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If you’re picking up a 2018 McLaren 570S Spider to look cool and make loud parking lot exits, you’re going to have a bad time. Don’t let the drop top, creamy leather and nice curves fool you–this car is aggressive and it’s not to be trifled with. In other words, it’s classic supercar through and through.

(Full disclosure: McLaren’s people emailed me and asked if I’d look after the 570S Spider for a few days, under the condition that i could only put 300 miles on it. I wasn’t about to complain.)

We’re lucky to live in era of extreme automotive technology. Horsepower and performance are more accessible than they’ve ever been, and there are plenty of very fast cars on the market that are very easy to drive. Contrary to what McLaren’s marketing material seems to indicate, the 570S Spider is not one of them and frankly I think that’s a big part of what makes this car great.

This is the third McLaren I’ve put significant miles on. The 2017 675LT was pure energy incarnate. That car was so hard, fast and intense that just pulling out of an intersection was thrilling and putting your foot down, well, suffice it to say every launch was unforgettable to the driver and anyone within a radius of several blocks. By comparison the 720S was far more comfortable and manageable.

But interestingly, this far less powerful 570S felt more dangerous to cut loose on public roads. While its carbon fiber shell is wrapped in nice materials and a wonderfully creative and luxurious interior design, the brake, throttle and steering feel way more “race car” than any other six-figure performance vehicle I’ve driven in a long time.

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What Is It?

The 2018 McLaren 570S Spider is a tiny $208,800 supercar. My test unit was decorated and dialed up with expensive options (carbon fiber interior pieces alone were worth close to $7,000) to a sticker price of $246,250.

As some of you may know, the McLaren name has been a part of the motorsport world since the 1960s when Mr. Bruce McLaren was coming up as a professional driver. The New Zealander ended up with a profoundly successful, though tragically brief, career in car racing, sadly dying at age 32 when he crashed at Goodwood in 1970.

But I’m sure he’d be glad that the team and spirit of automotive research he kicked off has continued to the present day, as McLaren now has an entire lineup of ultra high-performance road cars while continuing to race at elite events.

All that backstory is necessary to apprecaite the 570S because the point is: this is not a compromise car. This is a machine born from racing, by a company that does not waste its time with SUVs, crossovers or cruisers. And despite occupying McLaren’s most modest slot in its lineup (the 570S is part of the automaker’s “Sport” series, below the more powerful “Super” series and unearthly “Ultimate” cars) this convertible really does feel like a hardcore speed machine.

Specs That Matter

Inside of a carbon fiber “MonoCell II” chassis and flanked by a pair of dihedral door-wings is an artful little nest for a pilot and passenger. Just fore of their feet is a cargo hold where most cars might keep an engine. There’s about enough room for two large backpacks in there.

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The McLaren keeps its real treasure behind the humans: the aluminum M838T twin-turbo V8. It inhales like a monster through massive nostrils on the car’s top and sides, breathing out through a stubby, shiny antler-shaped exhaust system.

When the car’s running, you can watch it sweat as the rear-view mirror goes blurry from sheets of heat coming up through the mesh vents over the engine. That engine is rated to make 562 horsepower (570 metric horsepower, hence the car’s name) and 443 lb-ft of torque. The whole car is supposed to weigh 3,314 pounds ready to drive with a full tank of gas.

That ratio sets the car up for a 0 to 60 capability of 3.1 seconds, and a downright ridiculous top speed of 204 mph. To pull you back to Earth, the 570S Spider is supposed to be able to stop from 62 mph in 105 feet. And hey, apparently the EPA claims it’ll do 23 mpg on the highway if you’re not out trying to verify those other stats.

What’s Great

It doesn’t take a professional car critic to tell that the 570S is special just by looking at it, I had plenty of cheering onlookers and iPhones pointed at me durning my time with the car to prove that. But the more time you spend staring, the more amazing the car’s look becomes.

McLaren’s designers have tapped into a unique aesthetic that could best be described as “alive.” Not in the anthropomorphic sense like the cars have human faces; the bodies and interiors of these vehicles have advanced alien-organic looks.

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The way big pieces of the car seem to sprout and float, and the long, smooth sections punctuated by protruding pieces of fancy-looking technological interfaces, makes the vehicle seem like something from an advanced and regal alien race in science fiction. Like the Protoss for my StarCraft nerds or the Polaris from Escape Velocity: Nova for, uh, bigger nerds.

But the layout of the gauges, which are just an overwhelming cluster of numbers on a small screen, betrays the fact that the 570S might actually be a race car wearing a pretty skin rather than a rolling work of art.

The rest of the driving experience confirms this fact. As we’ll get to shortly, the 570S’s defining characteristic is how much commitment is required to driving it. The steering’s heavy, the brake and throttle pedals demand immense pushing-effort to respond, and the large paddle shifters decisively snap the car between gears.

Like other new McLarens, the 570S’s handing and powertrain can be cycled through three modes: “Normal, Sport and Track.” Or as my fiancée dubbed them: “Noisy, Silly and Terror.” While the “Normal” mode is slightly less harsh, the car forever and always demands your focus.

What’s Weak

The journey from standing next to the McLaren 570S Spider to sitting in the McLaren 570S Spider is long and fraught with hazards. The door is opened by a hidden button, then you have to duck your head from hitting it as your butt makes the voyage to the bucket of the seat.

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Once you’re installed in the cockpit, you’ll find the pedal box is so tight you’ll wonder once again if the car really was designed by aliens. Perhaps single-footed ones. I couldn’t drive the Mac for more than 30 minutes without developing an ankle cramp, which resulted in a little limp, which severely crimped my style while exiting the machine.

You’ll get over all that when you’re driving of course, because you feel like Batman behind the wheel, even in traffic, as people will be shouting things like “hey Batman!” (this did happen to me).

As far as performance, I feel like an idiot or an asshole complaining about a 562 HP car’s acceleration but honestly, this car does deliver a jarringly disappointing dose of turbo lag when taking off from low RPM.

If you keep the car at a rolling boil at low gear, you’re pretty much never wanting for power. But if you’re at a gentle cruise or a stop and decide you want to pass, stomp the throttle and... wait for it... wai–boom you’re off.

There’s a long enough beat that at one point I throttled up to make a pass, but had enough time to decide “never mind” without really picking up any speed after having the gas pedal all the way down. It’s part of what makes the 570S’s learning curve a little steep.

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Casual Driving 

The 570S’s interior materials are gorgeous, and visibility’s not bad. But the heavy steering, stiff suspension and tight interior do get old quickly once you’re done being enamored with the beauty you’re enveloped in with this car. If you caught that this is also part of what makes the car great... yes. Anyone who spends a lot of time in this car will form a complicated relationship with it.

It’s also easy to get uncomfortable attracting as much attention as the 570S does. It was quite impossible for me to cruise through an intersection or pass pedestrians without people taking the car’s picture, or yelling in my direction. Granted, most of the exclamations I heard were positive but being a miniature street celebrity gets exhausting.

If you can spend $200,000 on a car, it stands to reason that you might also be able to afford something a little easier to live with, like an E-Class or an Escalade, and I recommend you do that rather than plan on getting groceries or going to work every day in your McLaren if you want to keep your love life with this car alive.

Aggressive Driving

“A race car for the road” is a phrase that’s thrown around way too often, but since I’ve already commited to classifying the 570S as such, let me explain why it really does always feel like it’s just escaped from a track.

It’s all about the vehicle’s reaction to inputs. The throttle, steering and brakes can all react dramatically but you need to be forceful to make them work. The brake pedal has a lot of travel in it before it goes to its full bite, and the steering’s very heavy. Same goes for the gas pedal, which has to be prodded hard to really wake the car up.

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I guess if the brake were front-loaded to deliver a lot of its power early in the pedal’s travel (like Toyotas do, I’ve noticed) you would constantly be cracking your sternum on the seat belts.

I don’t mean to say this car is all pain-in-the-ass to drive, though. I mean, objectively, it is. But the fact that the vehicle makes you work is a positive, especially because it’s so freaking capable.

When you do get confident, and start demanding more of the machine, it feels alive in a whole new way. Like, holy hell this car can do anything kind of way.

Not only can the 570S deliver absurd speeds, but the sensation that you’re hauling ass is never masked. You feel every mile-per-hour you climb and when your top speed is 204, that’s a whole lot of sensory input to process.

Value

If you have $250,000 to spend on cars, I think you’d be nuts to buy just one. I’d probably buy several weirder things at smaller prices, until I run out of garage space.

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But I’m sure is clear to anyone who’s read this far into my review–the McLaren 570S is a rolling work of art that’s also unforgettably stimulating to drive. So if you really are in this bracket of disposable cash-havers, I’m guessing you don’t really care about what’s a “good deal” and are more concerned with what’s worth owning.

I doubt the 570S Spider will end up being a collector’s item, but it’s an amazing thing to spend time with. It has a rare combination of uniqueness, personality and performance. If a challenging-but-rewarding drive seems appealing, then what the hell, go lay out for one.

Verdict

The McLaren 570S Spider has plenty of millionaire playboy pretenses. Look at the wacky doors, removable roof, unique design. And hey, did I mention it’s got heated seats?

But after 300 hard miles in it, my takeaway about this car is that it’s a terrible choice for peacocking; occasionally peeling out and looking cool.

This is a driver’s car. No, really. It’s challenging to operate and extremely rewarding when it’s run hard. It’s also a pain at putter speeds, and potentially lethal if not afforded respect. Where some other expensive supercars seem more forgiving and cozy (including the more-powerful McLaren 720S, in my opinion) this thing is hard and responsive and requires constant attention.

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All that, wrapped up in McLaren’s spaceship design, really comes together to create an astounding automotive experience.

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