Is McLaren’s most affordable car ever a cat amongst the usual sports car pigeons?
For people who really care about the finer points of driving, the Mk5 Volkswagen Golf GTI was always a more appealing car than the faster, all-wheel-drive R32 model. Similarly, in Porsche circles the base-level 911 Carrera has often been considered the superior car to the faster, more expensive Carrera S. In fact, there are many examples In recent history of the cheaper, simpler version of a performance car being preferable to the range-topping model It Isn’t just a matter of affordability, either In the case of the Golf GTI and R32, the front-driven model was genuinely more engaging and rewarding to drive (although the R32’s six-cylinder engine was a much sweeter thing than the GTI’s turbocharged four-pot). All this considered, then, what is the chance that this new McLaren 540C is actually the pick of the company’s Sports Series line-up?
At $325,000, the 540 isn’t only the cheapest Sports Series model, it’s also the cheapest McLaren yet. It’s the least powerful, too, with 397kW and 540Nm. This entry-level model undercuts the rather brilliant 570S by $54K and gives up 22kW and 60Nm. In order to keep production costs in check, the 540C also gets aluminium body panels where the more expensive car uses carbonfibre.
It still delivers meaningful performance, though, recording a 0-100km/h time of 3.5 seconds with a 320km/h (199mph) top speed. That makes this the first McLaren road car ever to have a sub-200mph top speed, which neatly demonstrates an important point: the 540C treads new ground for McLaren, a territory where buyers have subtly different expectations.
The $54,000 price difference between the 540C and 570S doesn’t seem like a huge amount, but it means the cheaper car is vying for the attention of buyers who would otherwise consider an Audi R8 V10 or a Mercedes-AMG GT S; buyers who are more likely to have just the one sports car rather than a small fleet.
To that end, the 540C gets revised suspension settings designed to improve ride quality over the 570S and make it more amenable in day-to-day use.