If the most glaring criticism of a car is its name, chances are that’s one impressive car.
Such was the case of the exotic McLaren MP4-12C, a Ferrari fighter whose nameplate could double as a licence plate when it debuted in 2011. It soon officially became the 12C, which is much less of a mouthful, but somewhat less inspiring without its Formula One–derived nametag.
For model year 2015, McLaren’s mid-engine, carbon-fibre arrow is simply called the 650S, its name drawing inspiration from its towering 650 horsepower figure (641 hp in North American trim). Yes, that’s the same naming convention used by another Italian supercar rival, Lamborghini. No, the nascent British brand doesn’t seem to place as much forethought into its marketing as into its engineering brilliance.
Another example of this was the original plan to sell the hotter 650S alongside the 12C, the 650S adopting a face much closer to McLaren’s million-dollar-plus, 903-hp P1 plug-in hybrid hypercar. The 650S would therefore be a performance-plus model closer to a Ferrari Challenge/Stradale/Speciale-type competitor, but in a more refined package, without losing the carpets, sound deadening material and heavier but quieter rear glass, among other weight-limiting features that characterize those more aggressive Ferrari models.
But McLaren’s plans changed even quicker this time, the decision made within months after the first official 650S details were released in February 2014 to make the 650S coupe and Spider the volume models for the brand. In Canada specifically, there are now two McLaren dealers that sell the 650S, a new Vancouver store added in the summer, and a Toronto outlet not-too-subtly located in the same auto mall as Ferrari of Ontario.
This Pfaff family of dealers is perhaps best known for its long-time association with Porsche, and one of the advantages to McLaren buyers of this is that Pfaff dealers regularly book track days for its clients and occasionally potential clients. It was on one of these track days that I first drove the devastating-in-more-ways-than-one orange 650S Spider you see here, at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park’s newly expanded driver development track in Bowmanville, ON, before sampling another 650S droptop for a few days of street driving a few weeks later.
Just walking up to the 650S, it’s clear that it’s one of the premier head turners in the automotive world, its tallest point reaching a height of 1,199 mm, putting it just over three feet, eleven inches tall. This lands the bulk of the 650S’s mass right around most people’s calves, meaning you reach more down than out to reach the touchpad door handle, hidden under a ridge of the car’s gaping rear engine intake at about mid-thigh level. Opening those doors provides more visual drama, with a butterfly action that folds them up and out. McLaren calls these dihedral doors, which let the world know this is an exotic car that commands attention, but also makes careful parking or door opening necessary – getting squeezed in between two inconsiderate SUV drivers at the mall could conceivably strand you there for a while.
2015 McLaren 650S Spider, dashboard. Click image to enlarge
Perhaps McLaren wants to ensure the 650S only ends up in the roomiest valet parking spots, up where everyone can see it.
That calf-high carbon-fibre chassis weighs a minimal 75 kg, using an F1-derived process that forms what McLaren calls a MonoCell. This light yet incredibly stiff chassis presents a chunky sill to climb over after opening the door, yet a reasonably roomy interior. Closing those doors that moved up and out can be a challenge for the short-armed or non-flexible, but they offer unique individual climate control knobs. The infotainment screen in between the front seats is vertical and thin, unlike most interior screens, reinforcing its futuristic aura of advanced design and lightweight performance.