The first thing you learn is that it doesn't usually rain in Spain, but when it does, it's the sort of rain that requires you to be more Captain Nemo than Ayrton Senna. And that's when you figure out how a McLaren 650S is as a submarine, not a car.
(Full Disclosure: McLaren invited me to sunny Spain to drive the new 650S. Sunny southern Spain where it hadn't rained in months. Except the two days I was there. You know the saying: The rain in Spain stays mainly around the area where I am in Spain.)
The second thing you learn is that the 650S is equipped standard with aggressive Pirelli P-Zero Corsa rubber that will provide a "new level of dry weather performance."
The third thing you learn is that when the roads are covered in water, a light touch of the throttle in the new 650S, which has far more torque than a 12C, will result in a terrifying drive mode that has the rear end step out in a straight line and nearly shoot you into opposing traffic. It's the perfect cure for constipation.
The fourth thing you learn after you've sufficiently soiled your pants is that leaving the car in automatic with normal drive modes for both powertrain and suspension makes the 650S a comfortable cruiser that is fine going up a slick mountain road behind a few vans.
The fifth thing you learn is that if you sarcastically mention to McLaren brass that the F1 team could "really use a title sponsor" you'll get a response that uses a version of British sarcasm that is either incredibly dry and joking in reply or full of disdain for you and all you stand for.
The sixth thing you learn is that McLaren's internal naming structure begins with P. The internal P1 became the McLaren F1. The internal P11 became the MP4-12C and the internal P12 became the McLaren P1. The internal code for 650S is the P11M. Yes, M for modified. But don't call this the 12C Speciale. McLaren is clear on that. This isn't a stripped out racer, it's a step up from the 12C in performance that can still be a daily driver.
The seventh thing you learn is that Spain's Ascari Circuit has 26 corners. McLaren is allowing about six laps per person. That is not enough to learn a circuit this complex. Oh, and it's greasy thanks to the rain.
The eighth thing you learn is that the rear window on the 650S Spider can be put down independently of the top. Do this and do it often. The sound is old school V8, nearly Cosworth DFV levels of ecstasy.
The ninth thing you learn, once you have some kind of bearing on where the Ascari Circuit goes, is that the 650S is not slow. It gets to 60 from a standstill in 2.9 seconds. It hits 124 MPH in 8.4 seconds. The power increase over the 12C is 25 horsepower up to 641 (650 PS) and it has 500 pound feet of torque that makes for increased response in the low end that runs all the way to redline. It has a power to weight ratio of 493 hp per metric ton. Yeah. It's fast.
The tenth thing you learn is that launch control is still a dastardly, manic beast in the 650S. Push the launch button, hold your left foot on the brake, go flat on the gas, let the boost build, and then get off the brake. The sheer thrill will make you laugh like a mad man. Don't close your eyes while laughing like said mad man. You'll crash the car... probably straight into a wall.
The eleventh thing you learn, now that you're out on track, is the chassis is 25 percent stiffer and the suspension geometry is revised. The 12C is no slouch, but the adjustments have made turn in on the 650S quicker and more positive. It just darts to the apex. Steering is perfectly weighted with a ton of feel. I'd go as far as to say this might be the best steering out there today. It's also involving. The 650S was designed to make the driver feel more a part of the experience than the 12C did when it first came out. I thought everyone was wrong about the boring-ness of the 12C, but the 650S is even more involving and fun than I remember its little brother being.
The twelfth thing you learn is that the A pillar is too large. It blocks left side apexes from your view. It's not ideal. A thinner pillar would make the car even better.
The thirteenth thing you learn is that the drive modes for suspension and powertrain have been better differentiated than in the 12C. Sport is more at home on road and Track is the way to go on a track. Body roll still exists in sport, but not in track. It's flat and level. And transitions in fast corners. Holy crap. This is a road car on street tires, it shouldn't change direction like this, especially on a greasy race track. It just does what you tell it to. Like it's your slave. Which it technically is, I guess. Since you own it.
The fourteenth thing you learn is that the air brake is no longer just an air brake, it's now active aero. It can adjust to provide more downforce in corners and stall to give you more speed on the straights.
The fifteenth thing you learn is that the braking of the 650S is disgustingly good. It's braking so good that it makes you actually hate it. The 12C would cut in ABS a bit earlier than you'd like under a hard stop. Not so here. It's not very active, it comes in late, and if you think you've overshot a corner, you haven't. The braking is stable at the limit, with no real drama or movement. The standard carbon ceramic brakes are up there as the best ever.
The sixteenth thing you learn is that you should keep your eye out in the mountains for goats with giant testicles. We turned around twice to get this picture. Cause yeah, those balls were huge.
The seventeenth thing you learn is that the interior is covered with Alcantara aka its been touched by God. There's also an optional carbon seat. It's lightweight and tight, which is good. It doesn't have an adjustable rake, which isn't all that comfy for a long journey. Spec your seats based on what you're going to use the car for.
The eighteenth thing you learn is that I was told by McLaren engineers last year that the 12C would get more power in 2014 and then had it promptly denied by public relations. Well, this is the car with more power. So technically, the 12C didn't get more power...
It's a maniacally good car, the 650S. But what did you expect? The 12C sat at the top of our leaderboard for the last year and half in both coupe and spider forms (Well, until the Porsche 918 Spyder came around). The 650S is better, and, at $265,500 base price for the coupe, $280,225 for the spider, more expensive as well.
McLaren's brand ethos of a car that can be used everyday doesn't lead them to go the stripped out, hardcore route with a more powerful car, but I wish they did. This thing would be unreal with the interior stripped out.
A promise that McLaren Automotive made when they started out is that they'd have a new car or variant every year. The 650S is what's new for 2014. McLaren says it doesn't replace the 12C, but as of right now, 12C production is shut down, replaced with the 650S. That's mainly because McLaren has a small assembly line and needs to allocate resources where it can. But I'm ok if this gets rid of the 12C.
And that's because the 650S makes the super advanced 12C already look obsolete. Just imagine what the next version of this car will be?