The original plan for these series of articles was to highlight some of the more car-related activities in Tokyo, but as things go they’ve now included some car launches. A while back I was lucky enough to attend the Japan launch of the McLaren 675LT, a more special version of the already special 650S. Last Thursday, I was at yet another McLaren launch and this time it was for their new Sport Series cars. This launch didn’t focus so much on the technical aspects of the cars, instead it felt more personal. Two days prior to the launch on the 4th of June was the 45th anniversary of the tragic death of Bruce McLaren. According to Amanda McLaren, Bruce’s daughter and McLaren Ambassador, the Sports Series are a fitting tribute to her dad’s vision of a road car.
McLaren’s new Sport Series cars, consisting of the 540C and the 570S, are perhaps their most important cars. McLaren hope to double their production with the addition of the Sport Series range. As the entry level series, positioned below the Super and Ultimate Series, not only will they attract new customers to the brand but they’ll also give McLaren more brand recognition.
Growing up my favourite supercars were Ferraris. I had Ferrari models, Ferrari posters, Ferrari videos, and Ferrari clothing. They cars they made when I was growing (the 355/360, 456, and the 550/575) weren’t universally loved but to me they were some of the best cars in the world. That obsession with Ferraris has stayed with me to this day.
McLaren never had the same level of recognition or desirability as Ferrari simply because they only made one car, the F1. And even as dream cars went, the F1 was pretty out there as it cost an eye-watering amount of money. Ferraris, while expensive, didn’t require back-to-back lottery wins to acquire.
Things changed when McLaren returned to the road car business after a decade long hiatus. They brought out the MP4-12C, a hugely impressive car that gave the 458 Italia something to worry about. Then along came the P1 and suddenly McLaren had the world’s attention. Here was a car that through simply brilliant engineering was, for lack of a better phrase, bloody epic. The thing is though, the 12C (now the 650S) and the P1 were still too expensive for most to aspire to. But with the introduction of the Sport Series, people can now have a piece of the McLaren experience for a (relatively) more affordable price.
It’s almost like the same thing Marvel did. Bear with me here. First they brought out movies like Iron Man and Thor to get people interested in the Cinematic Universe (that’d be the MP4-12C). Then they put them all together in one epic film, the Avengers (P1). Now that everyone knows about Marvel and these movies, they’ve used that recognition to venture out to more mainstream areas such as the TV series Agent’s of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Daredevil (the Sport Series). Still with me?
According to David McIntyre, McLaren Regional Director of Asia-Pacific, with the Sport Series they’re targeting customers who primarily drive German sports cars as opposed to the Super Series which targeted people with Italian super cars. In other words, the Sport Series isn’t gunning after Ferrari and Lamborghini but instead has the likes of the Porsche 911, Audi R8, Mercedes-AMG GT, and to an extent, the BMW i8 in its sights.
When Audi entered this segment with the R8 around 8 years ago everyone made a huge fuss about it. It was a mid-engined supercar that could be used everyday. It had the right design, the right badge, and the right product placement in Hollywood films. People commended Audi for trying to take on Porsche with something different.
To me, I think people should be making the same fuss and more with McLaren’s venture into this segment. If you look at their back catalogue, it’s full of expensive exotica. To bring all of that into a package that is meant to be used everyday without compromising McLaren’s values is quite an achievement.
The Sport Series, in the metal, look like a million dollars. They look far more exotic than its rivals, perhaps with the exception of the futuristic i8. The 540C and the 570S have identical designs, making it very difficult to differentiate the two. Thankfully they had them in different colours for us. They both have that unmistakable McLaren look, with a design clearly inspired by the P1. The roofline, window shape, and butterfly doors are now things we familiarise with McLaren. Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the Sport Series is the detailing in the doors. Robert Melville, Chief Designer of McLaren Automotive, called them ‘tendons’ and they not only add impact to the design but also help funnel air into the vents.
Don’t let the ‘entry level’ tag fool you either. The Sport Series are every bit as fast as a McLaren should be. The 540C is powered by the same basic 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 as the rest of the McLaren range but has 30% new components. The result is 540bhp/397kW and 540NM of torque. 0-100 km/h is done in 3.5 seconds. The 570S has a bit more power at 570bhp/419kW and 600NM of torque. This drops the 0-100 km/h time to just 3.2 seconds. Top speed is 325 km/h, putting it in the exclusive 200mph club. Those figures put it right up against the likes of the Porsche 911 Turbo and Audi R8 V10.
So here’s a quick rundown of what the Sport Series is up against.
Porsche 911 Turbo
Engine: 3.8-litre twin-turbo flat-six, rear engine
Drivetrain: 7-speed PDK, all-wheel drive
0-100 km/h: 3.4 seconds
Top Speed: 315 km/h
Engine: 1.5-litre turbocharged three cylinder + electric motors, mid-engine
Drivetrain: 7-speed dual clutch, all-wheel drive
0-100 km/h: 4.4 seconds
Top Speed: 256 km/h
Aston Martin V12 Vantage
Engine: 6.0-litre V12, front-engine
Drivetrain: 6-speed manual or 6-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
0-100 km/h: 4.1 seconds
Top Speed: 305 km/h
Engine: 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8, mid-engine
Drivetrain: 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, rear-wheel drive
Power: 540bhp/397kW, 570bhp/419kW
Torque: 540NM, 600NM
0-100 km/h: 3.5 seconds, 3.2 seconds
Top Speed: 320 km/h, 325 km/h
Weight: 1311kg, 1313kg
Interestingly, the pricing are quite similar too. In Japan the 540C kicks off the range at ¥21,880,000 ($252,139) while the 570S starts from ¥25,550,000 ($295,512). To put that into perspective, a BMW i8 starts from ¥19,170,000 ($221,721). As near as makes no difference the 540C and i8 are identical on price yet only one has a twin-turbo V8, a 200bhp advantage, and a top speed of more than 320 km/h. It’s the same with the 911 Turbo. Sure, it has more torque and practicality than the Sport Series, but the McLaren’s exclusivity and jaw-dropping looks may be enough to sway some people. As for the R8, well what would you rather have; an Audi or a McLaren? Pricing or a NZ release date for the Sport Series have yet to be confirmed but will update once we get this information.
You may have noticed I’ve yet to mention the AMG GT here and that’s because as cars go, the AMG GT is about as perfect as they get for me. But with the Sport Series costing more or less the same, but with a lot more power, it has made me think twice about it. David said he hopes the Sport Series will attract younger buyers to the McLaren brand and I have no doubt about that. But it will also attract younger fans to the brand as the Sport Series can be something they can aspire to own one day. Will be interesting to see if/when Ferrari fights back with a modern day Dino.