Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Don Cheng & Calvin Chan
Published: August 1, 2018
When designers go about chopping off the roof of their automobiles, sacrifices in various forms are inevitable. Be it the loss in structural rigidity, additional weight penalties, a decrease in drag coefficients, or the shrinkage of cargo space. So when McLaren boldy and rather audaciously claims that their 570S Spider offers no compromises versus the standard 570S Coupe, you can’t help but raise an eyebrow. That’s like your local barista telling you that adding whipped cream has no effect on the calorie count. Afterall, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
But the clever engineers at the Woking skunkworks may have just found a way to not only talk the talk, but walk the walk. The Spider was co-developed together with the Coupe, so being roofless was far from an afterthought. And the negligible loss in rigidity all boils down to the carbon fibre chassis, so stiff that McLaren says it's not weakened by the removal of the roof, and actually requires no additional bracing or reinforcement. That’s an insane proposition but after spending a few days with the 570S Spider, I’m inclined to agree.
McLaren is one of the few automakers that still names their vehicles based on its horsepower output. So in the case of the 570S, that flat-plane crank 3.8L twin-turbo V8 punches out 562 hp and 443 lb-ft through a 7-speed dual clutch transmission exclusively to the rear wheels. And while the 570S Spider assumes a 46 kg weight penalty over the coupe, it remarkably hits the same 0-100 km/h of 3.2 seconds with an identical top speed of 328 km/h with the roof closed.
Its astonishing propulsive capabilities are impressive but what really surprises me most about the 570S is how approachable the upper borders of performance are to drivers of all skill levels. It never intimidates with its prowess or status, and much of that confidence lies with the steering.
The 570S utilizes hydraulic steering, a rarity in this segment, and yes it adds a bit of weight but the feedback is just sublime. This is the real cornerstone of what makes these McLarens so definitively analog and chock-full of character. It’s like having a two-way telephone line with another sentient being. Run over a slight bump on the road and the wheel will tug in that direction. Floor the throttle from a standstill and your fingertips will actually feel the back wheels squirming about as those sticky Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires claw into the tarmac looking for traction.
With the wheel acting as a simple extension of your arm, the 570S sets the driver up to intimately fathom this magical chassis. Of course, it is pretty much impossible to fully exploit the limits of grip and acceleration on public roads without pushing the bounds of safety, but you get glimpses of it, slight flashes of true genius, a masterstroke of driver involvement and top-level dexterity. The 570S develops a smooth rhythm that is easy to get accustomed to, with slight turbo lag if caught sleeping in the low rpms, but a tidal wave of thrust that will launch you out of Earth’s gravitational grip. Good thing then, that the carbon ceramic brakes are equally as potent, though the pedals are overly stiff and nonlinear when cold. Add some heat and the brakes become easier to modulate.
Body control is exceptional, settling quickly after being disturbed and never taxing occupants inside that rigid carbon fibre shell. Chassis flex is non-existent - you could blindfold me and I would have thought this McLaren had a fixed top. Roof up or roof down, the 570S remains a friendly giant, boasting Herculean power yet it is exploitable, approachable, and to my amazement and dare I say it, rather comfortable too, adding to its real-world appeal and usability. I wouldn’t even call it Ford Focus RS or Honda Civic Type R levels of stiff. You could essentially drive this 570S casually without succumbing to an arthritic flare up, and the seats and sightlines out the front and rear aren’t bad either. I spent nearly two hours stuck in rush hour traffic on the Don Valley Parkway, and the only complaint I had by the end of my journey was my impending sunburn.
The exquisite balance of the 570S Spider reminds me of the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider, another spectacular mid-engine sports car with tactile steering, a potent powertrain, and a DCT. Now imagine that with double the horsepower and a intravenous injection of modern technology, and it will somewhat resemble this McLaren. It’s a sixth sense to be felt, not learned, and a stimulating yet endearing convertible that gets the heart racing and pupils constricting. It marries the old with the new so effectively that it defines the brand, and what they have grown and come to represent.
Perhaps the most attractive aspect of the 570S Spider and its retractable roof is having front row seats to the V8 symphony out back. Though McLaren’s stainless steel exhaust doesn’t hit the high notes like a Huracan’s V10, or the lion’s roar from a Ferrari’s V8, it emits a sonically pleasing soundtrack that one would definitively categorize as exotic. The notes sound mechanical and it’s got that racy howl - take the 570S Spider through a tunnel and you will get your money’s worth ($300,000 options in) in a melodramatic wave of legato anthem.
But up close in person, you would be hard pressed to tell that the 570S has a two-piece top, one that opens and closes in a speedy 15 seconds. I’m rather smitten by this masterful concealment of duality, and the 570S essentially offers two supercars for the price of one. Regardless of roof position, the 570S commands a stunning amount of road presence, an equal amount to any Ferrari or Lamborghini that I’ve driven. Those dihedral doors that swing upwards will surely attract some rubbernecking attention, and is a notable feature that you won’t find on the rivaling Ferrari 488 or Lamborghini Huracan. And while we’re on the topic of appearances, the Muriwai White paint shown in our photographs extravagantly shimmers and sparkles under the sunlight, coming off more as a light blue in person, but a sophisticated hue that instills some personality into its flashy demeanor.
The 570S cabin takes a more minimalistic approach, with a layout that blends function and form. You will find McLaren’s speedmark logo influenced into the panel shapes, including the optional Bowers and Wilkins speakers. Drivers are graced with an excellent seating position, nifty carbon fibre paddle shifters that exhibit a see-saw action with the opposing paddle when clicked, a thin yet clean-cut steering wheel without distracting buttons, and all the driver adjustment knobs within easy reach.
I did have a few minor gripes with the infotainment screen - it washes out when exposed to the sunlight, rather irritating in a convertible. The interface is friendly and sports a low learning curve, though the maps did lag on occasion and the lack of Bluetooth connectivity did render me slightly disappointed. Furthermore, if you put the car keys into the door’s side pockets, the car won’t even register or detect that the key is there, and will not start. The seat sensors are a tad over sensitive as well - I put my camera gear onto the passenger seat and the warning signs kept popping up telling me to buckle up the passenger seatbelt.
Lastly, the rear view camera only displays on the driver’s instrument gauges, not on the center display. That may sound helpful but the steering wheel spokes will constantly block your view as you rotate it, a similar problem we had in the Audi TT RS. In truth, these are all minor shortcomings that we expected, and most drivers will instantly forgive and forget them once their eardrums are showered with the ignition of the V8. If I didn’t write these thoughts down into my notebook, I possibly would have forgotten about them altogether.
The 570S Spider is no doubt a precision instrument, as sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, and the way it unleashes all 562 hp is nothing short of an automotive blitzkrieg. Sporting the ability to go topless without the sacrifices that normally come with it, is a unique trait that sets this theatrical McLaren apart from all other supercars. Nothing else quite triggers such a sensory synaptic overload. In a swift fifteen seconds, sunshine and symphony floods the cabin, and the 570S Spider with its analog steering, supple suspension, and intoxicating powertrain transcends space and time into the hierarchy of the greats.
Model: 2018 McLaren 570S Spider
Paint Type: Muriwai White
Base Price: $247,500
Price as Tested: $298,620
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,530 / 1,930 / 1,202
Engine: 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8
Horsepower: 562 hp @ 5,700 rpm
Torque: 443 lb-ft @ 5,000 - 6,500 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Mid engine, RWD
Tires: Pirelli P ZERO Corsa; Front 225/35R19; Rear 285/35R20