Supercars have three basic tasks: look good, go fast and be fun to drive. Fortunately for McLaren, they knocked all three of those out of the park with their new bread-and-butter supercar, the 570S Coupe. I got to drive one out of Austin onto twisty Texas Hill Country roads, where believe it or not, it seemed right at home.
[Full disclosure: McLaren bought me coffee and handed me the keys to the 570S for a day, taking me on a drive on roads outside Austin and out for barbecue at lunch.]
More hardcore fare like the P1 and the 675LT are great and all, but McLaren has to fund those somehow. They don’t want to chase volume by building an SUV or a sedan, or a car for Apple, hypothetically speaking. They’d rather focus on what they’re good at: sports cars. So, the burden falls on a few thousand entry-level 570S-es to keep the lights on and fund crazier, wackier stuff.
“Entry level” feels like a misnomer for this car. The 570S may be the least expensive McLaren in North America starting at $184,900, and be from McLaren’s bottom-level Sports Series tier of cars, but it’s still a supercar made by a marque best known for its related Formula One team and its previous record-breaking supercar and hero of my childhood, the F1.
Fortunately, the 570S is as wacky as any more exorbitantly-priced McLaren. Just look at this thing. It has the now-requisite “billionaire doors” made famous on Silicon Valley. Lift one up and you’re bound to attract attention—even more so if you opted for extra carbon fiber bits on the outside.
Our cars for the drive were waiting for us at the Hilton in downtown Austin, where the McLarens attracted a small crowd of onlookers. This car has a presence, with its almost alien looks and those signature showy doors.
The last McLaren I drove was the old 12C Spider. This feels light years ahead of that; everything is smoother and more refined. The outside dihedral doors now have a physical button to press so you wouldn’t have to rely on confused passengers knowing the right direction to swipe to release.
McLaren optimized the aerodynamics of the 570S’s crazy doors to channel air through the center of the door as well. Even the cupholders in the center console were easier to reach.
But you don’t buy a supercar for cupholders and door handles. You buy them as a shouty-item that’s quick and fun. Coffee storage is a mere bonus.
While I didn’t get to drive this one on track like I did with the 12C, I did get to take this car down some twisty Texas Hill Country roads, where I could tinker with all the different driving modes and press buttons to my heart’s content.
So, off we set, driving out of the heart of Austin into the rolling country hills in search of less congested, kinkier roads.
The 570S’s tires still chirped in second and third gear when I pinned the throttle pedal to the floor and flapped through the gears after merging onto a highway. It brakes and turns so well at spirited public road speeds that it makes you feel like a hero, goading you to misbehave and chase after that still insanely high limit of its cornering and stopping abilities.
There’s decent feedback through the steering wheel from a fast-ratio electro-hydraulic system with much more feedback than many purely electric steering systems (ahem, Porsche). The same steering system powers a nose lift system that raises the nose 40mm to make navigating driveways much easier.
Our group took several breaks during the drive to swap drivers where the nose lift came in handy. The first stop to stretch our legs and let our travel-partner drive was at an office building, where folks came out of the office to have a look at the cars. It’s not every day there’s a car with ridiculous butterfly doors out in rural Texas, much less parked right in front of you.
As we got to smaller roads with tighter curves, it was easy to tell that the car’s carbon-fiber chassis and McLaren’s obsessive focus on lightweight construction adds to the tossability. Even its enormous brakes are lightweight carbon-ceramic discs. These cars weigh as little as 2,895 pounds—that’s less than a base model Mitsubishi Lancer, but with much more power going directly to the (more fun) rear wheels.
Additionally, 562 horsepower from a 3.8-liter twin-turbo V8 sits directly behind your head in all its roaring splendor, growling and popping as if the car is snickering at the fact that you dared press the go-pedal. It’s a car that’s still insane enough to laugh with you as you take in and consider the madness of its very existence. It’s hilariously loud at full throttle and will disturb the peace in the best way possible.
In other words, there’s nothing entry level about the level of silliness and giddiness it produces. It’s a supercar, albeit smaller and less expensive than the other McLarens. But to the world and to the big dumb grin on your face, it’s absolutely, one billion percent a supercar.
You even get a banned Formula One technology in the 570S: brake steer, where the brakes are automatically applied to the inside rear wheel to help the car’s front turn towards an apex. Drivers could brake later, and thus, F1 banned it shortly after it was developed for the 1997 season.
The 570S’s regular driving modes are a bit soft and sluggish (particularly when shifting gears), so I spent most of the drive with the engine in Sport mode, with a brief foray into Track mode.
These are thankfully split between two different physical knobs that can be easily adjusted without taking your eyes off the road: one for handling, and one for engine performance. I left the car in its regular soft handling settings for potholes and construction leaving Austin but put the engine settings in the more responsive Sport mode, and it gave me the extra speed without the back breaking experience provided by most one-button-does-all Sport modes.
Sport mode sharpens up throttle response and shifts with the engine knob, and the suspension on the other, plus it puts the gear you’ve selected in the center of the rev counter, right in front of your face. Track mode takes that even farther, rearranging the digital dashboard in front of the driver to make the tachometer take up the full width of the screen, with just a small digital readout for the speed. RPM is what really matters on track, as the tach lets you know precisely when to shift. (It’s as if McLaren may have had some experience with racing cars before!)
The biggest improvement that I could feel over the 12C was in the seven-speed gearbox. While you sadly can’t spec a 570S with a manual, this dual-clutch transmission is now buttery smooth. Pull a paddle and it near-instantaneously blips the engine to the right RPM you want for the gear you’ve chosen, roaring up in dramatic fashion with every downshift.
One cool holdover from the first new McLaren sports cars are the lovely paddle shifters that act as one see-sawing piece behind the steering wheel. Pull one, and the opposite paddle moves farther away. That’s a weird thing to notice (and like), but it’s the little unique quirks that truly make a supercar feel like one.
A McLaren representative who was journo-sitting on the drive explained that everything on these cars is made in-house or to McLaren’s exact specifications. You won’t recognize any switchgear from a Volkswagen Passat or a Chevrolet Camaro because there is none.
As we continued to blast through the countryside towards our stop for lunch, I started to get used to the car. It was effortless to drive quickly and I even had decent visibility out the rear window. You could easily live with this car, so long as you were fine attracting curious gawkers whenever you parked.
Inside, it’s just comfortable enough. The optional eight-way-adjustable seats’ buttons can be tricky to see and reach as the driver’s controls are on the side of the seat next to the center console. Once you find the right buttons, though, they work just fine, and thankfully, I was able to set it to memorize my seat position. The lumbar support, for example, can move up and down your back and extends out ridiculously far without capsizing as some tend to do.
Unfortunately, the side bolsters weren’t adjustable inwards to hold smaller people in place on a race track, but for a blast through the countryside, the seat had a comfortable enough shape on its own that was just a nice place to sit. Miles of grippy, fuzzy Alcantara everywhere inside and a butt-baking seat warmer certainly didn’t hurt, either.
The center screen was intuitive enough to figure out, with shortcuts to many of the car’s most basic functions in buttons underneath the screen. I still found myself wanting physical knobs and buttons for the HVAC system, however.
While the 570S was easy to drive fast on backroads, doing so requires your full attention. Corners show up quick, and it’s just safer to be able to turn a physical knob without looking away from the road than it is to have to look over at a screen to turn the fan down. Adjusting the aircon for Texas’ baking weather—which thankfully has separate settings for each side of the car—was a somewhat terrifying experience when I drove on the tightest leg of the journey.
But like the cupholders, you don’t buy a supercar for its dashboard. The screen could be in unreadable magenta Blingee-inspired Wingdings text and I’d still say that this car does what it set out to do: be louder, faster and more ridiculous than the usual cars on the road.
Opening the big upward-lifting doors of the 570S is all but guaranteed to give you a big, stupid grin on your face every time. That’s the point. Supercars exist to elicit emotion, fulfilling more than that basic, rational need to get places through attention-demanding looks and raw, nasty speed.
Fortunately, the 570S is the rare supercar that feels easy to live with and use but still meets that deep-down need for silliness.