McLaren 540C Review

The 540C is McLaren’s least expensive car. As such there’s much that’s missing. It lacks the 650S’s Proactive Chassis Control, which replaces mechanical anti-roll bars (and their intrinsic compromise) with interlinked hydraulics for a plush ride with circuit-ready body control. The 540C also uses iron brake discs rather than carbon-ceramics, and four-piston front calipers as opposed to the 570S’s six-piston units.

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It obviously also goes without the hybrid powertrains of either the P or McLaren’s MP4-31 Fi car (a relief in the case of the latter), and at 533bhp, 398lb ft and 199mph is down 29bhp, 45lb ft and 5mph on the £143,250 570S. The 540C costs £128,550.

What’s compelling though is just how much the 540C retains. McLaren’s ultra-stiff carbon-fibre monocoque stays (for a piffling dry weight of 1311kg), as does a barely less potent version of Woking’s twin-turbo 3.8-litre V8, and there are three-stage adaptive dampers. The 540C is also quite fabulous to drive.

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The elegant dihedral doors and wide sills are familiar, as is the cockpit architecture, which is either nicely snug or claustrophobic depending on your size. The driving position is nigh-on perfect, forward visibility good and the interior rife with the firm’s now trademark purity of purpose.

The chassis tune is on the firm side, even in Normal – the 540C may be the lowest rung in the Sports Series ladder but it is a sports car nonetheless. On rough roads the C never settles, jiggling endlessly. It’s a world away from the supple, big-mile refinement of the 650S. And when you clear the corners you may even miss the greater performance of that car and the 570S, the relatively torque-light 540C requiring a semblance of the right gear ratio for a meaningful response.

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But find yourself on a proper road and all reservations will likely evaporate. The generous recompense for the busy ride and steering is a fantastic sense of connection to the car, with feedback flooding in from seat and wheel (if not brake pedal which, in stark contrast to many over-servo’d set-ups, asks for a meaty, analogue shove).

Snug in your seat, machine-gunning through gears on the 540C’s nicely tactile shift paddles, you’re soon tuned into what could, given its bald figures and thick, turbocharged delivery (wet conditions demand restraint), have been a pretty intimidating tool. Instead you find yourself ramping up the drive modes for their still-greater feedback, poise and response and probing deeper into the McLaren’s deep reserves of performance, grip and addictive togetherness.

That suspension set-up you dismissed as too harsh ten minutes ago hardwires you to the shifting loads and grip levels at each corner of the car. And de-tuned though the 540 C may be, this is still a monumentally quick car (3,5sec to 62mph, 10.5sec to 124mph…), its marginally less ferocious delivery merely encouraging you to be braver with it.

SPECIFICATIONS


McLaren 540C

mc-laren-540-c-6Price: £128,550
Engine: 3799cc V8 turbocharged
Power: 533bhp @ 7500rpm
Torque: 398lb ft @ 3500rpm
Transmission: seven-speed sequential with paddleshift, rear-wheel drive
0-62mph: 3.5sec
Top speed: 199mph
CO2: 249g/km
On sale: Now

VERDICT 5/5

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Only a stunning engine short of world domination

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