The McLaren 540C: Stick to your lane

Morning alarms are rarely an appealing proposition but when they display the words ‘McLaren‘ and ‘Drive Day ‘ you’d excuse me for skipping out of bed. The smorgasbord of supercars were strutting their stuff down at Sydney’s Woolloomooloo wharf and after some seductive stare downs I reluctantly left the cars for the mornings briefing. McLaren UK had flown out Global Communications Director, Wayne Bruce to give us the run-down of all things McLaren and when he introduced himself as “Man Bat “ I knew I was in for an entertaining presentation. There was some history, sales graphs, model forecasts… but most interestingly, a statement of intent, or lack thereof, that McLaren will not be producing an SUV. To some, this won’t resonate, but I think there is something refreshing when a manufacturer bucks trends and just do what they do best; and in this case it’s making exceptional supercars.

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When the briefing concluded, hands were shaken, coffees were consumed and keys were distributed. My key happened to open McLaren’s often overlooked ‘entry level ‘vehicle, the 540C. As I’d already driven the 570GT  and 570 Spider it was the perfect way to round off the sports series. Externally, you’ll need a sharp eye to spot any visual differences with the 570. You still get those infamous dihedral doors, MonoCell II chassis and enough carbon aero for grown men go weak at the knees. In sheer head turns to price ratio, it has to be the one of the best on the market.

mclaren 540c car supercar

As I drove out through the city towards Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, I was wondering If I romanticized my previous involvement with a McLaren. Can it be as good as I remember?

Like a holiday or a music festival, we have a tendency to recall the good and suppress the bad. Two corners in to the chase, my doubts were erased. That turn in, that razor sharp turn in… it’s something that’s hard to quantify on a spec sheet and is equally difficult to display visually, but it’s there in abundance. It’s something more akin to an open wheel race car than a comparable road car and it’s oh so rewarding. Every apex, every corner exit wiggle, this sports series range is engaging in all the right ways. To be perfectly honest, the 540C doesn’t have as much drivetrain sorcery as some of its exotic rivals, but refreshingly, it doesn’t need it. The amount of mechanical grip on tap is staggering and when you get it right, it’s sheer driving bliss.

mclaren 540c car

Powering the lightweight weapon is the same twin turbo V8 from the 570, only de-tuned slightly to 397kW. That converts to a 0-100 time of 3.5 seconds (vs 3.2 in the 570) and 0-200 in 10.5 seconds (vs 9.5). As you can see, the difference is minor and when you’re gliding from apex to apex through that 7-speed dual clutch, you’ll be too busy appreciating that steering rack and chassis to worry about those 20 Kilowatts you’re missing. Wheels are a juicy 19”: 20” (F:R) and are wrapped in Pirelli’s finest P Zero rubber whilst braking is achieved via steel rotors, feel and performance is remarkable.

mclaren 540c nice car

For a car that is so well sorted, goes that hard and looks that good… the 540C is an exceptional package. It’s one of the only cars under $350k with genuine supercar looks and performance and while it’s not quite a 570, it’s extremely close. McLaren have done an outstanding job with the sports series of cars and when you consider their relatively short history with roads cars, it’s even more remarkable.

McLaren are an independent manufacturer with a well-earned sense of purpose. They produce what they love, they ignore the trends, and they know who they are. It might not sound like much, but in this day and age, there’s something reassuring in that.

Both symbolically and physically, McLaren are well and truly, sticking to their lane.


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