By Sue Callaway
January 26, 2015

Every once in a great while a particularly memorable ride comes along. Sure, sure, there is no shortage of great rides these days, but a few rise above the rest. The Jaguar F-Type R Coupe is one of the most compelling and authentic all-new sports cars to come along this decade. And there’s also the McLaren 650S. Maybe it’s the drinking water in the UK, but those Brits really know how to engineer ridiculously proficient performance cars—and the McLaren 650S, with its mid-rear engine twin-turbo V-8 and rear-wheel-drive setup, can go up against the likes of the Ferrari 458 Speciale and the Lamborghini Huracan without breaking a sweat—or breaking the rear tires free, either (although I managed that, too).

Though the 650S’s “ancestor” was my favorite supercar of all time—the McLaren F1—I was never won over by the 650s’s predecessor, the 12-C. Its looks were unmemorable, whereas the 650S has inherited the sculpted snout of its older sibling, the venerable P1 hybrid hypercar. A-pillar-hinged doors, a radically elongated back (to house all that engine) and the deep metallic Volcano Red paint completed the looks that made heads snap and phones fly out of pockets everywhere I drove.

What makes the 650S so special? Let’s start with the 156-pound carbon fiber tub, or MonoCell in McLaren speak. With decades of Formula 1 experience, McLaren has perfected a form that’s stiff but not bone-cracking, light and durable.

Climbing down inside, I felt tucked in, with great forward visibility thanks to the drop-away angle of the hood. But with the engine behind me, rear visibility was much more challenging—which is why McLaren was good enough to install a back-up camera. The company added another loving touch: The window between the driver and that 641-horsepower powerplant goes up and down, so if you want undiluted sound without messing your hair, it’s yours. Or, you can mess every hair by pushing a button and retracting the slice of roof above you. When in Spider mode, the 650S is even sexier, if that’s possible (and the tonneau where the roof tucks also held my purse, a thoughtful touch even if it was an engineering afterthought).

After navigating reverse out of the parking spot and the equally awkward shift buttons located down between the seats (which require hand off wheel and eyes off road), I took off—for one of the better drives of my life. The suspension and damping are so well sorted that I felt every twig and leaf I rolled over—and could tell the difference between a pine needle and a maple leaf! And yet there were no squeaks or rattles.

The 650S has three modes, Normal, Sport and Track. When McLaren engineers use those terms, take them seriously: I quickly discovered that Track meant unforgivingly fast shifts and throttle tip-in along with the dramatic active aero. It was the automotive equivalent of Bilbo Baggins slipping on The Ring. In Track, I entered another world: surreal, fast, scary—addictive.

With this car, McLaren has managed to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts. In fact, I’ve never felt a sports car quite like it—ferocious but so intuitive and nimble and equipped with enough creature comforts that I’d drive it every day if I was fortunate enough to have one in my garage permanently. Some day maybe, but sadly not today.

STATS

Base price: $280,225

As tested: $321,715

Engine: 641-hp, 3.8-liter twin-turbo V8

Torque: 500 lb ft

0 to 60: 2.8 sec

 

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