McLaren’s 650S is a new contender in the race between top luxury sports cars

McLaren’s 650S rear view of vehicle, doors open
In terms of appearance, size, price and performance, the McLaren 650S goes head to head with Ferrari's 458 every time
(Image credit: TBC)

It would be tempting to label McLaren's new 650S (opens in new tab) as one of the all-time great sports cars. It looks incredible. It sounds fantastic. It performs above and beyond almost anything else on the road. So with these three boxes ticked, you'd think this was an open and shut case. But objective facts and subjective opinions rarely align in the car world. Creating an automotive great is a combination of luck and skill. All the engineering prowess and design ability in the world doesn't count for much if you don't have the right brand name on the bonnet - an attitude that reveals much about the industry's strange relationship with branding and heritage.

In terms of appearance, size, price and performance, the 650S goes head to head with Ferrari's 458 (opens in new tab). And while Ferrari has been shorthand for 'extravagant, ostentatious, desirable sports car' for well over half a century, McLaren's corporate image is rather more obscure - better known to F1 fans and technology-obsessed engineers than the public at large. It'll never trump a Ferrari.

At least that's what the industry would have you believe. In truth, the 650S turns just as many heads as its Italian rival. Inside it's far more comfortable and ergonomically coherent, and the massively complex electronics that manage the engine, gearbox and suspension allow the 650S to be driven sedately, calmly, and very smoothly. You could use this car every day with ease.

The 650S has its origins in McLaren's first modern-era production car, the MP4-12C (opens in new tab). Brilliant as it was for a first attempt, there was always scope for more power, more excitement and a bit more visual drama. The 650S shares a family look with McLaren's P1, the hybrid-powered limited-edition supercar intended to blaze a trail for future developments in high-end auto tech.

While it's not quite as hardcore as its part-electric sibling (at about a quarter of the price), the 650S certainly won't leave you wanting more. Mid-engine cars have an amazing capacity for entertainment, as the power and noise is ever-present, lurking just behind your head. The turbos whoosh dramatically as they spool up - not, perhaps, the traditional noise of raw power, but a seductive one nonetheless. For an extra £20k you can drop the top and get the Spider model, adding even more entertainment (and noise), and both cars have a host of go-faster enhancements (all of which come at a cost). Of course, the original 12C remains on McLaren's order book and is still seriously competent. But the 650S is even better still.

Side view of vehicle exterior

But while Ferrari has been shorthand for 'extravagant, ostentatious, desirable sports car' for well over half a century, McLaren's corporate image is rather more obscure - better known to F1 fans and technology-obsessed engineers than the public at large

(Image credit: TBC)

Front view of vehicle exterior

In truth, the 650S turns just as many heads as its Italian rival

(Image credit: TBC)

Front view of vehicle exterior, doors open

Inside, it's far more comfortable and ergonomically coherent, and the massively complex electronics that manage the engine, gearbox and suspension allow the 650S to be driven sedately, calmly, and very smoothly

(Image credit: TBC)

View of vehicle exterior

You could certainly use this car every day with ease...

(Image credit: TBC)

Interior view of steering wheel and dashboard

The 650S has its origins in McLaren's first modern-era production car, the MP4-12C

(Image credit: TBC)

Interior view of driver's and passenger seat

The 650S also shares a family look with McLaren's P1, the hybrid-powered limited-edition supercar intended to blaze a trail for future developments in high-end auto tech

(Image credit: TBC)

Exterior view of 2 Mclaren 650S

While it's not quite as hardcore as its part-electric sibling (at about a quarter of the price), the 650S certainly won't leave you wanting more

(Image credit: TBC)

Aerial view of vehicle

The turbos whoosh dramatically as they spool up - not, perhaps, the traditional noise of raw power, but a seductive one nonetheless

(Image credit: TBC)

Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.