Driven in SA: McLaren's beastly 650S

SEAN PARKER
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 DARK KNIGHT: The McLaren 650S depicts an imposing figure, its 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 makes sure brutal acceleration is a prerequisite. Image: Sean Parker ~ Supplied

CAPE TOWN - I went to bed on Tuesday (July 21 2015) and couldn’t contain my excitement knowing I’d be piloting my first supercar the next morning. My excitement was palpable.

The beast I’d be driving? McLaren's monstrous 650S.

McLaren announced that all 500 of its 675LT ('Long tail' versions) were sold out. I headed out to collect another variant in the McLaren stable - the 650S. It has less power and is slightly shorter and thankfully, isn’t sold out.

HEAD-TURNER

It has a dark paint job and uses a lightweight carbon-fibred monocell (tub) with aluminium at the front and rear for a dry weight of 1370kg.

The 650S has all the hallmarks of a modern supercar; turbocharging, carbon-fibred tub, dual-clutch gearbox and active aerodynamics. And that’s what sets McLaren apart from its rivals (Ferrari, Lamborghini and Aston Martin).

WATCH: McLaren 650S start up

Starting the @mclaren_sa #650S is special. Enjoy.

A video posted by Sean Parker (@sean_parker23) on

The automaker is first and foremost a technology company. It sells Formula 1 tech to a several teams in the sport. McLaren is also a producer of ruthlessly quick supercars.

Remember the analog McLaren F1? Arguably one of the greatest supercars, with its BMW 6.1-litre V12 producing a mammoth 468kW/651Nm, a six-speed manual ‘box and centrally-positioned driving seat. 

THE CAR

Seats are borrowed from the P1 hybrid hypercar and its seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox a product of F1 technology. McLaren is pedantic about weight-reduction that 650S owners can only use manual seating adjustments (with a fixed back) with the seats moulded around the sinewy frame of McLaren F1 driver Jenson Button.

Its rear-engined layout lends itself to quicker lap times and better downforce but the star of the show is undoubtedly its 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8.

BLISTERING PACE

After working my way through the rather uncomplicated menu via a stalk on the left side of the carbon-fibred steering wheel I checked if the tyre temperatures were at around 35 degrees which made it optimal to engage fast accelerating.

There are generally two reactions when traveling at a high-speed: laughing or screaming (with a bit of swearing thrown in).

Watch South Africans guess the price of the new 650S

The gearbox is a seven-speed dual clutch unit, but as Jonathan Hugo of McLaren SA explained, McLaren is always improving its cars for owners.

It’s essentially a road-legal race car. It’s shod with Pirelli P Zero Corsa tyres, measuring 253/35 R 19 for the front and 305/20 R20 for the rear!

Alcantara and carbon fibre. That's all. #McLaren #650S

A photo posted by Sean Parker (@sean_parker23) on

THE REACTION

Driving a supercar in Cape Town is like watching Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi battle each other on a public field - it's bound to draw attention.

The McLaren perhaps does not have the drama of a Ferrari 488 nor the presence of a  Lamborghini Huracan. That being said, the 650S sports a low profile, with huge air-intakes capable of swallow the city’s feral cats and produces a grin-inducing soundtrack.

Watching a group of schoolboys on a bus using MMA moves to get a glimpse of the 650S was hysterical though I'd probably do the same thing in their position. Their faces lit-up like they had just met AB de Villiers! It was glorious to see their reactions to a car they probably couldn’t name.

Stops at the University of Cape Town and a petrol station, evoked stares and conversations  ranging from: "Wow, what a nice ride", "Is that your car?" to "Is that the batmobile?"

WATCH: Walk around of the McLaren 650S

ALL GOOD THINGS COME TO AN END

The final few moments with the 650S were spent riding through Cape Town's CBD. It might look scary and impossible to drive in a city but in reality it's quite capable. The only gripe I had was that there's no dignified way to enter/exit the vehicle. Once cocooned in the cabin of alcantara and carbon-fibre you'll find yourself making up excuse to stay inside. I loved the driving position and found the suspension adequate when driven in "normal" mode.

While having my last 'pootle' between buildings, watching faces and camera-phones lit-up in unison, it dawned on me that McLaren’s reputation of building a serious car was completely untrue.

The notion of a supercar is something that pushes boundaries of driving performance and technology, boxes which the 650S ticks. It also has the wow factor and sometimes THAT supersedes the driving experience. Bravo McLaren, bravo!