McLaren 540C

How is this the ‘baby’ McLaren? It’s too fast

Motor (Australia) - - FIRST FANG - By DY­LAN CAMP­BELL pics ELLEN DEWAR

Wok­ing makes sure you’ll never have a case of the ‘base-model blues’

I’VE AL­WAYS won­dered what it would be like to drive a Le Mans pro­to­type on the road. The McLaren 540C is the clos­est I’ve come.

Af­ter you’ve awk­wardly ma­noeu­vred around the scis­sor doors, got­ten com­fort­able in the tight bucket seats and fa­mil­iarised your­self with the min­i­mal­ist in­te­rior lay­out – in­clud­ing nu­mer­ous er­gonomic quirks – your first thought when driv­ing the 540C fast is, how on earth is this the ju­nior-burger model? It is epi­cally po­tent, some­thing that feels like it would out-run an Enzo or a Car­rera GT, not that I’ve per­son­ally driven ei­ther of those cars. But the 540C’s ac­cel­er­a­tion makes you fright­ened at how fast a 720S might be.

At $331,500, if your sole ob­jec­tive in buy­ing a car is to drop as many jaws as pos­si­ble, as cheaply as pos­si­ble, the 540C is your car. Low and wide and with the en­gine vis­i­bly in the mid­dle, and with those bat­mo­bile-style doors and fat 19/20inch F/R wheels, it’s the cheap­est su­per­car-look­ing car you can get (the Audi R8 V10 next at $354,325). Although that’s with­out op­tions, and our 540C test car had a few of those, bring­ing the price to $381K. And with things like rear vi­sion cam­era and leather op­tional, few own­ers will be with­draw­ing just the $331K at the ATM prior to vis­it­ing their lo­cal McLaren dealer.

What­ever you do end up spend­ing, you get a car so quick it would take for­ever to tire of the ac­cel­er­a­tion. Pow­ered by a 3.8-litre twin-turbo flat-plane-crank V8 – de­vel­oped in con­junc­tion with Bri­tish engi­neer­ing firm Ri­cardo, orig­i­nally for the MP412C – the 540C cranks out 397kW at 7500rpm and 540Nm from 35006500rpm. With a dry weight of 1350kg, the rear-drive 540C, with its Pirelli P-Zero 285-sec­tion rear bags, claims 0-100km/h in 3.5 sec­onds and 0-200km/h in 10.5 sec­onds. Quicker, in­deed, than an Enzo or Car­rera GT. Although not as quick as a McLaren F1.

The 540C uses a seven-speed du­al­clutch gear­box with pad­dle-shifters. There’s no con­ven­tional man­ual op­tion. Its red­line is 8250rpm and the top speed is 320km/h.

With the en­gine in Race mode, the dig­i­tal in­stru­ments as­sume a MoTeC-style lay­out adding fur­ther to the Le Mans racer-for-the-road feel, as the en­gine spews out heat vis­i­ble in the rear vi­sion mir­ror. You sit low and re­clined, like you could be on the grid at La Sarthe.

It’s the ac­cel­er­a­tion that’s the most re­mark­able thing about the 540C. Holy crap it’s fast. De­spite an open diff – the com­puter sim­u­lates an

LSD with the brakes, and it works – trac­tion is strong. Although with the ESP in sport, wheel­spin is pos­si­ble all the way through first and, on cold tyres, at the top of sec­ond gear. It’s very ex­cit­ing. When it hooks up, it presses you against the thin­ly­padded seats and greed­ily sprints through its for­ward ra­tios. It is com­i­cally quick.

The en­gine per­for­mance is in­cred­i­ble. With a big tur­bocharged per­son­al­ity, it hisses as it strains against tall gears at low revs, but bang it down a few and it de­liv­ers huge forced-fed grunt from low down right to red­line. There’s no torque holes here, or lag.

It sounds an­gry and ea­ger.

While it’s a fast-paced note, it’s lower in pitch and doesn’t quite howl. It sounds like what it is: A tur­bocharged, small-ca­pac­ity V8.

The brakes? Epic. Han­dling? Pre­cise and planted, the damp­ing get­ting bet­ter the faster you go. Sport ESP per­mits a bit of throt­tle bum wrig­gle out of first and sec­ond gear cor­ners. It’s a fun car, mostly for its power and wheel­spin.

But try­ing to judge cor­ner en­try speeds, I did strug­gle to gel with the 540C. There’s not much steer­ing feel and 225/285 (F/R) rub­ber is ac­tu­ally not that much; the lat­eral grip lim­its are achiev­able. Some­times un­ex­pect­edly, as it can be hard to know what the chas­sis is think­ing. In fair­ness, it does feel like this would be a new car all over again on a race­track – for the bet­ter.

While psy­cho fast and turn­ing heads ev­ery­where it goes, the 540C is, how­ever, also a bit soul­less. It feels very much like a ma­chine. With time I’d re­spect it and learn to work with it, but I’m not sure I’d ever feel af­fec­tion for it.

The ac­cel­er­a­tion is the most re­mark­able thing about the 540C. Holy crap it’s fast

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