massive pain in the ass.No car I’ve ever driven could draw a crowd like the 650S. It’s not uncommon to seesupercars rolling through big cities – people don’t bat an eye if one drives by in Los Angeles. But in the country, it’s a sight to behold. Say what you will about Mac’s derivative styling, I think the 650 looks killer. And so did everyone who stopped me on the street.

What I found most interesting was, just saying “McLaren” was enough to really draw people in. If they’re familiar with the British marque, they haven’t heard the name in a really long time. And if the word doesn’t ring a bell, they want to know what it’s all about. “It’s not a Ferrari – it’s a McLaren,” one guy said to his wife at a rest stop. The brand recognition might still be lower than McLaren would like – everyone instantly thinks it’s a Ferrari orLamborghini – but everyone I met took this car very, very seriously.

And you have to take it seriously. It’s a freaking supercar. Nevermind the way it looks, how much it costs, or how many kids will run up to it in a parking lot. On the road, this is one of the most impeccable machines I’ve ever driven. Ever. In terms of memorable motoring experiences, this 650S will stand out – and not just because of its color.No, there’s not much to set the 650S apart from its supercar kin in terms of how it stacks up on paper. There’s a twin-turbo 3.8-liter V8 right behind you, making 641 horsepower and 500 pound-feet of torque. You manage the power with a seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission. Perhaps the most notable part of the 650S setup is that it uses rear-wheel drive, whereas most supercars have moved to all-wheel-drive setups. But what gets me about this car is how dramatically its personality can change.

Day 1 of the road trip was mostly about getting some beauty-roll shots and general drive impressions – in other words, lots of freeway stuff and curvy backroads. Not exactly supercar territory, but even here, the 650S was a peach. In its standard setting, the suspension is so supple and nicely balanced that the car will happily eat up highways and side roads without breaking your back. It is honestly the most amicable suspension setup I can recall. To put it in perspective, I once drove a Nissan GT-R for 300 miles straight and emerged nearly deaf and in desperate need of a chiropractor. I put the same amount of miles on the McLaren and after a quick stretch of the legs, was ready to do it all over again.

But just as this car is quiet, refined, comfortable, and smooth, it can be a full-on assault weapon. Three drive modes are available, for both the handling and powertrain – Normal, Sport, and Track. I didn’t use the latter, because I didn’t track-test the 650S, and I’m not one of those guys who thinks you have to ditch the traction control and put a car in blast-off mode to see what it’s like on a public road (that’s not safe, friends). With both the handling and engine set to sport mode, the 650S stiffened up, hunkered down, and used the full might of its twin-turbo V8. With launch control, the 650S Spider will scoot to 60 miles per hour in under three seconds, and with the engine directly behind your head, it accelerates in a fury of noise and woosh and holy-crap-this-thing-is-quick.

Driving a car like the 650S through rural areas, the heart of the Midwest, and scenic roads of mountainous areas taught me a lot. It taught me that McLaren can build a supercar as good as or better than any of the competition. You really can daily-drive this thing – especially if you love attention.

I cannot stress enough how enjoyable this car is to drive in every single situation. It’s comfortable and quiet in the city. It’ll soak up miles on the freeway. And on properly good roads, it’s an immensely rewarding car that works with you, and never feels like it’s coming around to bite you. I would drive it over and over again, and my good experience with the 650S Spider leaves me very optimistic about the cars McLaren has coming down the pipeline.

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