2018 McLaren 570S Spider: First Drive

McLaren has dropped the top of its entry-level car without losing any of its firepower, giving you the option of some very high-speed tanning.

McLaren/Patrick Gosling

Technology is really all that we should be grateful for. More specifically, in the case of McLaren, for the advances in composite manufacturing. Of course the company's stubbornness is also worth a friendly nod, because without it, we wouldn't be looking at the 570S Spider.

Back in 1994, it took 3000 man-hours over six weeks to hand-build the McLaren F1's carbon fiber monocoque. One might call that inefficient, but given the limited scale of the operation and the mindset behind the car, such methods were within the budget. Luckily, after the F1 showed the world what it was made of, McLaren decided to continue the theme on its road cars, designing every model around carbon tubs ever since.

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McLaren/Patrick Gosling

Today's lightweight composites are mostly made quickly by robots at a fraction of what it cost to construct an F1 chassis. McLaren calls its current tubs Monocells (or Monocages in the case of the Super Series), and they are so stiff that replacing the fixed panel with a folding hardtop for a bit of extra theater has no effect on the product's rigidity.

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All the 101 lbs. added by the electric motors means is that the Spider gets to 124mph 0.1 seconds after a standard 570S would, still running the quarter mile in 11 seconds flat. And then, it soldiers on to 204 mph with the roof up.

Key to that performance is lightness. The 570S Spider is 3276 lbs. with fluids and an almost full tank of fuel, and that makes it considerably lighter than either an Audi R8 Spyder, its Lamborghini cousins, or a 911 Turbo S. None of which have a carbon backbone either. Customers seem to have noticed how the Sports Series keeps punching above its weight, rewarding the effort by jumping into these "entry-level" McLarens after owning Ferrari 458s, or other, possibly more expensive supercars.

McLaren/Patrick Gosling
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The deal with the Sports Series is simple. First, there was the 570S, with its fresh lines and clever flying buttress design. It was fast, and thanks to its low grip aero and suspension setup, a whole lot of fun at speed. And for those who thought that still wasn't enough, Woking prepared a GT4 race car and a track-special Sprint version.

Then, McLaren decided to replace the car's top half with a stunning glass hatch ending in a panoramic roof, making sure to cook up an electrochroamatic version as well for those who found the 18 percent tint applied to the roof rather unsatisfactory in the desert. The 570GT even got slightly softer springs and foamy, noise-cancelling Pirellis instead of the 570S' Corsas, and with that, the practical luxury version was born.

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McLaren/Patrick Gosling

Design-wise, the new Spider is a mixture of the two road cars. It comes with the 570S' sharper settings, but because the Tonneau is no flying buttress, it also has the extended rear spoiler off the GT, which provides some additional downforce. It's pretty. As far as practicality goes, the hole in its nose is still 5.3 cubic feet deep (that's equal to a carry-on suitcase, a backpack and some loose socks), but McLaren was quick to point out that with the roof up, its compartment can swallow an extra 1.83 cubic feet of your valuables.

Speaking of that area behind the driver's head, the 570S Spider inherited the 650S Spider's power rear window, which can be lowered even when the roof is up. Having such a direct opening right above the engine without the wind noise is a real treat, especially if somebody opted for the pricey sports exhausts. In fairness, everybody should.

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McLaren/Patrick Gosling
McLaren/Patrick Gosling
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The Spider is roughly ten percent more expensive than the coupé, and although its price can get steeper once you start throwing more shiny carbon fiber bits and that banging Kevlar-enhanced 12-speaker stereo on it, it still comes standard with carbon ceramic brakes, proper supercar doors, a seven-speed paddle shift gearbox, custom switchgear and a 562 horsepower twin-turbo V8.

It also has hydraulic steering, an important quality almost all of McLaren's competitors have given up on by now. It's confidence inspiring, especially ending in a carbon fiber steering wheel with zero buttons on it. That's the exact opposite of what Ferrari is doing.

With or without a roof, the Sports Series still fits like a glove, especially when specified with manual seats and steering wheel adjustment. In normal mode, it's shockingly civilized for a mid-engined toy, while in sport or track, it becomes a much more eager tool, with the 3.8 hiding a refreshingly noticeable turbo lag. Indeed, despite having tons of low-end torque for some casual speeding, this engine wants you to keep it in the sweet spot with those ergonomic carbon shifters, delivering a surprising punch on boost while allowing some time to think about your next move once those Mitsubishi turbos are on a break. It's old school in that sense, but either way you use it, the pace becomes illegal so quickly that one must keep short-shifting that swift seven-speed almost all the time.

McLaren/Patrick Gosling
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Fully unleashed, there's no doubt that Spider or not, the Sports Series can still smoke bigger fish. Meanwhile in the city, it's hardly more compromised than a Jaguar F-Type on its biggest wheels. Yes, McLaren's crucial nose lift system is even more expensive than the loud exhaust that should be standard, but the roof takes just 15 seconds to open or close, and will work at speeds up to 25 mph.

All this tech at 204 mph for just over $200k is a proposition hard to match, even if the 570S Spider's touchscreen happens to be unreadable on a sunny day with the roof down.

McLaren/Patrick Gosling

From what I've heard, the new 720S is a remarkably capable supercar, but this 570S Spider asks a familiar question once again: why spend the extra hundred grand? With this open-top Sports Series being perfectly suitable for both road trips and some occasional track duty, that money seems better spent on a whole lot of 100 octane fuel and Pirelli's stickiest 285-wide tires.

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Then again, once the 720S Spider comes out, we'll need to revisit this dilemma, on road and track.

McLaren/Patrick Gosling
McLaren/Patrick Gosling
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