First Drive: 2015 McLaren 650S

The 2015 McLaren 650S may well be the fastest car I’ve ever driven, and that’s no surprise. With a top speed of 207-mph, it’s one of the fastest cars on the planet.

Standing in the courtyard of the hotel in Málaga, Spain, leaning against the fastest car I’ve ever driven, I glance over at my co-pilot.

Slightly out of breath, he looks hypnotized by the orange supercar sitting before us. His eyes slowly wander from the car and onto my face.

“Was I really going 275 kilometers per hour?” he asks.

The next morning, I looked over from breakfast to see a childhood hero sitting at the adjacent table.

“It was actually 273 … but who’s counting?” I reply with a chuckle.

“You could’ve slowed me down,” he says. “We could’ve been arrested. Then again, that would’ve been such good press for both of us. We would’ve looked so cool …”

“I know, Patrick, I know.” I reply, with a slow nod, tapping on carbon fiber wing.

As an automotive journalist, wild adventures in far-off places are commonplace for me. Except this one is different.

Today my driving partner is renowned actor Sir Patrick Stewart and the car that left us speechless is the 2015 McLaren 650S.

Before we climb behind the wheel with Sir Stewart, let me tell you a bit about McLaren’s latest supercar.

Hyperbole

“Better than the 12C,” said the McLaren representative during our briefing.

That’s hard to imagine, considering that just three years ago McLaren Automotive relaunched itself into the world of street-legal supercars. Although it hadn’t launched a car in 19 years, the brand was immediately accepted amongst the likes of Lamborghini, Aston Martin, and Ferrari.

However, the folks at McLaren didn’t accept a one-hit wonder and call it a day, as they had with the F1. Instead, they sought to calibrate and recalibrate the tuning on the MP4-12C.

Accordingly, they’ll tell you that the 2014 and 2011 models drive completely differently, all thanks to software adjustments. And the best part? Owners of early models need only visit the dealer to have their cars modernized with a quick update to the ECU.

McLaren is a brand focused on space-aged technology – speed through science – above all else, and it shows.

At its core, the 650S borrows nearly 70 percent of its components from the 12C, and the rest comes from lessons learned in developing McLaren’s P1 hypercar.

From a visual standpoint, the nose of the 650 is shared with the P1, while the rest of the car is mostly 12C. The twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter V8 engine has been tuned up to 641 horsepower (650 PS, hence its name), and 500 pound-feet of torque. The suspension has been stiffened. The sport and track modes adjusted. And the aero work produces more downforce, front and rear.

Hell, it’ll even crack 60 mph in just 2.9 seconds.

Equal parts road and track

Our hotel overlooked the Mediterranean, about an hour and a half from Ascari Race Resort in Ronda. The drive to and around the track zigzagged upward into the mountains, into the rolling farmlands of Andalusia.

After a quick breakfast on the terrace, I walked out to the courtyard to meet my Tarocco Orange 650S.

Open both doors and take a photo; it’s dramatic from every angle.

The doors get you, every time. They don’t open directly forward like a Ferrari, or upward like a Mercedes SLS, but rather like an open-armed sun salutation in yoga – stretching up and out to welcome the day. Open both and take a photo; it’s dramatic from every angle.

Swing open the doors and pop inside and you’ll find a customizable cabin. You can have the interior in nearly any color you’d like, with choices between the sportier Alcantara finish with carbon fiber sport seats sourced from the P1 or leather seats that feel little more relaxed and significantly more luxurious.

For the driving we’d do on this trip, I preferred the sports seats. However, the car feels more upscale with the full leather dash. Ladies in skirts will prefer entry and exit with the width of the traditional – and adjustable – bucket seats.

A word to the wise: You may want to build your car according to how you’ll spend most of the time in your 650S. But, the car is more comfortable for long hauls than the comparable 458 Italia, regardless of your seating preference, so there’s no way to lose.

2015 McLaren 650S

Where there isn’t Alcantara or leather on the interior, you’ll only find carbon fiber – and plenty of it. The car is made almost entirely of the lightweight woven element, with exception to a bit of magnesium behind the dash and the aluminum extrusions that mount the front and rear bumpers.

Sitting in the 650S feels like sitting in something from the future, as if we’ve utilized some alien technology to build a rocket with tires. Even the infotainment system’s interface looks like it was pulled right out of Tron, with its portrait orientation and simple black and white screens. It’s gorgeous, it’s responsive, and it’s easy to use. The only downside is that you can’t skip audio tracks unless you’re using the media screen, which requires backing out of the phone and navigation features first.

Ascari

On the Ascari track, Euan Hankey – one of McLaren’s factory GT drivers – guided me through the Normal, Sport and Track modes, pushing me harder and harder with each lap.

We sped through each of Ascari’s three loops, faster and faster with each consecutive lap. I was blown away by the car’s traction and power delivery. Honestly, there was no way that I could push the car to the edge of its limits; the 650S is built to appease even a professional racer.

Pumped full of adrenaline and eager for more, I asked Euan to show me what the car could really do with a racer behind the wheel. I’ll freely admit that he’s the first driver to ever legitimately scare me. Between the 650S’ mind-boggling handing and his tremendous driving, I walked away a little shaky, but completely impressed.

2015 McLaren 650S

Until this day, my personal favorite car has been the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black, an exotic muscle car with a completely different kind of personality, but similar levels of power and performance. Even other cars, like the Nissan GT-R and Lexus LFA have absolutely dazzled me, but my time in the McLaren casts a long shadow over each of these cars.

Maybe it’s the novelty of a brand many people don’t know. Maybe it’s the glove-like fit of the cabin. Maybe it’s just the doors. Either way, a dozen laps around Ascari with a professional racer have changed my tune, and I’m not sure what I could possibly drive – save maybe the P1 – that I’d enjoy even more.

Crème de la Crème

The next morning, after a full nights’ rest full of track-day dreams, I went down to the hotel café for breakfast in the garden.

As I settled in and sipped my cappuccino in silence, I glanced around the patio. As I surveyed the place and the other patrons, I suddenly did a double take.

Sitting at the adjacent table was Sir Patrick Stewart, captain of the Enterprise, leader of the X-Men, and my childhood hero.

patrick stewart

Maybe I’m the obnoxious American that Europeans curse. But I don’t really care. But without hesitation, I walked over to Sir Stewart’s table, squatted down next to him and asked the question that no one can refuse: “How would you feel about taking a spin in a McLaren?”

Eyebrows rise. A smile is cracked. Waivers are signed. A friend made.

Warp speed

I told Sir Patrick that I would take us out of the town we were staying in, to warm up the engine. Then the keys were his to bring us home again.

Hell, it’ll even crack 60 mph in just 2.9 seconds.

As I sped through the Spanish countryside, we talked about the McLaren’s active aerodynamics system, which functions as an air brake when you slow down quickly enough. We talked about his adventures with Stirling Moss and Jeremy Clarkson, too.

Eventually, I pulled off to swap seats. That’s when I realized that Sir Patrick’s story about “only liking to drive up to a certain speed … a comfortable one,” and his long list of driving practice didn’t necessarily sync.

Sir Patrick is more adept behind the wheel than he lead on. In fact, he took us all the way to 170 mph – through a tunnel – before lifting off the accelerator. There’s a warp speed joke in there somewhere, but I’ll let it rest.

patrick stewart

We could’ve been killed. We could’ve been arrested. Instead, we were left rolling in laughter and excitement.

We returned back to the hotel and took a selfie in the main drive, which he tweeted out to his followers. That gave the folks at McLaren the chance to tell him everything that I hadn’t already, as well as plan a visit to the factory to see where the magic happens in Woking, England.

Conclusion

The 2015 McLaren 650S is priced from $265,000, just north of the MP4-12C it replaces. It’s an aesthetic masterpiece, and a brilliant work of machinery and science-fiction/fact, absolutely worthy of its position in the realm of supercars.

Better, though, is that while it may offer similar levels of thrill found by some of its competitors, it does so more comfortably than most. Ipso facto, it’s one of the best ultra-performance daily drivers available on the market today.

It’s fast – very fast – with a top speed of 207 mph, and that’s not even the fastest car McLaren builds.

Highs

  • Space-aged design
  • Formula-like sound, acceleration, braking, and handling
  • Comfortable for long rides, and surprising utility
  • High-Tech personality, different from alternatives

Lows

  • Infotainment doesn’t multitask well
Product Review

Audi built an electric SUV for buyers who want gasoline-free to mean stress-free

We finally got to spend time behind the wheel of the electric 2019 Audi E-Tron bustling cities and arid desert of the United Arab Emirates to see how it compares with Jaguar and Tesla's competitors.
Movies & TV

The best Christmas TV episodes and specials

To help get you in the spirit of the season, we've compiled a list of the best Christmas TV episodes and specials. Whether it's free episodes on your favorite streaming service, or stop-motion classics, look no further.
Computing

Get a Surface Pro 6 bundle for $800 today only at the Microsoft Store

Still looking to save on holiday shopping? Right now you can get the Surface Pro 6 for as little as $800 at the Microsoft Store, and also save on the black version of the device at Best Buy.
Cars

The Aston Martin Vanquish Zagato Shooting Brake is the sexiest wagon ever

Aston Martin has revealed new photos of the limited-production Vanquish Zagato Shooting Brake. The Vanquish Zagato line now includes the Shooting Brake, Coupe, Volante, and Speedster, each with bespoke styling.
Cars

Nissan and Italdesign’s GT-R50 concept will become a $1.1 million reality

The Nissan GT-R50 is a customized sports car built to celebrate the 50th anniversaries of both the GT-R and design firm Italdesign. Underneath the sleek bodywork sits a 710-horsepower engine fortified with race car components.
Cars

Ford’s new Shelby GT500 Mustang will have 3D-printed brake parts

Ford's new $45 million Advanced Manufacturing Center will focus on emerging technologies, including 3D printing. One of the staff's first jobs is to print parts for the 700-horsepower Shelby GT500 Mustang.
Mobile

Car-branded phones need to make a U-turn if they ever want to impress

Your car and your smartphone are becoming one, yet smartphones branded or co-created by car companies are a problem. We look at the history, some examples of the best and worst, then share hopes for the future.
News

World’s fastest electric race car to display at Petersen Museum

The Volkswagen I.D. R Pikes Peak race car smashed the all-time record at the hill climb for which it was named. The all-electric VW record-holder will be on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles until February 1, 2019.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Folding canoes and ultra-fast water filters

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Cars

This freewheeling Army truck-turned-tiny home is a labor of love

Most tiny homes are models of efficiency but one British metal worker has redefined the idea, converting an old Army truck into a mobile tiny home that comes with a bed, a sofa, a shower, and a beer garden.
Cars

Take a friend stargazing at 202 mph in the 2019 McLaren 720S Spider

McLaren has introduced the 2019 720S Spider. As its name implies, it's a convertible variant of the 720S coupe. The company promises the Spider retains the coupe's dynamism and agility thanks in part to the widespread use of carbon fiber.
Cars

Gateway’s born-again Ford Bronco boasts classic style, 2018 muscle car power

Illinois-based Gateway Bronco has received a license from Ford to make brand-new examples of the first-generation Bronco. Every build starts with a Ford VIN and a donor vehicle, but Gateway upgrades every part of the car.
Cars

Bloodhound’s plan to build a 1,000-mph car has run out of gas

The Bloodhound supersonic car (SSC) project has officially shut down. The upside is you can now buy a 135,000-horsepower car powered by a jet engine and a cluster of rockets for $319,000.
Product Review

The 2019 Porsche Macan S is the pinnacle of luxury SUVs, but it's no road tripper

The roster of models challenging the Porsche Macan grows annually. The German firm updated its smallest, most affordable SUV with a new engine, more tech features, and subtle design tweaks to keep it looking fresh.