Skip to Content

Lifting the covers from McLaren’s stunning $180,000 sports car

If actors like Chris Pine finally get their first blockbuster role (“Star Trek”), and technology companies like Apple eventually design their breakout product (the iPod), any great car company will step up and create the car model that will make itself known to the world.

UK-based McLaren Automotive is a young company that competes with the likes of Ferrari and Lamborghini. Each model has been sexier than the last, but now the carmaker has truly found its design mojo with the brand-new 570S super sports car.

McLaren is unveiling the two-door carbon-fiber coupe this week at the New York International Auto Show. But I got an exclusive sneak peak weeks ago at a design studio in London, where the company allowed me hours to go over the car in detail.

My takeaway? The 570S is a heartbreaker. Wall Street types will line up at dealership doors and men, women and children alike will swoon once they get a look at the car in real life. It’s simply stunning.

Pricing should be around $180,000. That puts it in competition with sports cars like the Porsche 911 Turbo S and the Audi R8 V10 Plus. But with doors that open upwards and three-dimensional bodywork, the 570S looks far more exotic than those other cars.

Upon release of the model, I wager that the name “McLaren” will become much more widely known among the type of affluent Americans who only equate it with upscale baby strollers. (That brand is spelled Maclaren, by the way.)

In one form or another the company has been around since the 1960s, when a New Zealand racer named Bruce McLaren began a racing team that would eventually win one Formula One race after another. He sadly died in a crash in 1970.

The McLaren Group has since flirted with road cars, including the superlative F1 supercar in the 1990s and a Mercedes-Benz partnership in 2003, when it co-created the MercedesBenz SLR McLaren in 2003.

McLaren Automotive is now a separate company devoted to road cars, and it has a new strategy of building three distinct tiers of cars. The Ultimate Series are the most exclusive and expensive, including the sold-out, $1.4 million P1 hypercar. The Super Series includes the $280,000 650S Spider. And the 570S will be the first of the most-accessible Sports Series.

The Sports Series will be both the least expensive and the most prolific, with as many as 4,000 made a year, says the company. (Expect a convertible version of the 570S later.)

Like many great designs, you have to see it in real life to really appreciate the details. McLaren’s chief designer, a young Brit named Robert Melville, says he took inspiration from the Blackbird spy plane.

“We wanted to layer the car, so the air flows through the body, not just around it,” he told me. “We learned a lot of lessons from the P1. If you look carefully at the 570S, you can literally follow the journey of the air around the car.”

Melville is tall and was wearing a perfectly cut suit. He’d previously worked at both GM and Land Rover, but said he’d truly found a home at McLaren. The 570S was clearly his baby, and he was just as clearly nervous at its reception. I told him to relax. The car is marvelous.

It reminded me of a futuristic space fighter. The roof is impossibly low and sloped, but there’s plenty of headroom and a very comfortable seating position. You can also easily see out the front window.

The most striking features, which photos simply fail to do justice, are the doors. They have a unique three-dimensional design unlike anything I’ve ever seen on a production model. They are fabricated in separate pieces — Melville’s layering — and you can actually see inside the door from various angles.

It’s as if the bare door was wearing a futuristic armor. McLaren calls the layers the door’s “tendons,” and it helps channel air along the body, an aerodynamic feature. Mostly it looks impossibly cool. I’d gladly have one adorning a wall as a piece of art.

The 570S is full of such details. The roof ends in curved rear glass, air cuts through the open C pillars, and the taillights curl around open vents.

And yes, it will be fast. The 3.8-liter, twin-turbo V-8 is mid-engine, meaning that it is located behind the cockpit, and will produce 562 horsepower and 443 pound feet of torque. McLaren claims this will be good for 0 to 62 mph speeds of 3.2 seconds and a top speed of 204 mph.

Trust that it this will be the new, exotic kid on the block, one that owners of other expensive cars will surely covet. By all appearances, McLaren has found its secret sauce.