McLaren’s lightweight, hyper-powerful 570S Spider brings supercar prowess to an almost-affordable price point. And turns heads at the same time.
By Andy Stonehouse
What do you do when all of your automotive dreams come true? A gleaming blue, hyper-futuristic McLaren sports car, 20 times as exotic as any run-of-the-mill Corvette or Porsche, materialized for a 72-hour period this summer, with no one to oversee my travels. And as someone who does not normally (i.e., ever) drive supercars, I discovered a fabulous juxtaposition at work with this very, very special British two-seater.
The 2020 570S Spider, a low-slung, mid-engined speed machine with a carbon fiber-chassis, upward-opening doors, a convertible roof and a twin-turbo V-8 engine making Formula One exhaust noises, does indeed become the instant center of attention anywhere it is driven, or even parked. Jaws drop, heads spin around, and everyone in the neighborhood is suddenly on alert, as if the actual Batmobile has rolled into their cul-de-sac.
McLaren’s carbon fiber subframe adds lightweight rigidity to this potent supercar, and shows up as a carpeted column you need to slide over to enter the car.
The funny thing is that you can get in and drive it in an almost normal fashion, because it still has a steering wheel, turn signals, and a brake pedal. It does not hover, travel through time, or transform into a robot, despite its otherworldly looks. I was frankly too terrified at first to do anything stupid, having examined its window sticker price.
But very quickly, you can learn the function of all of the active chassis and performance controls, master the use of behind-the-wheel carbon fiber shift paddles and determine how much of a public menace you’d like (or can afford) to be. Then, it really, really goes, threatening to leap into the air at full throttle, making sounds that are probably illegal in many Front Range cities.
The Spider is one of seven members of the McLaren Automotive division’s Sport Series, the 570 hardtop, convertible and GT versions constituting the “entry level” offerings for prospective supercar buyers. For a mere $208,800 base price, ambitious enthusiasts get a track-worthy vehicle with a 3.8-liter engine putting out 562 horsepower. (My test vehicle was priced at $233,780, which included upgrades such as extra-custom wheels, a power-lifting nose for clearing speed bumps and extra carbon fiber cockpit trim.)
That horsepower figure is an impressive number that’s been somewhat eclipsed by an industry full of ridiculously overpowered SUVs and muscle cars. However, given that the 570S Spider weighs 2,895 pounds empty, it will also scream from full stop to 60 MPH in 3.1 seconds, and reach 124 MPH in just 9.6 seconds. Top speed is 204 blistering MPH, and you can apparently travel at up to 196 MPH with the roof down.
It corners with such unbelievable ferocity that you feel like the fillings are going to get sucked out of your teeth, and its acceleration is more like a Space Shuttle takeoff than anything you’ve experienced in a regular car. And, with carbon-ceramic brakes, it will stop from 60 MPH in just 100 feet, further loosening that dental work. Remarkably, it’s rated for 16 MPG in the city and 23 on the highway.
Different vehicles for different lifestyles: the 570S Spider plays nice with other Colorado road machines at the Rocky Flats Bar and Grill, on Hwy. 93 between Boulder and Golden.
All these terrifying statistics set the stage for what was a remarkably entertaining and, for the most part, safe weekend experience with the most exotic vehicle I’ve ever driven. I was limited to 250 miles on my weekend test drive, so I had to maximize the McLaren’s curve-focused travels in the foothill canyons near Morrison, Golden and Nederland, plus trips up to the still-closed Mt. Evans Road gate and down into Idaho Springs, early in the morning, to avoid traffic. And unlike my drives in other, more traditional high-end vehicles, motorists on Coal Creek Canyon’s wildly winding roads kindly pulled off to the shoulder when the McLaren appeared in their rear-view mirror; that alone was part of the miracle.
So what exactly is a McLaren? While even pre-teens along my drive knew the car by name and model – I guess that’s what happens when you play a lot of video games – others may better recognize the company from its long and revered history in the racing world, particularly Formula One champions including Niki Lauda, Ayrton Senna and current team driver Lando Norris.
Namesake Bruce McLaren was the legendary New Zealand-born racing and race car design hero of the 1960s, who sadly died in a crash in 1970. The company he founded, based in the outer-London area community of Woking – home of the Spice Girls – concentrated on racing, and only ventured into hand-built road cars in 2010. Even now, global sales volumes are less than 5,000 vehicles per year. Hence this 570S Spider’s rarity, making it literally more exotic than Ferrari or Lamborghini.
A street-legal McLaren summons a crowd, really easily. Its swing-up-and-out-to-open dihedral doors are just part of the shock-and-awe effect – and also require the driver and your passenger to awkwardly skootch backwards over a large, carpeted hump of carbon-fiber body frame and drop into the car like they’re scuba diving.
The 570S’s looks are transcendent, incorporating the most aggressive aerodynamic treatments possible – under-the-tail fins about the size of a cereal box, designed to keep the car glued to the road at extreme speeds, which is pretty important with all this power. You get unbelievably wide 19- and 20-inch Pirelli P-Zero race tires, the rear set parked almost literally under the practically non-existent rear bumper and its minimalist-LED-outlined brake lamps, set in giant ovals. Massive air channels run through the middle of those flip-up doors, feeding oxygen into the engine compartment. It’s so high-tech, you can’t even access the heavily thermally insulated engine bay, except through a small gate on top for adding oil, or plutonium.
The McLaren’s hyper-sleek interior minimizes controls and puts the emphasis on driving focus, with fast-acting shift paddles located behind the wheel.
Perhaps you have toyed around with what the Top Gear guys called “flappy paddles” as shifters on late-model vehicles, but here, they’re the actual real thing from the racing world – built on a single bar behind the wheel, articulating like a see-saw on shifts. The Seamless Shift Gearbox is seven speeds and delivers gear changes with microsecond precision, and so much force on high-intensity takeoffs that you will literally be knocked back in your seat. On my mountain drives, I rarely got it out of a screaming third gear, deliriously thwacking it down to second as I entered curves.
The exhaust noise is magnificent and menacing. Drop a couple of gears and floor it in a tunnel – which I did many times on a joyride down U.S. 6 into Golden – and it makes those trumpeting, high-pitched Le Mans exhaust blurts that 14-year-old boys dream about. An optional sport exhaust system includes a pipe near the cabin that makes it even louder inside, if you need that.
Driving dynamics are commensurate with supercar lore, with the rushing wind and engine vocals all the more accentuated by the open air and Spider’s power-folding roof. The cockpit is very snug – a 6-foot-2 friend tried the passenger seat in a parking lot and ended up with his knees over the dash – and even the foot space tapers into a tiny box, so wear your driving shoes and be glad there’s no clutch.
Given the unbelievably low seating position and the width and shape of the vehicle, whose tail seems about as tall as the window frame, it’s helpful to have those super-extended race mirrors. The 570S Spider is only 47 inches high and 82.5 inches wide (a Chevy Suburban is 75.7 inches high, by comparison), and visibility is a little iffy to the right and back because of its layout.
So you instead hyperfocus on forward motion, gripping that small, flat-bottomed race wheel. Beyond sheer, unmitigated acceleration – a simple pass puts you into triple digits way, way too easily – the 570S is simply remarkable for its handling. Corners become fluid, blissful bends, and even on the ridiculously curvy switchbacks on Witter Gulch Road, a shortcut from Squaw Pass back down into Evergreen’s Bear Creek Road, the McLaren eased smoothly in and out of every transition, practically glued to the road. With the knobs all turned up, the ride is also jarringly trackworthy, so be careful on bumps and ruts, as you’ll totally feel them.
And how do you deal with a nose that drops down into infinity, like the view from a jet fighter cockpit? Be very careful parking. There’s a hell of a lot of oversized, very active aero here, including a deep splitter lip and massive air-sucking vents, all positioned about six inches off the ground, so luckily you can automatically raise the nose to clear low curbs or speed humps, just barely.
There is a modicum of real-world flexibility because it has a relatively large trunk up front under the nose, and the race-car-inspired seating is comfortable enough for a full day on the road. Fearing the crowd-gathering effect, I did not drive it to King Soopers for groceries, but it sure impressed the neighbors. And I breathed a sad sigh of relief when they came and took it away. You have to be quite the extrovert to pilot a McLaren; I felt a little more like the George Clooney version of Batman, and you need to go full Adam West-style to get the most out of this car.
Wide and very, very low to the ground, the 570S Spider features active aerodynamic fins and vents to keep the car glued to the road.
Andy Stonehouse is a Lakewood-based freelance writer and part-time English teacher at Front Range Community College in Westminster. He is an enthusiastic skier and car fanatic who has written for Ski Magazine, the Boulder Daily Camera and is an automotive columnist for the Summit Daily News.