Many believe the breathtaking McLaren 650S is the supercar the 12C always should have been. It’s hard to disagree.
By Ghaith Madadha
With futuristic sci-fi looks and more viscerally engaging driving dynamics, the 650S was meant to bridge the gap between McLaren’s 12C supercar and its advanced P1 hybrid sibling. However, given similarities and customer preference, the 650S effectively replaced the 12C, while a smaller 570S sports car soon arrives to round off the high tech British brand’s extended model range.
The 650S is a luxury supercar with sublime precision, faultless agility, intuitive intimacy and—like its predecessor—fluently forgiving ride characteristics.
Best in bold bright colors, the 650S’ notable design departure from its more straight-laced predecessor is its theatrically swooping front-end. The new corporate face, which was first seen on the P1, features dramatically curved headlights and intakes, and resembles an upside-down McLaren logo. Thick scalloped wings serve as markers for front wheel position, while deep carbon fiber covered side gills feed air to the 650S’ twin-turbo mid-engine. Thin slatted rear lights and integrated dual exhausts are little altered, but the 650S’ carbon fiber rear bumper section and air diffuser project a more urgent posture. Additionally, several carbon fiber components, including a low-set air splitter, are used for weight reduction.
Mid-mounted for slightly rear-biased and low within-wheelbase weighting, the 650S’ twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter V8 engine features revised pistons, cylinder heads and valve timing, bigger intercoolers, and freer exhausts. With an additional 25 BHP and 57 lb/ft, the 650S develops 641 BHP at 7,250 rpm and 500 lb/ft torque at 6,000 rpm. Mid-range torque remains abundantly muscular, but has more peaky delivery. Virtually lag-free at low-end, the 650S pulls hard from 2,000 rpm and urgently rips through revs.
The 650S’ combination of ride refinement and handling precision is unique among peers, with light and stiff carbon-fiber and aluminum construction and adaptive hydraulic suspension. Its hydraulic suspension automatically softens for comfort and hardens for taut cornering, canceling the need—and weight—of anti-roll bars. It was nuanced, composed, and buttoned-down through roughly paved corners and even coped with rutted and unpaved roads approaching the UAE’s Jebel Jais hill climb. With razor-sharp turn-in, poised body control, tenaciously grippy and committed cornering, the 650S was dart-like and agile.
It is also refined inside and remains so at high speed, where it is tightly buttoned down. With revised aerodynamics, including front air splitter and automatically rising spoiler/airbrake, it develops 24 percent more down-force for improved steering precision and feel, while long slender mirror stalks promote better air flow. The sophisticated and perfectly weighted Alcantara-clad steering turns with tidy wrist-flick movements. Textured and detailed feel through corners, its steering nevertheless offers reassuring high speed directional stability. Standard carbon ceramic brakes are highly and tirelessly effective.
The 650S’ cabin is superbly ergonomic for larger drivers, with fine leathers, suede roof-liner, real metals, and carbon-fiber trim. Entering through up/out swinging doors, its cabin provides excellent front visibility, seating adjustability, and alert driving position. Adjustable gearbox and suspension controls are situated below the vertical infotainment screen and narrow floating carbon-fiber center console, designed for improved seat width. Three suspension settings are available, ranging from supple to hard-edged. The median sport mode is best for brisk road driving. Successively edgier throttle and 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox response settings provide visceral exhaust popping in sport mode, and added shove in track mode when up-shifting.
Engine: 3.8-liter, mid-mounted, dry sump, twin turbo V8-cylinders
Gearbox: 7 speed dual-clutch automated, RWD
Power, BHP (PS) [kW]: 641 (650)  @7250 rpm
Torque, lb/ft (Nm): 500 (678) @6000 rpm
Torque-to-weight: 509.8 Nm/ton
0-100 km/h: 3 seconds
Top speed: 333 km/h
Fuel consumption: 11.7l/100 km
Construction: Carbon-fiber monocell, aluminum frames
Height: 1199 mm
Width: 2093 mm
Length: 4512 mm
Steering: Power assisted rack and pinion, 2.66 turns
Brakes, F/R: Carbon ceramic discs, 394/380 mm, 6-/4 pistons calipers
Tires, F/R: 235/35R19 / 305/30R20