Standing in the courtyard of the hotel in Málaga, Spain, leaning against the fastest car I’ve ever driven, I glance over at my co-pilot.
Slightly out of breath, he looks hypnotized by the orange supercar sitting before us. His eyes slowly wander from the car and onto my face.
“Was I really going 275 kilometers per hour?” he asks.
“It was actually 273 … but who’s counting?” I reply with a chuckle.
“You could’ve slowed me down,” he says. “We could’ve been arrested. Then again, that would’ve been such good press for both of us. We would’ve looked so cool …”
“I know, Patrick, I know.” I reply, with a slow nod, tapping on carbon fiber wing.
As an automotive journalist, wild adventures in far-off places are commonplace for me. Except this one is different.
Today my driving partner is renowned actor Sir Patrick Stewart and the car that left us speechless is the 2015 McLaren 650S.
Before we climb behind the wheel with Sir Stewart, let me tell you a bit about McLaren’s latest supercar.
“Better than the 12C,” said the McLaren representative during our briefing.
That’s hard to imagine, considering that just three years ago McLaren Automotive relaunched itself into the world of street-legal supercars. Although it hadn’t launched a car in 19 years, the brand was immediately accepted amongst the likes of Lamborghini, Aston Martin, and Ferrari.
However, the folks at McLaren didn’t accept a one-hit wonder and call it a day, as they had with the F1. Instead, they sought to calibrate and recalibrate the tuning on the MP4-12C.
Accordingly, they’ll tell you that the 2014 and 2011 models drive completely differently, all thanks to software adjustments. And the best part? Owners of early models need only visit the dealer to have their cars modernized with a quick update to the ECU.
McLaren is a brand focused on space-aged technology – speed through science – above all else, and it shows.
At its core, the 650S borrows nearly 70 percent of its components from the 12C, and the rest comes from lessons learned in developing McLaren’s P1 hypercar.
From a visual standpoint, the nose of the 650 is shared with the P1, while the rest of the car is mostly 12C. The twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter V8 engine has been tuned up to 641 horsepower (650 PS, hence its name), and 500 pound-feet of torque. The suspension has been stiffened. The sport and track modes adjusted. And the aero work produces more downforce, front and rear.
Hell, it’ll even crack 60 mph in just 2.9 seconds.
Equal parts road and track
Our hotel overlooked the Mediterranean, about an hour and a half from Ascari Race Resort in Ronda. The drive to and around the track zigzagged upward into the mountains, into the rolling farmlands of Andalusia.
After a quick breakfast on the terrace, I walked out to the courtyard to meet my Tarocco Orange 650S.
The doors get you, every time. They don’t open directly forward like a Ferrari, or upward like a Mercedes SLS, but rather like an open-armed sun salutation in yoga – stretching up and out to welcome the day. Open both and take a photo; it’s dramatic from every angle.
Swing open the doors and pop inside and you’ll find a customizable cabin. You can have the interior in nearly any color you’d like, with choices between the sportier Alcantara finish with carbon fiber sport seats sourced from the P1 or leather seats that feel little more relaxed and significantly more luxurious.
For the driving we’d do on this trip, I preferred the sports seats. However, the car feels more upscale with the full leather dash. Ladies in skirts will prefer entry and exit with the width of the traditional – and adjustable – bucket seats.
A word to the wise: You may want to build your car according to how you’ll spend most of the time in your 650S. But, the car is more comfortable for long hauls than the comparable 458 Italia, regardless of your seating preference, so there’s no way to lose.
Where there isn’t Alcantara or leather on the interior, you’ll only find carbon fiber – and plenty of it. The car is made almost entirely of the lightweight woven element, with exception to a bit of magnesium behind the dash and the aluminum extrusions that mount the front and rear bumpers.
Sitting in the 650S feels like sitting in something from the future, as if we’ve utilized some alien technology to build a rocket with tires. Even the infotainment system’s interface looks like it was pulled right out of Tron, with its portrait orientation and simple black and white screens. It’s gorgeous, it’s responsive, and it’s easy to use. The only downside is that you can’t skip audio tracks unless you’re using the media screen, which requires backing out of the phone and navigation features first.
On the Ascari track, Euan Hankey – one of McLaren’s factory GT drivers – guided me through the Normal, Sport and Track modes, pushing me harder and harder with each lap.
We sped through each of Ascari’s three loops, faster and faster with each consecutive lap. I was blown away by the car’s traction and power delivery. Honestly, there was no way that I could push the car to the edge of its limits; the 650S is built to appease even a professional racer.
Pumped full of adrenaline and eager for more, I asked Euan to show me what the car could really do with a racer behind the wheel. I’ll freely admit that he’s the first driver to ever legitimately scare me. Between the 650S’ mind-boggling handing and his tremendous driving, I walked away a little shaky, but completely impressed.
Until this day, my personal favorite car has been the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black, an exotic muscle car with a completely different kind of personality, but similar levels of power and performance. Even other cars, like the Nissan GT-R and Lexus LFA have absolutely dazzled me, but my time in the McLaren casts a long shadow over each of these cars.
Maybe it’s the novelty of a brand many people don’t know. Maybe it’s the glove-like fit of the cabin. Maybe it’s just the doors. Either way, a dozen laps around Ascari with a professional racer have changed my tune, and I’m not sure what I could possibly drive – save maybe the P1 – that I’d enjoy even more.
Crème de la Crème
The next morning, after a full nights’ rest full of track-day dreams, I went down to the hotel café for breakfast in the garden.
As I settled in and sipped my cappuccino in silence, I glanced around the patio. As I surveyed the place and the other patrons, I suddenly did a double take.
Sitting at the adjacent table was Sir Patrick Stewart, captain of the Enterprise, leader of the X-Men, and my childhood hero.
Maybe I’m the obnoxious American that Europeans curse. But I don’t really care. But without hesitation, I walked over to Sir Stewart’s table, squatted down next to him and asked the question that no one can refuse: “How would you feel about taking a spin in a McLaren?”
Eyebrows rise. A smile is cracked. Waivers are signed. A friend made.
I told Sir Patrick that I would take us out of the town we were staying in, to warm up the engine. Then the keys were his to bring us home again.
As I sped through the Spanish countryside, we talked about the McLaren’s active aerodynamics system, which functions as an air brake when you slow down quickly enough. We talked about his adventures with Stirling Moss and Jeremy Clarkson, too.
Eventually, I pulled off to swap seats. That’s when I realized that Sir Patrick’s story about “only liking to drive up to a certain speed … a comfortable one,” and his long list of driving practice didn’t necessarily sync.
Sir Patrick is more adept behind the wheel than he lead on. In fact, he took us all the way to 170 mph – through a tunnel – before lifting off the accelerator. There’s a warp speed joke in there somewhere, but I’ll let it rest.
We could’ve been killed. We could’ve been arrested. Instead, we were left rolling in laughter and excitement.
We returned back to the hotel and took a selfie in the main drive, which he tweeted out to his followers. That gave the folks at McLaren the chance to tell him everything that I hadn’t already, as well as plan a visit to the factory to see where the magic happens in Woking, England.
The 2015 McLaren 650S is priced from $265,000, just north of the MP4-12C it replaces. It’s an aesthetic masterpiece, and a brilliant work of machinery and science-fiction/fact, absolutely worthy of its position in the realm of supercars.
Better, though, is that while it may offer similar levels of thrill found by some of its competitors, it does so more comfortably than most. Ipso facto, it’s one of the best ultra-performance daily drivers available on the market today.
It’s fast – very fast – with a top speed of 207 mph, and that’s not even the fastest car McLaren builds.