If you’re wondering what it’s like to get behind the wheel of a quarter million dollars worth of exotic car that you don’t own, in the middle of nowhere Ohio, before you put it on a dirt track, I can tell you it’s actually terrifying.
The new 570S itself is not particularly intimidating. McLaren did a very comprehensive job of making this car as easy to use as possible. It’s low, sure, and very wide, but it’s not difficult to drive. The steering is easy, the transmission has a full-automatic mode, even the pedals are nicely measured, though quite firm. The ride is wonderful and the view out of the car is excellent. The windshield is huge, the dash is low, and the only trouble you get is that your side mirrors are mostly full of huge air intakes.
No, what got me is that I was responsible for the brightest, loudest, most ostentatious car in the entire state. I was basically driving around a gigantic red target that said “please arrest me.”
I spent the first hour with this car driving precisely one mile an hour below the speed limit.
It wasn’t just that I was sure any cop would pull me over for even the very slightest indiscretion. It was that, from the driver’s seat, literally everything within my sight transformed into a potential danger. Would that man on the riding mower fall asleep at the wheel and roll into the car, and dent it, and I’d lose my job? Would that person in the Ford Freestar not see me at this intersection, and roll into the car, and dent it, and I’d lose my job? Would a truck kick up a stone and crack the windshield? Would a nail put a hole in one of the car’s Pirelli tires, for which there are no replacements within a day’s drive? Would a cow wander from that person’s front lawn (yes, there were cows in someone’s front lawn) and crash into the car, and wreck it, and then I’d lose my job?
But after a while of driving around in this carbon fiber and aluminum baby I was taking care of, it occurred to me that this car was probably very fast.
So on a particularly deserted stretch of country road, between one farm and the next, I gassed it.
I’ve driven cars that are faster, cars that are more powerful than this before. But they were on racetracks. And there you not only lose a lot of the sensation of speed, you lose a lot of context of it. When you’re doing 140 mph down the back straight of a racetrack, it feels appropriate. Even when you’re braking for the next turn, you’re thinking to yourself how you’re going to drive differently on the next lap to try to eke out another mile an hour or two. You adjust to the speed, you expect it, and you demand more.
On the road, where you are limited by law, and reason, and self-preservation, the performance that this McLaren has on tap is beyond ludicrous. It feels three echelons above excessive. It is terror. It is alien.
I could only use just a fraction of the rev range, of the car’s performance, before I’m breaking the speed limit. I could use only a hair more before my own sense of self-preservation kicks in, even through all of the adrenaline the 562 horsepower twin-turbo V8 pumped into my veins. Judgement cloudy, heart rate too fast and the throttle pedal started to feel like, I don’t know, dipping a toe into the ocean. Deep. Filled with sharks.
It’s absurd to drive a 204 mph car through towns with three digit population figures and general stores and tractor dealerships. Sunday morning emptiness while everyone is in church. Late night quiet when everything within an hour’s drive is closed but for the St. Henry Nite Club.
Forget taking a mid-engine sports car like this to the South of France, or the Swiss Alps, or whatever other Monaco-is-just-a-day-away cliché. If you want to bring this car’s performance into something resembling perspective, you need to come out here. Don’t park a McLaren next to a Ferrari. It looks normal. Park it next to a ‘90s Thunderbird. You want to get a sense of how much money that $237,000 price tag really is? Take this 570S shopping at the local IGA. Watch people walk up and laugh.
People were snapping pictures from their minivans as they rolled by in the parking lot, excited but too intimidated to get out and approach it unguarded. It’s out here in Ohio where the scale of the McLaren’s exoticism and excess comes into view.
I pulled over on another farm road to take some pictures. The cows nearby stared back at me. They’d never seen a car like this before, doors swinging up, white leather interior soft. It must have looked so strange compared to the Malibu Classics that normally go down this road.
A tractor pulled out from the farm’s driveway, pulled up alongside in the other lane. The driver smiled and we chatted. Maybe he could read the sense of thrill and of consequence this McLaren wrote on my face.
He raised a bandaged hand in goodbye.“Have fun. Drive safe.”