It's a rare thing when a car company's least expensive offering is also its best. It's an especially rare feat among high-end automakers, but it happens every once in a while. It requires distilling down the essence of a company's core philosophies about everything from driving dynamics to styling and tech into one product.
BMW's M division arguably managed that trick a few years ago with its 1 Series M Coupe, a sharp-handling two door that wore the company's "Ultimate Driving Machine" mantra on its sleeve, even as the German automaker was arguably in the middle of retreating from that very mission statement.
And now there's the 570S, an "entry-level" supercar that's part of McLaren's Sport Series. Notice the scare quotes -- anything with a starting price tag of $184,900 is unlikely to be a bargain-basement proposition, but the sharply styled Brit nevertheless goes without some key McLaren tech in its quest for a more accessible price point. You won't find the spookily effective hydraulic anti-roll system employed on the 650S or 675LT, nor the active aero pack that includes Mac's novel active Airbrake rear wing. And it goes without saying that the 570S lacks the hybrid electric assist found on the (now out-of-production) P1 hypercar.
You won't miss any of it.
What you will find with the 570S are the same theatrical butterfly doors and the same lightweight, ultra-rigid carbon construction clothed in aluminum panels. This time, there's a reshaped passenger tub to allow for easier ingress and egress, affording a slightly larger interior in the process. The 570S and its slightly posher 570GT sibling have been expressly designed to be more usable -- a bit less "trackday and special occasion," and a bit closer to a daily drivable machine like the Audi R8 V10 Plus and Porsche 911 Turbo S. Both of those are worthy supercars the 570S counts among its chief rivals.
So the 570S is more accommodating, but it's no less special to drive. Like other McLarens, the 570S is still powered by the same compact, yet characterful 3.8-liter twin-turbo V8, tuned here to net 562 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque. Those are solid but not overwhelming figures for this class, but it's the 570S' feathery construction that gives it an edge in the power-to-weight ratio stakes. Weighing in at around 3,200 pounds, it's several hundred pounds lighter than its nearest rival and that pays big dividends dynamically.
That lightness not only translates into an official 0-60-mph time of 3.1 seconds, it also means there's substantially less heft to halt under braking and less mass threatening to pull you off the apex while slingshotting around corners. The 570S' mid-engined layout was already inherently ideal for handling, but being so light has cascading benefits. Doing more with less has enabled McLaren's engineers to specify less-than-monster meats, for instance. That's especially up true front, where 225/35 ZR19 Pirelli P-Zero Corsa tires come good in the form of reduced unsprung weight and lighter, quicker-reacting steering. Less weight means improved dynamics, heightened driver feedback and improved efficiency. It's a virtuous cycle.
As car reviewers, we've been taught to believe that true modern sports cars have limited-slip differentials and torque vectoring hardware that mechanically overdrives the outer wheel in a corner to aid turn-in. Conversely, in a corner, the 570S relies on individually braking the inner wheels to induce yaw and tighten the car's trajectory. This is widely considered to be a less elegant, less effective way to add torque vectoring, and is generally viewed among gearheads with suspicion as a cost-saving technique.
I'm not sure if McLaren's engineers collectively graduated from Hogwarts, but there are at least a couple of tricks in the 570S' arsenal that feel downright magical, and this is one of them. Simply put, the 570S gets around corners magnificently, without any of that extra hardware. This is one of the best-handling cars on the planet, and more to the point, it's one of the best feeling ones while doing so. The always quick, always light steering offers excellent feedback and the standard carbon-ceramic brakes are a perpetual joy to use. And regardless of what mode you have the suspension in, you can faithfully feel what the chassis is doing underneath you, yet there's no punishing ride as an ugly byproduct of tuning for handling.
For something that enables a 0-60 time of just 3 seconds, the small-displacement V8 feels surprisingly docile around town, it never comes across as hair-trigger nervous, thanks in part to its well-mannered partner, a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox that works well whether left to its own devices or grabbed by its cantilevered paddle shifters. Downsides? There's a decent-sized sliver of turbo lag before the engine builds enough revs to wake the forced induction bits, a momentary pause that asks your right foot, "Are you really sure you want to light this Roman candle?"
Of course, you do want to slap a match head on that firework. And you'll want to do it again and again, never mind the inherent risk of fricasseeing your driver's license. However -- and this is an important distinction -- unlike most of today's supercars, you don't have actually have to be deep into "... and throw away the key!" velocities -- let alone in the vicinity of its 204-mph top speed -- in order to get your lizard brain drunk on dopamine, feeling all warm and fuzzy. There's enough feedback flowing through your fingertips, ears and various other parts of your anatomy that you can genuinely enjoy saner speeds, too.
You don't even have to feel all that guilty when it comes time time to fill up the 570S, because it's surprisingly efficient -- EPA estimates call for 16 miles per gallon city, 23 mpg highway, and 19 mpg combined. That won't earn you any Christmas cards from Greenpeace, but it's roughly the same as a V8-powered Ford Mustang, and well shy of gas-guzzler tax territory.
If there's a chink in my $210,710-as-tested 570S' everyday-driving armor, it's the cabin. The thin-shell seats are comfortable enough (although I'd give pause before a long road trip -- this isn't a GT car), but the footwell is tight. Climb aboard and you can tell right away that McLaren could never have offered a manual transmission model even if it wanted to -- there's just no room down there for a third pedal.
And that's not the only issue. McLaren's IRIS infotainment system, effectively a 7-inch Android tablet mounted in the center of the dash, comes across as both fiddly and a bit dour. Both the menu structure and the graphics leave a lot to be desired, and the system can feel laggy. Yes, it offers standard Wi-Fi tethering, available apps and voice control, but it's just not that intuitive to use -- and that's only compounded by the fact that the system also supervises HVAC functions (McLaren was overly serious about keeping the cabin's physical switchgear to a bare minimum).
Before you ask, there's also no Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, and the optional rearview camera view is annoyingly small since the screen is vertically oriented. But as an added bonus of sorts, there's an optional three-camera system that works with the onboard telemetry system and GPS to record your best Senna impersonation at local trackdays for later review and YouTube glory.
Also on the plus side, at least the matching 7-inch TFT gauge cluster is better, with crisp graphics, turn-by-turn navigation information and a large central tachometer that helpfully points out when you're approaching the V8's stratospheric 8,500-rpm redline.
With the 570S' emphasis on creating a lightweight, driver-first super sportscar, it should come as no surprise that you won't find a full complement of advanced driver-assist systems like lane-keep assist or intelligent cruise control with auto-brake. And if you're looking for more creature comforts, you're better off choosing the 570S' more luxury-focused cousin, the 570GT, which adds lashings of leather and a bit more storage space thanks to side-hinged rear glass, or a more formal grand tourer like the Bentley Continental GT, which is an entirely different sort of animal.
The 570S is an incredible accomplishment, one with more depth of talent and feel than one could ever expect a five-year-old roadcar company would be capable of developing -- even one with as storied a motorsports history as McLaren.
It's so well done, in fact, that I can't think of a single good reason to aspire to the company's pricier and more exclusive offerings, and that may be 570S' most impressive accomplishment of all.