Entry-level: it’s the ultimate backhanded compliment.
It’s supposed to be a good thing (it’s cheaper) but the interpretation isn’t so charitable (“You, Sir, are a tight-arse”). But without the social baggage of other high-end brands, however, you might be able to slip an ‘entry-level’ McLaren under the Stratco.
The more you learn about the new McLaren 540C, the more you realise that “entry-level” translates as “slightly more attainable”, rather than actually cheap. That it looks a lot like the mega-buck 650S makes sense, too, because the basic structure, including the carbonfibre tub, has 650S stamped all over it. There are detail changes to the tub, like the slimmer, more profiled sills and doors that open wider, but the basics are all pretty familiar.
The seven-speed twin-clutch tranny remains and so does rearwheel drive. The engine is basically the same as the powerplant in the 650S. It’s the same twin-turbo, 3.8- litre flat-plane-crank V8 but with less power and torque. Power drops to 397kW at 7500rpm and there’s 540Nm from 3500rpm to 6500rpm, which is 22kW/60Nm less than its 570S sibling and 81kW/138Nm down on its 650S bigger brother.
The other difference is that the 540C misses out on McLaren’s hydraulically-linked suspension that does away with sway bars and, mostly, body roll. Also missing is the active aero-package of the 650S. Oh, and the 540C gets steel brakes rather than the carbon-ceramics of the 570S and loses out on powered chairs and a reversing camera.
So this is a McLaren 650S with a few less trinkets and less bungabunga?
In a nutshell, yes, even though McLaren will hate us saying so. The best news is that the 540C will save you a lazy $130K-odd over the cheapest 650S ($325,000 versus E $464,000) it’ll still get to 100km/h in a claimed 3.4 seconds and, according to McLaren, will top 320km/h if you’re near an autobahn.
Getting in isn’t difficult, but it’s still not as easy as having a conventional door. Once inside, the chairs grab you firmly and the dashboard is simple with the controls either on stalks or on the centre console, meaning you don’t get Ferdie Alonso’s steering wheel or the sort of gothic-chrome mash-up found in a Zonda. The tiller is small but perfectly placed and the lovely alloy pedals are spot on for left-foot braking. Hit the starter button and where the 650’s engine has a collection of snorts and whistles, the 540C’s V8 is muffled, but the nicer for it when you’re poking about at low speed where the flatplane crank engine is least tuneful.
Start spanking it and initially it feels quite flexible and refined, but boost soon builds and you’re away.
Big time. Entry-level or not, this is still a small, light (1350kg) car with a 540-horsepower heart. The electronic speedo can’t keep up in the lower gears, leaving you with two blurred ‘8’s and soon enough, three of them on the display. The gearbox can be tailored through three settings ending with ‘Track’, as can the suspension, but frankly, it’s best left in ‘Sport’ or ‘Normal’.
But even once you’ve started to get used to the urgency of the V8, you’ll continue to be open-mouthed at how damn well this car rides. Sure, it’s low (the 540 loses the lift-kit for driveways) and travel is relatively short, but it handles big lumps no worries and is crazy-supple for something with such balance and control. The dampers, too, are spot on and allow for that plush ride but counter any tendency to a secondary jounce or wobble. And the front end?
Gorgeous, sensuous and – dare I say? – as good as any. The price of the new McLaren must surely force people looking at a 911 Turbo to at least consider our new mate Macca.
What’s that skip? PCOTY’s just a few months away? Ooh.
Massive performance for much less money
Less is a relative term; 570S worth the extra