What is it?
McLaren’s road car company has been producing sport, super and hypercars at a prolific rate since it began with the somewhat inelegantly-named MP4-12C back in 2011. This 570S Spider represents the roadster version of the "entry-level" model in South Africa and the 570S is said to make up part of McLaren’s Sport range, which the Woking-based marque reckons means the car "is suited for everyday use as opposed to a weekends-only supercar".
The name 570S comes from the power output of its engine, which is tuned to deliver 562 hp or 570 PS. That’s 419 in kilowatt speak.
The Spider version uses a retractable hardtop roof that can be raised and lowered at below 40 kph. What’s interesting is that the assembly adds only 45 kg to the weight of the car and has no effect on rigidity... McLaren’s carbon fibre tub is designed like that of an F1 car, so it doesn’t require a fixed roof to stop the chassis from flexing.
The 570S Spider continues to use the same 3.8-litre V8 twin-turbo unit across all its models (albeit in very different states of tune) and is mid-mounted behind the cockpit.
How does it fare in terms of…
It's not that McLaren doesn't care how its cars look, but the brand's primary aim is to instil driving appeal and deliver an overload to the senses with its road cars. Still, if you’re spending R5m (approximately how much the Spider costs) then you probably want it to pull a crowd in a parking lot or turn heads as you drive through town...
The 570S Spider with its roof down has classic supercar looks. It’s not overdone with aerodynamic winglets and panels, it doesn’t even have the active rear wing anymore, just a solid lip at the rear to add a bit of rear traction. The sheet metal is smooth, rather than creased and jagged. The only elements that detract from the sinuous design are the front side fenders that stab inwards like a crab’s pincers, it’s a little odd and much more pronounced than they were on the 12C...
Nevertheless, in this striking blue hue the 570S is a selfie station for passers-by; several road users whipped out their smartphones to get a blurry pic of the "baby Mac".
We thought it best to head out to some of the Western Cape’s serpentine roads that sweep through the Winelands and flatten a selection of mountain passes with the Spider to assess what the average McLaren user’s driving experience would be like. The 570S may be the entry point to the McLaren nameplate, but nothing prepares you for just how intense 419 kW, 600 Nm and 0-100 kph in 3.2 seconds feel when out on the road with the roof down. The lightweight structure of the McLaren makes the test unit feel altogether different to mass-produced Audi R8s and Mercedes-AMG GTs. There’s no flex in the chassis; it doesn’t move around like an aluminium-steel car.
The experience becomes more direct, responsive and eye-widening as the revs climb. The farm roads outside Durbanville (where the roads are imprinted by a swell of truck traffic) upset the stiff chassis of the McLaren. As it moves up and down with the bumps in the road it has a tendency to track into the road’s impressions and give a slight tug on the steering wheel. You have to have your wits about you on those sorts of roads, especially at speed, where lots of steering corrections are required.
When we drove the Spider with zeal on better-surfaced roads, the baby McLaren opened a gateway to a whole new world of driving wonderment. With the instrument panel showing green lights for engine temp, gearbox temp and (most importantly) tyre temp you can start to test the waters of what the 570S has to offer. You can start to adjust the drive- and traction control settings or work your way up to maximum power and DSC in track mode as much as your bravery and driving skills allow.
The front end can feel light on turn in as there’s no weight from an engine to push it down, but once the tyres warm up the grip level is exceptional. The precision at which you can dictate the front's direction is almost telepathic. The rear puts down the power smoothly and without aggression. Most rear-driven cars require a tentative prod at the throttle to get an understanding of how much rear traction is available, but with the McLaren, you can feed it in fast and confident that the back isn’t going to get frisky.
As you reel off one corner after the other you are likely to find yourself so deeply engrossed in the surplus of driving satisfaction on offer that the rest of the world seems to fade into a blur. The turbochargers whistle behind your left ear as they spool up (before the engine howl overwhelms them) and you warp towards a new destination.
When things calm down?
The modern wonder of suspension engineering allows a supercar otherwise capable of blitzing lap times at race-car speeds to wander around town in a comfortable, unfazed manner. Together with a brilliant 7-speed dual-clutch 'box, slow speed town driving doesn’t represent the panicky, embarrassing situation it used a decade ago.
It’s also easy to get in and out of the 570S Spider in a dignified manner and the upward-opening doors add to the cool factor immensely. You will find that the bottom of the doors attracts some nasty stone chips so covering those leading edges with some sort of film is a must. There is a pair of storage bins for bags... The one in the front is only really big enough for a medium-sized luggage bag. The other is located underneath the roof cover and big enough for a pair of laptop bags. There is a sense of trepidation that the electric cover might crush whatever’s inside that recess as it the assembly closes, however, because it’s quite a thin loading area.
The wind buffeting in the cabin isn’t even that noticeable at freeway speeds, most of the turbulent air is deflected over or around the passengers. There is not so much of hint of scuttle shake or flex from the windscreen either, proving that that carbon fibre tub was always designed with a Spider variant in mind.
McLaren predicts that the Spider version will account for most of the 570S sales. That's probably why this junior supercar was designed from the ground up to be a Spider, rather than as an afterthought, which is often, but not always, the case with mainstream manufacturers.
It feels every bit as good to drive as the hard top; having the raw soundtrack of the twin-turbo V8 piped into your ears while driving with the roof down is a major bonus.
The 570S Spider admittedly struggles to feel settled on less than optimal surfaces, where it can track and pull at the wheel as the surface dictates. Open it up on a smooth section of road, however and the McLaren comes to life with precision, agility and brutally fast acceleration that vividly separates it from humdrum sportscars.
What's more, the real trump card of the McLaren 570S Spider is it’s day-to-day usability. It’s comfortable to drive in town, easy to manoeuvre in parking lots and simple to get in and out of despite its low-slung seating arrangement. There are very few drawbacks to owning it, provided you can afford the R4.5-million (starting) price tag.