Mountain Wheels: Exploring the supercar world with McLaren’s speedy 570S Spider
Are you a wallflower, a stay-at-home type, even before the pandemic? Bashful, reserved, not flashy in any way? I would advise you to entirely avoid any ideas of owning or driving a McLaren, as a result. Continuing this year’s unlikely spree of over-the-top vehicles, I had the chance last week to spend 72 hours with a $233,780 McLaren 570S Spider, the most exotic vehicle I’ve ever had in my driveway.
The British-based McLaren company, with a long and revered history in the racing world, started building road cars in 2010, with global sales volumes of less than 5,000 vehicles per year.
That meant that the blazingly blue, incredibly low-slung, high-performance race machine I drove is still something of an extreme rarity on Colorado roads, though video-game-reared pre-teens could immediately name the car when I stopped at gas stations.
A vehicle like this summons a crowd, really easily. Its swing-up-to-open dihedral doors are just part of the shock-and-awe effect — and also require the driver and single passenger to skootch backwards over a carpeted hump and drop into the car like they’re scuba diving.
Everything about the McLaren is magnificent, foreign and fabulous, including a strange center console of control buttons, plus seat controls hidden under your right knee and a large, iPad-sized central control screen. Even better, the Spider is the convertible version, with a fully-powered two-piece roof panel that whirrs away into a set of cowls behind your head.
Looks are indeed transcendent, with the most aggressive aerodynamic bits possible — under-the-tail fins about as deep as a cereal box, designed to keep the car glued to the road and avoid an entirely plausible “Ferris Bueller” parking garage scene — plus rear wheels stretched almost to the non-existent rear bumper. Massive air channels run through the middle of those flip-up doors, feeding oxygen into the engine compartment.
Built almost entirely out of carbon fiber, the 570S Spider weighs in just a bit over 3,000 pounds. It’s powered by an all-aluminum 3.8-liter twin-turbocharged V-8 engine that generates 562 horsepower. That is delivered to unbelievably wide 20-inch P-Zero race tires through a seven-speed automatic transmission, with carbon-fiber shift paddles that offer Formula 1-styled precision, often literally knocking you back into your seat on shifts.
Absolutely terrified at first, I had to figure out what driving a supercar was actually like. And I discovered a curious juxtaposition at work. While the 570S Spider instantly and unceasingly becomes the center of attention, you can drive it in a number of different ways. The vehicle was designed to be the company’s most comfortable and “affordable” option for the brand, which features a range of higher-output, street-and-track-legal models plus $1.7 million track-only race cars like the 814-horsepower Senna GTR.
If you don’t mess with the 570S’s “Active” controls in the console — three stages of chassis/handling and performance/transmission response, plus the option to go full-manual on the paddle shifting — you can very easily tool around all day in the car, with benign rear-engine running noises that sound (at least from the cockpit) a bit like an old Volkswagen Karmann Ghia.
Under those circumstances, you’ll have to go deep into the gas pedal to make it do bad things, as it readily settles into sixth or seventh gear to save gas. Mess with the switches, however, and the McLaren absolutely and frighteningly comes to life. On my mountain drives, I rarely got it out of a screaming third gear, thwacking it down to second as I entered curves. And with the kind of microsecond gear shifts I’ve never ever experienced on all the paddle shifters in a decade’s worth of regular automobiles. This is the real thing.
You can see how inexperienced drivers end up on WreckedExotics.com in a vehicle such as this. With that boost freed up, the stats are absolutely staggering: the 570S Spider will do 0-60 in 3.1 seconds, and it can (I hear) reach a top speed of 204 mph. Braking is equally heroic, stopping from 60 in about 100 feet.
And the exhaust noise alone is magnificent, and menacing. Drop a couple of gears and floor it in a tunnel — which I did many times on a ride down U.S. 6 into Golden — and it makes those trumpeting, high-pitched Le Mans exhaust blurts 14-year-old boys dream about. It tied with the 6.5-liter V-12-powered Lamborghini Aventador at an ear-splitting 97 decibels, the 12th loudest vehicles on Car and Driver’s list. Your neighbors are going to notice when you come and go in the McLaren, as mine did.
Driving dynamics are subsequently unlike anything else you’ve probably ever experienced, with the rushing wind and engine vocals all the more enhanced by the Spider’s power-folding roof.
The cockpit is indeed 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 your 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. The rear glass, situated between the Batmobile-style cowls, can also be lowered; visibility is a little iffy to the right and back because of that layout.
So you instead hyper-focus on forward motion, gripping a small, flat-bottomed race wheel. Beyond sheer, unmitigated and possibly time-travel-inducing 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 a ridiculous set of paved switchbacks I took from Squaw Pass back down into Evergreen’s Bear Creek Road, the McLaren eased smoothly in and out of every transition. With the knobs all turned up, ride is also track quality, 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? There’s a hell of a lot of real aero here, including a deep splitter lip and massive air-sucking vents, all positioned about 6 inches off the ground, so luckily you can automatically raise the nose to clear curbs or speed humps, just barely.
The McLaren also turned in an improbable 16.5 mpg during my 250 miles of exploratory, mostly mountain canyon drives — highway mileage is rated as high as 23 mpg, which is quite surprising given the car’s monstrous velocity.
Andy Stonehouse’s column Mountain Wheels publishes Fridays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Greeley.
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