AS PREVIEWED earlier in the week, McLaren is to launch a new 650S model at the 2014 Geneva motor show that will sit between the everyday 12C supercar and the out-of-this-world P1 hypercar in terms of performance and price.
Jenson Button helped to develop the roots of the car and McLaren Automotive’s engineers have tuned the 3.8-litre turbocharged V8 engine to produce 641bhp. All the go-fast bits, such as the aerodynamics, suspension, tyres, brakes and gearchange, have been uprated. Will it replace the 12C? McLaren says the older model will continue to be built but accepts that sales could falter in a market where customers demand the latest. The 650S will be sold in convertible and coupé forms and is likely to be priced from just below £200,000.
The most obvious difference between this and a 12C is the car's look. McLaren Automotive's styling department, led by Frank Stephenson (whose credits include the BMW Mini, Fiat 500 and Maserati MC12 supercar) has taken the distinctive face of the P1 and scaled it down to work on the 12C. Riding on the coat tails of the P1 is a wise move: it transforms the 12C donor model from a slightly apologetic and generic looking machine into a sports car that packs visual attitude and has a clearer family identity.
"Designers are never satisfied," Stephenson told The Sunday Times. "We are developing a design language that will become recognisable as McLaren. We don't have a lot of history - the F1 is as far back as we go - and not everyone was happy with the emotion of the 12C design. When I started, my first big job was the P1, which was much more emotional and more extreme. With the 650S, the job is to help the 12C move to another level and put it into context with the P1."
However, Stephenson said that the 12C would probably not be facelifted, as it would require a change to the tooling and that would increase its price. "In certain countries in the Far East that really hit buyers with taxes, it can make a lot of sense to keep 12C at the level it's at now."
Following the ethos of the 12C, the new 650S stays true to the 'everyday supercar' positioning that McLaren adopted as its unique selling point. However, the extra power and torque (now 500Ib ft @ 6,000rpm) improves performance, with 0-62mph taking 3.0 seconds and 0-125mph taking just 8.4seconds, according to McLaren. The car's top speed is an eye-watering 207mph.
Helping manage the extra speed, the restyled bodywork is said to reduce air pressure around the 650S' nose compared with a 12C, creating as much as 40 per cent more downforce. It is complemented by new Pirelli P Zero Corsa tyres (designed for the 650S) which are suited to driving on a race track, improved braking from standard carbon ceramic brakes, revised suspension tuning, a faster-shifting double clutch transmission and a recalibrated electronic stability control system that can be switched off completely.
"We wanted to give the car a greater connection to the driver," says Jamie Corstorphine, Head of Product at McLaren Automotive. "It's a supercar; it should be about people enjoying the experience and that's really what we focused on with this programme."
Critics say that McLaren was too cautious with the design of the MP4-12C and the way it drove, and owners could be left with a car which will be considered inferior to the 650S, making it less desirable should they wish to sell it. McLaren defends the changes, stating it is a fast-moving company that brings new technology and thinking to the customer as soon as possible.
The 650S will be launched at the Geneva motor show next month, and will cost approximately £195,000 for the Coupe and £215,000 for the Spyder when it goes on sale in the Spring, which is approximately £20,000 more than an equivalent 12C.
McLaren 650S walkaround video