Speed date with the McLaren 650S Spider

Car: McLaren 650S Spider  

Drive: Red Rock Canyon, Nevada, USA (42km)


Red Rock Canyon is where the southernmost tip of the mighty Sierra Nevada mountains collides with the El Paso Range.

It’s a stunning landscape of scenic desert cliffs, buttes and rock formations; dramatic in shape and vivid in colour.

I’m at the wheel of McLaren’s striking 650S Spider and it’s ours for all of six short hours.

We’re fast leaving Las Vegas’s flashin’ neon behind and sweep along Charleston Boulevard/Highway 159 heading for the comparative remoteness of Old Nevada at Bonnie Springs, beyond Red Rock.

With Blue Diamond Road near devoid of traffic, it’s time to rattle the big Mac’s cage.

Roll the throttle on firmly and the car fairly launches.

Working through the 7-spd, sequential dual-clutch gearbox, the challenge is on to manually upshift with the right-hand paddle before the M383T-designated, 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 hits its 8500 rpm limiter; all the while being urged on by a barrage of snap, crackle and pop emanating from the fat exhausts with each upshift.

The 650S will soar from 0-100km/h in a claimed 3.0 seconds neat and on to 160km/h in just 5.8 – as fast as its legendary predecessor of the 1990s, the McLaren F1.

But, we’re on a public road and after letting Big Mac off leash, I consider it prudent to take a quick reality check, lift off the throttle and the McLaren belches extravagantly on over-run; a dab of the ceramic composite brakes further reins things in.

Life’s pretty straight without twisties – so the old advertising jingle goes – and so it is with driving.

We chance upon a sequence of open, flowing bends where we can ride the V8’s fat wave of torque that stays true from 3000 through to 6000 rpm and beyond.

The steering feels pinpoint sharp and the flat-bottomed wheel alive with feedback as the 650S carves up the curves with surgical precision and an unwavering line. 

A carbon-fibre tub obviously has its strengths (pun intended).

This lightweight wonder material ensures the Spider is trim (in weight), taut (in rigidity) and terrific (in handling). In fact, the Spider weighs just 40kg more than its coupe sibling. 

But the real smack in the gob comes from the way the 650S fuses unrelenting grip and tight body control with a fluent, dexterous ride.

Put it down to the interconnected, accumulator-primed damping system (which does away with anti-roll bars) and ultra-smart electronics that take adaptive damping technology to a whole new stratospheric level.

As is the way of a modern supercar, the McLaren’s interior oozes style and substance.

Just entering or egressing is somewhat dramatic, what with the way the powered dihedral doors reach for the sky.

The rib-wrapping sports seats are handsomely finished in leather, and alcantara is everywhere, picked out with attractive contrast stitching across the fascia and door facings.

Ditto carbonfibre accentuations – on the centre stack, door consoles and steering wheel. 

The 650S is as impressive ergonomically as it is aesthetically.

Any criticisms? Well, there’s little in the way of cabin storage and the reversing camera imagery could be a bit better; small beer, really.

Sundown depicts the starkness and space of a desert at its best, so we backtrack to Red Rock f-a-s-t to capture the moment. And we’re not to be disappointed.

With the setting sun bathing the rock formations in the foreground in a warm ochre glow and the rich verdant of the mountains in the background deepening, this natural setting makes a perfect foil for the near-nuclear glow of the McLaren’s Napier Green paintwork. 

Time now to throttle back and enjoy – rather than engage – a drive along the 21km one-way loop road through the canyon’s National Conservation Area.

We retract the metal roof (raising or lowering takes about 15 seconds) with a touch of a switch to broaden our horizon, literally and metaphorically.

To a supercar, a speed limit of 60km/h is absolutely pedestrian, but perhaps not at this place and time, not with hikers, cyclists and a menagerie of wildlife aplenty all claiming access to the road.

Mind you, people are as aware of the 650S as we are of them and smartphones and cameras are raised wherever we pass or park. 

Later, ever-so-reluctantly, we point the McLaren towards the bright lights of Vegas and its return.

With the cool of the desert evening washing over us, it’s time to reflect on our speed date with McLaren’s 650S.

As a supercar, it’s the complete package – ballistic performance, brilliant handling, compliant ride, stunning looks – with no major flaw. 

2015 McLaren 650S Spider  

Basic price (new): $A486,250

Engine: 3.8-litre twin-turbo DOHC 32v V8

Power: 478kW @ 7250 rpm

Torque: 678Nm @ 3000-6000 rpm

Transmission: 7-spd sequential dual-clutch auto

Weight: 1428kg

Drive: Rear-wheel

0-100km/h: 3.0 secs


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