Bud­get su­per­cars

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - Prestige - JOSHUA DOWL­ING NA­TIONAL MO­TOR­ING ED­I­TOR

THEY say mo­tor rac­ing makes bet­ter road cars.

That may have been the case 50 years ago but it’s not so today.

These days road car de­vel­op­ment leads the way; For­mula One adopted hy­brid tech­nol­ogy in 2009 — 12 years af­ter the first Toyota Prius.

Mo­tor­sport still has tal­ented en­gi­neers but their ex­per­tise is get­ting cars to per­form at their max­i­mum for just long enough to qual­ify fastest and win a race.

Road cars must start ev­ery time, han­dle the daily grind in ex­treme tem­per­a­tures and be driven by peo­ple who may not have me­chan­i­cal sym­pa­thy.

They are two dif­fer­ent skillsets, which brings us to McLaren’s new­est mod­els. To the $500,000 su­per­car launched four years ago, the maker has added a more afford­able pair — with the fa­mil­iar pitch of try­ing to beat Porsche. On first im­pres­sions, McLaren has a long way to go.

The Bri­tish-based F1 firm failed to fin­ish 14 GPs last year so I prob­a­bly shouldn’t have been sur­prised the air­con­di­tion­ing didn’t work in the $325,000 McLaren 540C we tested in Aus­tralia for the first time this week. The air­con in the $379,000 McLaren 570S whis­tled loudly, like an old Valiant on a free­way.

McLaren said these cars were “demo” mod­els and get­ting a bit long in the tooth, hav­ing been flown around the world for pre­view drives.

But they were the same cars be­ing tested by prospec­tive Aus­tralian buy­ers, so pre­sum­ably McLaren was putting its best foot for­ward.

On the plus side, McLaren knows how to make a su­perb engine and trans­mis­sion with su­per­car pedi­gree.

The twin turbo 3.8-litre V8 bor­rowed from the flag­ship model (but de­tuned to 397kW/ 540Nm in the 540C and 419kW/600Nm in the 570S) has epic grunt.

Matched to a seven-speed twin-clutch auto, it slams through the gears seam­lessly. The shove of torque is stu­pen­dous even with a light touch of the throt­tle.

De­spite the dif­fer­ence in claimed power out­puts, I dare any­one to pick it. The times for the 0-100km/h are 3.5 sec­onds for the 540C and 3.4 sec­onds for 570S — nei­ther is slow.

The steer­ing is lin­ear and su­perbly weighted in feel; you can plant the car ex­actly where you want to in a cor­ner. Just don’t hit a bump. Both the new McLarens (which share a new car­bon­fi­bre chas­sis tub but have less so­phis­ti­cated sus­pen­sion than the flag­ship 650S) banged over bumps whether they were in com­fort or sport mode.

Hit­ting a lane marker sounded as if some­one was un­der the car hit­ting it with a rub­ber mal­let.

McLaren needs to fit the sus­pen­sion from the 650S to iron out the bumps and noises.

Some en­thu­si­asts would ac­cuse me of be­ing too harsh but it was McLaren that said it wanted to build a Porschebeater. It’s cer­tainly charg­ing Porsche money for the 540C — the 570S is dearer than a 911 Turbo.

A 911 might be more com­mon but these McLarens have a long way to go be­fore they can match the over­all re­fine­ment and drive­abil­ity of a Porsche. Or a Lam­borgh­ini or Fer­rari. A fan­tas­tic su­per­car engine and trans­mis­sion, look­ing for a well­tuned chas­sis and more re­li­able elec­tron­ics.

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