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.