The McLaren 650S, hastily unveiled yesterday after an injudicious leak by The Sunday Times (something we deplore as we had a sneak preview of the 650S at McLarens HQ in Woking a couple of months ago and managed to keep quiet about it), is faster, better handling, and even more beautiful than the 12C it doesnt replace.
Doesnt replace? Thats right, the 12C and 12C Spider will continue to be sold alongside the new 650S Coupe and Spider, ostensibly for markets where punitive import taxes mean the old car – likely to be around 20,000 cheaper than the equivalent 650S – makes better financial sense.
The new car is the product of some typically cerebral thinking; the 650S might boast 650PS (or 641bhp in old money), usefully more than the 12Cs 616bhp but the 0-62mph time drops by just 0.1 seconds to 3 seconds dead and the top speed improves by only 3mph to 207.
So, if outright statistics arent the name of the game, what is?
It is, to coin a hackneyed phrase, all about the driver. The 12C is one of the fastest supercars on the planet but it isnt the most stirring, something the 650S is designed to fix.
So, the gear changes are now faster and more immediate. The 650S also features inertia push, a piece of wizardry that uses the engines torque (a whopping 500lb ft is available between 3,000 and 7,000rpm) to raise the engine speed during the gear change, ensuring no loss of urge for the millisecond youre changing cogs.
Of more interest to mere mortals is that a brief engine cylinder cutout has been engineered in to make the engine sound nice during part-throttle upshifts. Frivolous? Maybe, but the 12Cs weakest suit is that it provides less drama than the Ferrari 458, a point not lost on McLarens engineers.
The brakes are now carbon ceramic as standard (theyre a 10,000 option on the 12C) and have been recalibrated, all the better to hold back the new Pirelli P Zero Corsa tyres under deceleration in combination with the rear airbrake.
Elsewhere the steering is sharper, with suspension spring rates increased by 22 percent. The result is improved body control yet no loss of low-speed comfort. More importantly for the target market, the chassis can now adopt wider slip angles for easier drifting
The rear spoiler is now intelligent, deploying automatically in situations where the 650S thinks the car needs stabilizing; when cresting the brow of a hill at high-speed, for example, and it flattens itself DRS-style when the car is travelling in a straight line at high speeds to minimize drag and optimize the cars aerodynamics.
Optimization of the 650Ss aerodynamic behaviour was clearly a key objective, and one that has been met in full; peak downforce is now 40 percent greater than in the 12C and better balanced front to rear, thanks, in part, to the 650Ss P1-style front end.
Yes, that nose, the most talked-about proboscis since this years crop of F1 cars. For what its worth, we like it – and the car is infinitely more delicate and attractive in the flesh than it is in photographs. In the same way that the P1 has a simplicity and a elegance on the road that photography cant convey, the 650S has a subtlety that isnt immediately apparent from the studio shots weve seen so far.
But the changes arent just about the cars performance; the interior now features an Alcantara interior, upgraded sat-nav, DAB radio, and a rear parking camera. Oh, and you can choose from four new colours and a new design of ultra-lightweight alloy wheel too.
Given the breadth of the changes 25 percent of the 650S is all-new and the quantum leap in the driver experience, McLarens claims that the 650S is not the new 12C seem credible.
And yet, given how close their showroom price is, the twenty grand premium that is being asked for the 650S seems like the automotive bargain of the decade.
Surely the 12Cs days must be numbered