McLaren 540C

Baby Mac lives up to the hype

ALEX INWOOD

ASKING how much performance a supercar needs sounds idiotic. The obvious answer is “as much as possible!”, but is that really the case?

Drive most modern supercars and you’ll quickly discover they’re too fast to properly exploit on public roads. In today’s age of hidden speed cameras, opening the taps on your fancy supercar for just three seconds is enough to shred your licence. It’s like winning the Lotto, only to be told you can’t spend more than $1000.

Which is where the McLaren 540C comes in. The British firm’s cheapest offering is also its least powerful. And that’s exactly why it might also be its best.

The 540C is powered by the same brutally fast 3.8-litre twinturbo V8 as McLaren’s other models, but detuned to produce 397kW/540Nm. It also has the same seven-speed transmission, and the same carbonfibre chassis FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE (though with thinner and lower sills for easier entry and egress).

While the bones are familiar, the 540C’s character couldn’t be more different from its siblings.

Where their turbos spool aggressively, the 540C is more docile and refined below 4000rpm.

The dual-clutch ’box plays a part here, slipping smoothly and swiftly between cogs to make the 540C as easy to drive in city traffic as a Ford Fiesta.

The savageness is still there, just higher in the rev range.

Prod the ‘Active’ button on the centre console and twirl the two selection dials (one for the chassis, one for the drivetrain) to their most aggressive settings and there’s enough twist to burst the 285/35R20 rears into wheelspin on damp roads at the top of third gear. Wring its neck and the 540C is still capable of white-knuckle thrills, yet in a fractionally slower, more manageable way.

The whole dynamic package is well judged, aside from the flat exhaust note. The hydraulic steering is nicely weighted, the chassis balanced, and the ride is firm yet not unbearable. The 540C ditches the complex active suspension of other McLarens for a more conventional set-up of adaptive dampers with front and rear anti-roll bars.

It still has McLaren’s supercar visuals, though. Only trainspotters will notice the 540’s different skirts, rear diffuser and front splitter, or that it has steel rather than carbon-ceramic brakes inside its 19/20-inch wheels.

Same with the cabin, betrayed only by manually adjustable seats and no reversing camera.

So is the 540C as much fun, or as raw and exciting, as McLaren’s more powerful, more expensive offerings? Not even close. But it still feels super, and because its performance is more accessible, it feels super more of the time. d,

Big brothers

McLaren’s growing model range and number-heavy nomenclature can seem confusing, especially as they tend to look alike.

Modern Macs are grouped into: Sports Series, Super Series and Ultimate Series.

The Sports Series (540C, 570S and soon-to-arrive 570 GT) are designed to be more affordable, more comfortable and focus more on driving enjoyment than pure speed.

Things gets faster and more expensive in Super Series (650S and 675LT), while Ultimate Series is reserved for McLaren’s pinnacle of performance (P1 and P1 GTR).

PLUS & MINUS

Flat soundtrack; not as raw or exciting as other McLarens That engine; everyday usability; your licence will feel safer