McLaren maps out

supercar future

McLaren 650S Spider, doors open
McLaren 650S Spider
McLaren 570S Coupe
McLaren 570S Coupe, rear
McLaren 570S Coupe, dashboard
McLaren 570GT

A McLAREN for less than the price of an Audi is something few would have thought possible three or four years ago.

It's true though, provided you have a spare £35,000, and don't mind sitting tight for eight months.

Then £1,000 a month will secure you a McLaren 540C on a not unreasonable 10,000-mile a year deal.

And we aren't talking tame, underpowered faux sports car - more like 533bhp of heavy manners from a model that looks as sexy and sleek as anything from the supercar catwalk.

It highlights just how far the British-based brand has come since being created by Kiwi F1 ace Bruce McLaren back in 1963.

The past five years have proved the most significant, since McLaren's state of the art production facility was built in Woking - and a vision for the future was mapped out.

A crucial aspect of that vision was the arrival of the 540C, because it took McLaren into a fresh area of the new car market - that of the Audi R8.

And while the R8 V10 costs from £119,520, the supermac is only slightly more expensive at £128,550, for a car built and developed alongside the Formula 1 operation and using the same principles and expertise.

Some eight new McLaren cars have been launched since 2015, among them this summer's 570GT, which focused more on comfort and practicality than any McLaren model to date.

With a Sports Series - 540C Coupe, 570S Coupe, 570GT - a Super Series comprising 650S and 675LT Coupe and Spider, plus a halo Ultimate Series of P1 Coupe and GTR, McLaren is now embarking on something called Track 22.

That's a six-year plan during which £1 billion will be spent on research and development, another 15 all-new cars or derivatives will have hit the road and by 2022 half of all McLarens sold will be hybrids.

Just don't expect to see an SUV, as McLaren's global communications chief Wayne Bruce insists: "We are all about supercars today and supercars in the future."

So we know a McLaren looks cooler than the other side of the pillow, but does the driving experience match the style?

'McLaren - The Tour 2016' afforded the ideal opportunity to assess several models courtesy of an 80-mile drive on a mix of major roads and country lanes.

First up was the 570S Coupe, a £148,150 lightweight flyer from the Sports Series.

With a chassis designed for fun driving, this model feels really connected to the road and is civilised in that you can potter round at suburban speeds without feeling that the car is straining at the leash.

But when the chance to floor the throttle arrives the power delivery is instant, the sound sensational and the road-holding limpet-like - and that's from a car that can scorch from 0-62 in 3.2 seconds, hit 124mph in 9.5 seconds and has a top speed of 204mph.

With a construction that includes a carbon fibre chassis, the Sports Series models are lighter and more powerful than other sports cars and use race-derived technologies.

And in the case of the 570S its 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 engine is driven through a seven-speed twin clutch auto transmission yet has an official Combined fuel consumption of 26.6mpg, though the urban figure of 17.2 is more realistic.

I preferred the 570S to the more expensive and even more fiery 650S Spider from the Super Series, with its 641bhp of wallop and £218,250 price tag.

It looks fabulous, and like its stablemates has dihedral doors, but is more highly strung. Nonetheless it's a fabulous car to drive with mountainous performance of 0-62 in 3.0 seconds, 0-124 in 8.6 and also has a top whack of 204mph.

F1 technology, including the stiff carbon fibre monocell, has enabled McLaren to make the Spider variant as well as a coupe without needing to change the basic structure.

And the result is sensational, from a car that can be manually altered to various powertrain and chassis combinations too.

McLaren's latest model the 570GT adds luxury to the equation and while it sticks firmly to the dynamic principles of the other Sports Series models, there's more emphasis on opulence and comfort.

This really is an everyday supercar and as a Grand Tourer it is designed for cruising effortlessly along fast roads and motorways.

Elegant, swept back and slung super low it costs £154,000, has lightweight butterfly doors, plush ventilated leather seats, deep lambswool carpeting and even a glovebox - itself a first for McLaren.

But the sporty combination of a flat-bottomed steering wheel, carbon cabin inserts and roar of the V8 engine when you prod the start button never lets it be forgotten that this is truly a supercar - and the beauty is that there's plenty more to come.

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