The $187,400 McLaren 570S is Ferrari's rude wake-up call: first drive review

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Say you just sold your first mobile app, or your company just got acquired by some search-engine giant.

What’s a car-crazed geek to do? Real estate? Retirement plan?

We’d do something totally logical like this--the 570S, the first car in McLaren's more attainable Sports Series.

Logical. Yes. In a world where Lamborghini's getting back into SUVs and Ferrari sells an all-wheel-drive kamm-backed four-seater, some things should still ring true, without interference or noise.

The tone McLaren strikes is as clear as a bell. It should, since it's the namesake of one of the few drivers to win a Grand Prix, Le Mans, and the Indy 500.

It’s still a relative bit player in the Italophile world of supercars. But McLaren as a brand, the 570S as its main parry--they're probably the rudest wake-up call the Italians ever will get, the rudest wake-up call that ever will be delivered by someone or something British.

MORE: Know all your McLaren cars?

For the engineering purist, the McLaren's carbon-fiber hull, turbocharged powerplant, and its rear-drive, mid-engine layout sound like a blueprint for perfection and fanboy worship.

Still, even in the cash-flush reaches of Silicon Valley where McLaren has one of its handful of U.S. dealers, gawkers have to look two, three times before they can identify this winged beast by its minuscule badges.

What lands its first visual punch, in this case, is the $4,000 coat of Ventura Orange paint and a pair of articulating doors. The 570S makes a mark on retinas left and right, whether it's standing still or clawing its way around corners on our ascent to Skyline Road, then as we barrel toward the ocean on the swifter passages of Highway 84.

After the shock of orange wears off, the 570S sears its way into memory with its unmistakable stance and its utterly distinctive shape. It’s carbon fiber at its core, but wears slinky aluminum outside, pulled tight over the passenger cabin and drivetrain like the skin on a decathlete. Headlights arc in a shape echoed on the key fob, and on the discreet black rectangle that makes up the nose badge.

That rectangle might be the only straight-line source on the car, aside from the sills. Every panel is tweaked and tuned for aero in a comely way. Long stalks hold the mirrors away from the body to cut down on drag, and muscular pieces (McLaren likens them to tendons) across the doors shunt air into the mid-engine bay through massive ducts.

It’s all flying buttresses, Nike-esque swooshes, big diffusers and cat-eye LED lights. It doesn’t look like anything else in its universe, or ours.

2016 McLaren 570S

2016 McLaren 570S

Enlarge Photo
2016 McLaren 570S

2016 McLaren 570S

Enlarge Photo
2016 McLaren 570S

2016 McLaren 570S

Enlarge Photo

Hurdles to climb (over)

Climb inside, but test-drive that gymnastic move before you attempt to do it with any measure of grace. The 570S's scissor-style doors are great for drama; McLaren calls them "dihedral" doors, which sounds like a D&D die.

The word doesn't explain how, precisely, you're supposed to get into the damn car without looking like a noob. Though engineers worked to make the entry points as open as possible, it's not easy to slip in and slide over the 570S' super-wide sills into the 2-seat cockpit.

Jump that hurdle, and the McLaren’s cockpit fits snug and cozy, somewhere between a tailor-made suit and a superbike. Exceptionally spacious, it's not, but a Corvette should have this much room, or seats as supportive. There's even a small shelf behind passengers for an attache case full of $1,000 bills, or whatever they're typically exchanged for.

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Flick the start button, and the 570S leaps to life, spooling up its turbos and running far above idle while everything warms itself up, including the digital displays. Colorful electronic gauges sit in a tiny pod and flame to life, while a much lower-resolution, portrait-style touchscreen eventually wakes up, on the center stack. 

If you squint, that center stack of controls looks a little like a face--an astonished face, anxious at what’s about to happen when you punch the start and drive buttons.

As it should be.


 
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