Going topless on the beach seems to be an inherent way of life in the sun-soaked city of Barcelona. It’s the perfect backdrop for McLaren to introduce the drop-top member of the Sports Series family, the 570S Spider.
McLaren touts this as a “convertible without compromise,” pointing to the near-identical performance data of the 570S Coupe and its Spider counterpart. The McLaren 570S is indeed one impressive machine, having won Motor Trend’s “Best Driver’s Car” shootout last year. But numbers can only tell part of the story- a convertible usually comes with its own unique characteristics, not to mention tradeoffs. So is this a clever piece of marketing speak, or has McLaren managed to pull off a topless wonder?
Like the rest of the McLaren line-up, the 570’s name derives from its European power output: in this case, 570 PS (562 hp). Despite having similar displacement and output to V-8 engines from Audi and Mercedes, the twin-turbo flat-plane crank 3.8-liter mill in the McLaren has a character all its own, but it still puts down impressive numbers, with 562 hp and 443 lb-ft (600 Newton-meters) of torque.
McLaren has never built a non-turbo engine, and the company says this gives it a leg up on developing and refining both the technology and sound characteristics of its powertrains. Even with the unique-to-Spider sound tube piping in noise from the engine bay -part of the $4,090 Sports Exhaust package – this V-8 isn’t very V-8-y, lacking a telltale muscular burble. When it’s lugging in a high gear, low in the rev range, the sound is not unlike a diesel four-cylinder. Whip it into shape, however, and it adopts that familiar Formula 1-derived wail.
But any V-8 suggests torque, and this is where the 570S Spider could use a pick-me-up–peak torque isn’t delivered until a lofty 5,000 rpm. Nail the throttle while cruising, and it takes a second for the powertrain to get its act together. The seven-speed “Seamless Shift” dual-clutch gearbox belies its labeling, stumbling down a few gears while the engine builds boost. But once everything comes together, all is right with the world, and scenery passes by faster than your peripheral vision can make sense of it. This engine is happiest when it’s alert – keep it spinning above 4,000 rpm for near-instantaneous response. It sounds better up there, anyway.
Performance compared with coupe
Compared to the 570S Coupe, the Spider’s only real performance change comes in the way of a 9.6-second jaunt from 0 to 124 mph (198 kph), which is one-tenth of a second slower; the all-important 0-60 mph (0-96 kph) time of 3.1 seconds remains intact. Speaking of seconds, the power-retractable roof takes just 15 to stow behind the cabin, though with it down, top speed is limited to 196 mph (313 kph). Put the roof back up, and you’re rewarded with the same 204-mph (326 kph) top speed as the Coupe.
Removing a car’s roof almost always corresponds to adding weight, as strange as that might be. It’s true here – the trick top mechanism adds 101 pounds. But it’s all situated in the most ideal part of the car: its center. No additional chassis bracing is required given the one-piece design of the carbon-fiber monocoque underpinnings. The result is fun in the sun without a severe weight penalty. To butcher a phrase from Colin Chapman, “Add light.”
Forward visibility is fantastic. The hood drops out of the way immediately, leaving the driver with a panoramic view out the windshield. And though the open roof means an abundance of sky, the twin air intakes behind the headrests and low seating position make the side mirrors your best bet for actually seeing what’s behind you. The seats themselves offer a proper amount of lateral support, holding you in place even as the wind plays tug-of-war with your hair.
The Spider’s forward momentum capabilities are impressive, but the standard carbon-ceramic brakes promise to counteract all of it in short order. Assertive stopping requires a stout foot. McLaren trades up-front grabbiness for a solid, linear feel throughout pedal travel. The lack of initial bite takes some getting used to, but stomp on those clampers, and you’ll have more than enough braking power should you find yourself blasting down a lovely Spanish backroad when a tractor suddenly swings wide into your lane. (Ask us how we know.)
A distinctive choice
The steering is similarly impressive: firmly weighted, providing a linear response with no dead spot on center. Assistance remains delightfully old school–hydraulic rather than the electric setups of many modern cars. That’s a deliberate choice, McLaren says, because it communicates the best possible feel. We’re inclined to agree.
This theme of engaging solidity seems to carry through every input. Inside the cabin, switches and knobs move with a decisive metallic fluidity. Initiating directional changes, especially, is a rewarding exercise in tactile weightiness. Porsche, take note: this is how a turn signal stalk should feel in a $200,000 car. McLaren is proud of its interiors, especially the switchgear, which is unique to this company and not borrowed from anyone else’s parts bin. It makes for a rare – and distinctive – cabin experience, especially when compared to, say, the Mercedes bits found inside an Aston Martin DB11.
But it’s not all perfect, as evidenced in the difficult-to-read infotainment screen. Small by modern standards, the vertically oriented, 7.0-inch screen’s biggest fault is that you can’t read it with polarized lenses, a trait shared with the rest of the McLaren line-up. Plus, open the roof and even partial sunlight renders the screen fully unreadable. Thankfully, there’s a bit of redundancy to be found in the instrument panel, but the navigation display there offers only the sparsest of instructions. Plan your turns carefully.
Doused in Curacao Blue (a color that’s unique to the Spider), this 570S feels every bit worth its $208,800 price tag. Optional goodies here include the beautiful – but highly unnecessary – 12-speaker Bowers & Wilkins stereo ($2,280), which makes a striking visual impression even if we question its purpose in a mid-engine convertible. Perhaps your add-on money is better spent on things such as carbon-fiber racing seats ($6,200) or a track telemetry system ($4,220) with three cameras that also aids in all-around visibility. Or go the bespoke route, and create a Spider through a breadth of practically limitless customization options in the McLaren Special Operations catalog.
It’s hard to believe McLaren has only been selling cars to the public for 20 years and has done so without the assistance of industry heavyweights. For enthusiasts, that’s part of the draw, and it’s what makes the Spider such a distinctive choice in the sports car space. Even as the product line expands, McLaren promises to remain “fiercely independent,” which means we’ll see a lot more originality in its future.
That’s fine with us because it’s this originality that breeds wonderful creations such as the new 570S Spider. A convertible without compromise? OK. But we’d prefer to simply call it a sports car without compromise instead – a sports car that just happens to offer a retractable roof.