The latest addition to McLaren's line-up may be based on the 12C, but this is a whole new ball-game

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Arguably, the McLaren 650S is car the 12C always should have been. And even if that’s being a touch harsh on the mostly excellent 12C, in certain respects there can be little doubt that the 650S is the car McLaren could have built initially, had it given itself a little more time in which to do so.

In simpler terms, and on the other hand, the 650S is actually just a logical progression beyond what the 12C achieved since its creation in 2011.

In Track mode, the McLaren 650S feels not unlike a racing car

At its core it contains the same carbonfibre tub, the same 3.8-litre twin turbo V8 engine, and the same seven-speed dual clutch auto gearbox as the 12C. Despite sharing its fundamentals with the 12C, though, over 25 percent of the 650S is brand new, according to McLaren. So even if it is little more than a pumped-up 12C at heart with a new nose to give it more visual distinction, the 650S is genuinely a big leap forwards for McLaren.

In coupé form the 650S costs £195,000, while the Spider version will set you back an additional £20,000 for starters. For that you get a power increase from 617bhp to 641bhp (or 650PS, hence the name). Torque also rises to 500 lb ft, over 90 percent of which is developed from 3000rpm onwards.

The gearbox has also been tweaked to produce even snappier shifts than before, and the car's responses have been altered subtly within the three different drive modes - Normal, Sport and Track - to further increase the driver appeal.

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More modifications have been applied to both the soft and hardware of the suspension to sharpen the handling, but at the same time that spookily smooth ride quality that so distinguishes the hydraulically controlled 12C hasn't been compromised in any way.

Instead the car simply feels crisper in its most aggressive setting and even more soothing in its most relaxed modes, says McLaren, providing it with a far broader dynamic repertoire than a 12C.

Outwardly it doesn't take long to pick the 650S out beside a 12C. The new nose treatment has more than a whiff of P1 about it and will, says McLaren, form a key part of the company's design ethos from now on.

You'd have a harder job to spot the differences from the rear mind; apart from a mildly redesigned diffuser and a couple of small new fillets of carbonfibre around the taillights, the 650S looks all but identical to a 12C from behind.

Inside there are several new features that distinguish the 650S; Alcantara becomes the standard trim material, the infotainment centre takes its cues from the P1 and is much more intuitive to use as a result, and if you specify the new carbonfibre sports seats - which cost £5000 (ouch) but are fabulous to sit in - you also shave a not insignificant 15kg from the car's already meagre 1330kg dry weight.

Everything is symmetrically created, so not is neat and tidy to look out, everything is also logically clustered together, which McLaren claims will minimising the time you waste learning where each function is. The portrait infotainment system is much improved over the 12C's with the sat nav far easier to use, although refresh rates are still an issue. Immediately below is the Adaptive Dynamics Panel where you can finetune to the 650S to best suit your driving characteristics.

Carbonfibre ceramic brake discs become standard fitments, as do Pirelli P-Zero Corsa tyres and LED headlights.

When all is said and done with the 650S, performance is what this car is chiefly about. Yes it looks better with its new nose, and yes it's easier to interact with once you have climbed inside but the key thing about the 650S is the way it drives; the way it goes; the immediacy with which it steers, the way it stops and the way it goes around corners. And in all of these areas the 650S is actually quite shocking to begin with in the way it does everything so much better than the 12C.

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Its performance doesn't sound that much more potent on paper, not to begin with at any rate; the 0-60mph time has dropped from 3.2sec to 3.0sec while the 0-100mph time has fallen from 6.2sec to 5.7sec.

But when you examine those numbers more closely, especially the zero to 100mph time, you do at least get some idea as to how explosively fast the 650S now feels - because 5.7sec to 100mph is, by any standards and at any price point, ridiculously rapid, bearing in mind that the 650S is rear-wheel drive.

What's so impressive about the 650S, though, is that it backs its titanic new levels of performance with such a mighty set of brakes and such a well rounded set of responses from its steering, gearbox and suspension that it never feels like it has too much poke for its own good. However fast it can go, it can stop, steer, and change gear every bit as well.

And they've got the brake pedal feel just right this time, too, even under light application, which isn't always the case with carbon ceramic rotors in situ.

And best of all is what happens when you scroll up through the car's three different drive modes - Normal, Sport and Track. You can sense the deeper effects of swapping between modes straight away; in Normal the 650S has a genuinely calm quality to its damping and ride in general.

In Sport mode it feels properly switched on; in Track it feels not a lot unlike a racing car in the way it responds, although you do need to get some heat into its front tyres before the turn in lights up – because with the front Corsas stone cold, the 650S does understeer a touch too much.

When we drove the 650S, however, we found the Spider to be the more engaging drive than the coupé. The good news, though, is that whether you opt for the coupé or the Spider there’s no difference in lap times or performance. That’s a commendable achievement for McLaren, and something which isn’t always the case with European rivals.

If you’re in the market for a £200k supercar then it’s hard to think of anything that delivers better value than a 650S, other than its limited run sibling the 675LT - and that is at a push. When you've sampled what this car can do on road and track just once, you will want to come back for more, time and again, because the driving experience it offers is that rich, and that much more intense than it was in the 12C, which is saying something.

But that's how mighty its achievements are, and how frightened by it Ferrari should be.

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