Payne: McLaren 570GT is a carbon-fiber rocket ship
Henry Payne goes 0-60 with the McLaren 570GT. Henry Payne / The Detroit News
There are entry-level cars, and there are entry-level supercars.
The most affordable entry-level car on the market today is the $12,855 Nissan Versa which introduces 16-year-olds to the world of four-wheel mobility. The most accessible supercar, on the other hand, will run you $200,000 and introduce earthlings to cyborgs made from unobtanium that can transport you into hyperspace in 10 seconds.
I’ve been to that future in the 2017 McLaren 570GT. It. Is. Dazzling.
The Versa appetizer is intended to tingle your taste buds for pricier fare like, say, the $32,000 Nissan Maxima sedan or $30,000 Nissan 370Z sports car. So, too, the 570GT. This six-figure supercar, developed by one of Formula One’s premier teams, gives you a taste of what the company’s top-of-the-line $1.5-million P1 hypercar is like.
It also gives you a hint at what it’s like to date a supermodel. On my 500-mile round trip to Mid-Ohio race course (where I would be racing my own Lola sports car), the McLaren was mobbed everywhere I went. On the Ohio Turnpike, other drivers attached themselves like sucker fish to a shark, trailing me for miles. At gas stops, entire service station populations came over to have their picture taken with her — er, it.
No wonder. The mid-engine beauty is a stunner in Pacific Blue — its long curves poured over silver, 20-inch wheels like Alexandra Daddario on a divan. It’s also a dead-ringer for the legendary 903-horsepower, zero-to-60-in-a-blink P1 — of which only 375 have been made. The 570 doesn’t have big brother’s hybrid powertrain, hydraulic suspension and active aerodynamics, but the fundamentals are there. Same Formula One-derived racing tech, carbon-fiber chassis, same twin-turbo, 3.8-liter V-8 engine — same scissor doors and low, velociraptor front end sniffing the ground.
As such the 570GT may be expensive, but it is also a production car that embodies the industry’s state of the art in handling, digital tech and powertrain. On my weekend jaunt, I experienced the supercar’s incredible bandwidth. The GT is the “grand touring” trim of the two 570 models. Compared to the sportier-looking S — which comes dressed in loud orange or lime green with more black mascara than Daryl Hanna in “Blade Runner” — the GT gains rear shelf storage space, a moon roof, with a leather dash and carpeting on the interior.
These grand additions made for a thoroughly pleasant driving experience as I trundled along the Ohio Turnpike at 80 mph with paparazzi in tow. But underneath its calm Pacific Blue surface lurks the same weaponized drivetrain as the S: twin turbos revving eight pistons to 9,000 rpms with 443 pound-feet of torque and 570 horsepower (at last a logical alphanumeric badge — 570 means 570 ponies).
I defy anyone to drive the McLaren for more than 15 minutes at the speed limit. Dip your toe into its ocean of torque and you’ll want to swim all day. Every rest stop was an opportunity to erupt up the on-ramp like a Saturn 3 rocket. Every straight-as-an-arrow farm road was a chance to trigger launch control for 0-60 rushes.
Actually, forget 0-60.
Push the Launch button. Floor the brake and accelerator pedals with both feet. Revs modulate at 3,000 rpms. Release brake pedal. The McLaren explodes past 60 mph in about three seconds, the dual-clutch, race-derived, 7-speed tranny (no manual could keep up) flicking off 300-millisecond shifts. Only a Tesla P90D launch compares with its dizzying, 100 percent torque launch off the line. But past 60 mph the Tesla starts to wane, whereas the McLaren is just getting interested.
The 570’s speedo goes by 100 mph without hesitation. Relentlessly, linearly, it continues. Only pilots who launch F-18s off aircraft carriers for a living won’t find this astonishing.
One of my racing pals at Mid-Ohio likened the McLaren’s acceleration to turning on a faucet with more water flooding out with each turn. I blow past 130 mph (on a closed test track) in 10 seconds with no sign of exhaustion. The bloody thing wants to go to the moon. And what is just as remarkable is how tranquil the experience is.
Buffered by a sound-proofed cabin and twin-turbos, the V-8’s muffled wail sounds like an angry vacuum cleaner. The car’s carbon tub is as rock solid as when I left the line, the ECU channeling 500 pound-feet of torque through the rear Pirellis without a slip. I might as well be driving a video game in my home.
And reassuring. McLaren’s carbon tub is not only stiffer and lighter than the aluminum tubs used by its $200,000 competitive set — Porsche 911 Turbo, Acura NSX, Audi R8 V10 — but safer. Just YouTube one of those horrific F1 crashes in which drivers walk away unscathed.
I applaud Alfa Romeo for bringing carbon tubs to the masses for under $60,000 in its mid-engine 4C in order to demonstrate its extraordinary stable handling ability. McLaren simply takes the next (dollar) step in mating its carbon tub to a V-8 and dual-clutch tranny to bring the whole race-car package to the street.
At M1 Concourse’s test track, the 570’s rear-wheel drive makes it more tossable compared to the all-wheel drive cyborgs in its class — its telepathic chassis following my every steering input. Like the Porsche Turbo I flogged at Thunderhill Raceway last year, the McLaren’s dual-clutch tranny is so smart I don’t even bother with manual mode. Eventually the car’s capabilities overwhelm the mere, street-legal Pirelli P-Zeros (first accessory purchase: four track slicks).
Confident the 570S already had its competitors beat in visual drama — note the “floating tendon” door handles on the scissor doors — McLaren baselined its ergonomics to the Porsche with a very usable “frunk” (my Mid-Ohio luggage fit nicely, thank you) and rear shelf.
Other ergonomics fall short — most notably the car’s handling and powertrain mode buttons which are low on the console, requiring me to divert my eyes from the road. McLaren might dip into its F1 tech bin for steering-wheel mounted controls next time?
And the 570’s electronics and infotainment system proved buggy — the sort of questions you ponder on long drives to Lexington, Ohio (also, how come Detroit doesn’t have a McLaren dealer?). But only momentarily. Then you’re muting the radio, activating Track mode and listening to that V-8 soundtrack rocket you into the future.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.
2017 McLaren 570GT
Mid-engine, rear-wheel drive, two-passenger sports car
3.8-liter, twin-turbocharged V-8 with dry-sump lubrication
7-speed, dual-clutch automatic
with paddle shifters
$198,950 base ($210,400 as tested)
570 horsepower, 443 pound-feet torque (manual)
0-60 mph, 3.4 seconds (manufacturer); top speed: 204 mph
EPA est. mpg (manual): 16 city/23 highway/19 combined
Relentless acceleration; telepathic handling
supercar, super-slow infotainment system
Excellent ★★★★Good ★★★Fair ★★Poor ★