And yet when you’re setting out from, say, the Brecon Beacons to Castle Combe circuit at the end of a long day, it doesn’t take long to get slightly jealous of the guy in the McLaren – the guy who’s got metres of downy Alcantara to stroke, a voice-operated navigation system to follow, a cruise control to set and a DAB radio with which to tune into the traffic reports. In the real world, niceties like that matter.
As does material quality. Ferrari has never been brilliant at this; McLaren’s been good at it from day one, and is getting better. Which is why the worst, flimsiest fittings and switches on the 650S look and feel better than the best ones on the Speciale.
Read the McLaren 650S review
Despite its deficits to the McLaren on visual impact and static refinement, the Speciale undoubtedly makes you more excited to drive it. McLaren will work for decades to develop a brand that means half as much to people as Ferrari’s, and reputations built on cars as epic as 430 Scuderia, 599 GTO and 360 Challenge Stradale in recent years alone merit that initial priority.
More excited still as you begin to punt it around at low speed. Not that you ‘punt’ a Speciale. The steering is quite light but very direct and, relative to a standard Italia, benefits straight away from the incredible precision, response and contact patch feel that only a sticky set of Cup tyres can provide. Just guiding the car out of a motorway service station feels otherworldly. It's less like driving a family saloon than it is flying a helicopter.
With the Ferrari’s ‘manettino’ drive mode controller set to Race, the V8’s bark is at its loudest – which is loud, even bumbling along at 60mph in top. Two flicks of the left-hand paddle and a flex of your right foot brings a voice of righteous oblivion out of it. Response is instant, but the violence of the car’s performance needs revs and road space to build.
The Speciale is always quick, but only savagely so between 7000rpm and a deafening, sublimely excessively 9000rpm.
Meantime, life in the 650S is more effortless. It's less rousing but no less fast. McLaren’s new pistons and cylinder head for the Ricardo-built V8 haven’t made it any more of a virtuoso. The whistles and flutters of forced induction remain, audibly at least, like salt and pepper on supermarket sirloin. While the car growls and bellows at times, it never sings.
But it shifts. You need to contrive a problem for this engine to negotiate; you must go out of your way to put a hurdle in its path in order to find much turbo lag. Full throttle in manual mode in a very high gear and from very low revs will do it – but frankly, so what? In anything approaching normal use, the engine gives you excellent response, as well as the kind lower mid-range torque that has only very recently been invented in Emilia-Romagna.
The Macca’s urge isn’t served up quite as sharply as the Ferrari’s, but at pretty much any speed the 650S feels slightly more potent. Pulling hard from 3500rpm, its swell of thrust makes it feel much quicker.
So far, so even
If this test had been played out entirely on the road, it might have had a different winner. The Speciale’s grip and almost scary directness make it a thoroughly addictive treat for the thrill-seeker, with impressive civility at least in terms of rolling refinement. But the 650S feels like the bigger dynamic achievement – on the road.