Is this a genuine supercar slayer for top-rank sports car money, and can it see off rivals from Porsche, Audi and Aston Martin in the process?

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Each time they get a little better. That’s our experience so far of the road cars from McLaren, a company born in its latest form in 2011 when it launched the clumsily titled MP4-12C.

It had some clumsy details, too, but because McLaren Automotive thinks, in some ways, like its Formula 1 division, it responds very quickly, and things have been getting better and better since.

The 12C soon followed the MP4-12C – faster turbo response, more power – and early MP4-12C customers received free upgrades to the 12C’s spec.

Headlights, taking their influence from the P1, are full LED units, but they are not adaptive — and there is no option to make them so

A convertible came next – barely heavier or less rigid than the coupé – then a second model series with the astonishing P1 hypercar, and then the 650S to sit above the 12C.

The 650S was meant to add a little more focus but, well, everybody just wanted a 650S and not a 12C, so McLaren reacted, again, and the 12C was dropped, again with existing owners getting some 650S juiciness plugged back in.

What came instead was a car to sit above the 650S, the limited-run 675LT, which feels more like a P1 than 650S in terms of speed.

It’s an extraordinary number of models to preside over in just five years, and each one is a little more compelling than the last.

And that brings us, more or less, to the 570S and McLaren model line number three: the Sports Series, sitting under the Super Series (650S, 675LT) and Ultimate Series (previously P1, now dormant).

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It’s an entry-level McLaren. Which means it’s an entry-level car with 562bhp, so when McLaren uses the term ‘sports’ rather than ‘super’, we’re talking degrees here. Rivals include the Porsche 911 Turbo and Audi R8, so there’s very little that’s un-super about the potential of the 570S.

The question is, though, does the 570S do what McLarens have conditioned us to expect of them over their first half a decade in production: improve?

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McLaren 570S rear

With undertones of the P1, more curviness than a 650S and slick new light detailing, the 570S is, to our eyes, not just a fine-looking car but the first regular McLaren not to suffer the ‘exactly which variant is it?’ double take that Super Series McLarens require.

The rounded, soap-barred corners make the 570S look more compact than the 650S, but it isn’t. It’s longer and taller (by whiskers) and about the same width. The changes run more deeply where you can’t see them than where you can.

There is nothing worse than ordering the 570S in silver or grey, but saying that McLaren Orange could accurately be named Sainsbury’s Orange

In essence, there are three major distinguishing factors between Super Series McLarens and this Sports Series car (and the hatchbacked 570GT that will follow it).

Instead of composite bodywork, the 570S has an aluminium shell. Instead of the clever linked hydraulic suspension system, the 570 gets regular anti-roll bars. And there are no active aerodynamics.

Otherwise, at face value, their construction is not so dissimilar. There’s a carbonfibre tub and a twin-turbocharged 3.8-litre V8 driving the rear wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox and no limited-slip differential.

But there’s rather more to it than that. The 570S’s tub has 80mm lower sills than a 650S’s, to aid entry and egress via the dihedral-opening doors that are fast becoming a McLaren trademark.

And although the engine retains a flat-plane crank, some 30% of its internals are different from the 650S’s, with changes aimed at giving this lower-powered car a sharper throttle response than you’d expect from a car that is twin-turbocharged.

Elsewhere, the 570S is a McLaren to the core. On its centre console, the Active Dynamics panel allows you to switch between drive modes that give the adaptive dampers firmer settings, and there are double wishbones all round, standard carbon-ceramic brakes and the retention of electrohydraulic rather than fully electric power steering.


McLaren 570S boot space

There have been times when the styling, spaciousness and quality of finish of past McLaren interiors seemed a smidgen less perfectly engineered than the unseen carbonfibre tub that housed them.

In all respects, the 570S’s cabin feels like a step forward. Its dashboard architecture is significantly different, introducing a new digital instrument cluster and centre stack console.

I like the gauge on the 570S that tells you how many days’ parking you’ll get before the battery gives out

The most notable alteration concerns that console: the ski-jump fixture of knobs and buttons has gone, leaving a new infotainment screen to ‘float’ above the transmission tunnel instead.

By severing the two, McLaren’s main aim – delivering a greater sense of roominess (without actually creating any) – has largely been accomplished.

There’s a less onerous sense of being sealed into a cockpit and clearly it’s now easier to reach the foremost cupholders.

Thanks to a redesign of the door cards, which lose an abundance of functions previously mounted on the grab handles, and the availability of a small load shelf behind the headrests, a more simple, smart and user-friendly space is made available.

It has not come at the cost of McLaren’s tech-savvy sophistication, either. The rotating dials for handling and powertrain settings remain the same, as does the Active button that engages it all. The pleasingly bespoke switchgear (the stalks, paddle shifters and so on) stay in place, too, and so do the dihedral doors, which never feel less than special – even if the entry to and egress from the form-fitting optional race seats over wide sills still has the potential for a lurching inelegance.

Elsewhere, for the most part, the 570S lives up to its asking price. Granted, some optional extras were required to create our test car’s environment – a plush swirl of leather, Alcantara and carbonfibre – but that won’t come as a shock to buyers familiar with the segment. The way McLaren puts it all together is fast becoming beyond reproach.

McLaren has taken it upon itself to build its own infotainment system — a tricky task, as evidenced by some early versions of its IRIS touchscreen.

Incremental improvements have been made and the 570S’s 7.0in display gives a more positive account of itself.

Nevertheless, perfect it is not. The sat-nav and DAB tuner remain frustratingly difficult to get to grips with — usually because of elemental mistakes that drastically reduce their intuitiveness.

These foibles, though, can be learnt. It’s the occasional complete lack of function that really grates. Not being able to receive any BBC digital station properly while sitting on the M25 is shameful.

Ditto the drop-out of Bluetooth connectivity we suffered and, at one point, losing the radio tuner completely.

McLaren insists that its standard four-speaker stereo system is the lightest it has fitted to a car, but it’s lightweight in sound, too.

An eight-speaker version is available, although we wouldn’t think twice before ticking the full-bore 12-speaker Bowers & Wilkins system that features a fully digital 14-channel, 1280W amp and sites one of its five aluminium Nautilus tweeters right atop the dash.


3.8-litre V8 McLaren 570S engine

In applying a supercar engine (albeit slightly detuned) and bona fide supercar construction to what’s technically the highest stratum of the sports car market, McLaren clearly set out to break rules and, by doing so, to explode the class pecking order on out-and-out pace with this car. It has emphatically succeeded.

Appreciation of that starts to form as early as your first dip beyond the mid-point of the accelerator pedal travel.

Carbon-ceramic brakes are short on feedback, but they stop the car time and again without fade

The twin-turbo V8 feels both relatively unstressed yet more highly developed than when we’ve sampled it before. It’s crisper in response to small throttle applications and still monumentally, rushingly, addictively potent in its wilder moments.

It could sound better, yes, but it could never be expected to punch harder.

Standing quarter-mile times provide a good yardstick here. The previous three hypercars we’ve figured (Bugatti Veyron Super Sport, McLaren P1, Porsche 918 Spyder) have all come tantalisingly close to going under 10.0sec over a standing quarter.

For a supercar, an even 11.0sec clocking (Ferrari F12, McLaren 650S) is where the mustard is cut. For a top-echelon sports car, a few tenths under 12.0sec (Mercedes-AMG GT S 11.7sec, Porsche 911 Turbo S 11.4sec) would have sufficed. But the debutant 570S smashes its way to an order-upsetting time of 11.0sec – significantly more urgent pace than its rivals and precisely the kind that exotics costing many tens of thousands of pounds more trade on.

That there remains a wee bit of turbo lag below about 3000rpm and an absence of the sort of theatrical aural character you get from a new Audi R8 or a GT are very minor black marks, but as part of an overall package this strong, they’re easily forgiven.

In the upper half of the car’s formidable 8000rpm rev range, there’s now remarkable speed and proportionality about the engine response – as well as plenty of drama and crescendo as the revs rise. The dual-clutch gearbox works brilliantly whichever mode you’ve got it in.

The standard carbon-ceramic brakes are powerful enough to easily haul in every bit of sudden velocity you might inadvertently accrue either on road and track.

The pedal needs a hard press to give of its best, though, and doesn’t impress as much with feel as with ultimate retardative urge. In the wet, the standard Pirelli P Zero Corsa tyres don’t provide them with abundant longitudinal grip with which to work, but regular P Zeros are a no-cost option.


McLaren 570S hard cornering

All makers of top-rank sports cars face a difficult challenge in perfecting a dynamic balancing act that is defined as much by the need to accommodate a much broader, more everyday sort of use than more expensive and rarefied cars get.

There’s a reason why car makers call this one the 911 Turbo class: because 911 Turbos are very popular and that’s how people use them.

Handling is finely adjustable on a trailing throttle if you carry enough pace through the corners

And yet McLaren’s challenge was even greater than that of most of its rival players for several reasons: how much less inherently suited to narrow B-roads, urban width restrictors and typical parking spaces that wide, mid-engined cars are than almost any other type you care to mention; how much more comfort and stability matter here than they have for any other model produced so far in the company’s new era; and because, this time around, McLaren’s engineers didn’t have fully active interlinked hydraulic suspension to work with but adaptive dampers and humble anti-roll bars.

In spite of all that, the 570S’s creators have done spectacularly well. The ride is flat, taut and cleverly damped but, in Normal handling mode on the Adaptive Dynamic panel, has a pleasing initial compliance that smothers small and medium-sized lumps and bumps on the road very effectively.

For the record, Sport mode should be reserved for billiard-table A-roads and Race for the track.

Some surface patter resonates from the wide rear tyres, through the suspension springs and rigid mountings and in via the tub, making the cabin a bit noisy at times, but it’s nothing beyond what plenty of cars in the class produce.

Although you’ll worry about the car’s width at first, you needn’t, because the steering makes it sublimely easy to place and brings extraordinary precision to the handling at road speeds that makes a narrow lane seem roomy.

On pace, weight, positivity and feedback, it’s utterly brilliant and without equal. It’s more alive to camber change and suspension deflection than other systems might be, but never enough to threaten high-speed stability.

Dry grip levels are huge – you won’t get close to exceeding them on the road – and the handling is incisive and poised. It’s never hyperactive or nervous, just always fluent, predictable, tactile and absorbing.

The standard carbon-ceramic brakes and Corsa tyres give the 570S searing pace and real staying power on track. The drive computer relays live tyre temperatures and pressures, letting you know when its rubber is in peak condition. And when it is, outright lateral grip is breathtaking, matched by perfect steady-state cornering balance and brilliant feel for all four contact patches through the wheel and seat.

McLaren’s ESC Dynamic mode for its stability control deserves praise, too. Seldom do you find software so cleverly tuned to allow enough adjustability of cornering attitude to be useful, but not so much as to slow you down or allow you to get into trouble.

Creditable initial throttle response at higher engine revs makes the limit handling more playful than we’ve found with some of its forebears, but it’s still not a car for exuberant tailslides.

The rush of boost and lack of a locking rear diff allow it to pitch into an unrecoverable slide quickly if you’re overzealous. Be judicious with the throttle, though, and more delicate slip angles are available.


McLaren 570S

The 570S’s price of £143,250 isn’t unprecedented in this class in 2016. The range-topping Audi R8 is close enough to be in touch and a like-for-like 911 Turbo S is slightly more ambitious.

The McLaren clearly needs to take up a place in the class’s critical vanguard to justify that price, but it stands ready to do that.

The nose lifter is essential, which makes it a shame it’s optional and doesn’t get a dedicated control stalk

The 570S should also be a good long-term bet. Our friends at CAP don’t offer residual value data on McLarens, but the classified ads show that prices for two-year-old examples of the 650S, with plenty of mileage, are holding up very well.

The 570S’s nose-mounted boot is a useful size and there’s a shelf for soft bags and coats behind the seats, so you could easily find room for a long weekend’s baggage for two.

You don’t really need all the carbonfibre accoutrements added to our test car; but they do look good, and when you start ticking, it may be hard to stop. We’d stick with the standard seats.

If you need more space, McLaren’s 570GT, due later this year, should offer it, And for those looking for better value, the upcoming £126,000 540C is a sure bet.

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Five star McLaren 570S

The 570S isn’t just another supercar slayer. Its job is to occupy purer and more exciting territory than rivals with front-mounted engines, occasional back seats, four driven wheels and the like – and it does that quite brilliantly.

But unlike other rivals, the 570S can do that job entirely without pummelling your backside, trying your patience or testing your concentration.

Supercar pace, poise and excitement without a £200k price. Exceptional

Its performance level is exceptional, without compromise to driveability. Its handling is equally outstanding: a special mix of track-ready purpose, with on-road compliance, precision and stability – and enriched by wonderful control feedback.

Great material quality, good infotainment features, decent carrying capacity and a fine touring range make it competitive on usability, too.

Six years into its new life, McLaren Automotive has launched the car with which to make its reputation, and it’s well worthy of an unqualified thumbs-up from us. Giving the 570S the edge of its nearest competition which includes the Porsche 911 Turbo S, BMW i8, Audi R8 V10 Plus and Aston Martin V12 Vantage S.

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Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

McLaren 570S 2015-2019 First drives