The real McLaren entry-level supercar offers the thrills of its more powerful siblings along with a whopping cash saving
On sale: Now
Engine: V8, 3799cc, turbo, petrol
Power: 532bhp at 7500rpm
Torque: 398lb ft at 3500rpm
Gearbox: 7-spd auto
Top speed: 199mph
CO2/tax band: 249g/km, 37%
Rivals: Audi R8, Porsche 911 Turbo S
The mighty McLaren 570S has, up to now, grabbed all the headlines. The firm’s so-called ‘baby’ supercar, it’s proven more than a match for the standard-setting Porsche 911 and Audi R8. The 570S isn’t actually the entry-level model of the range though – that’s the duty of the 540C, which we’re driving here for the first time. At £126,000, it costs £17,000 less, but what do you miss out on.
Frankly, not much. And this is the very essence of the cheapest McLaren road car’s appeal. As the name suggests, it has 30bhp less, but 540bhp from the 3.8-litre V8 is still more than ample. It has the same seven-speed gearbox too, and the structure is almost identical.
Indeed, only the most committed spotters will notice the subtle styling differences. The bigger changes are found beneath the surface, where the suspension has a marginally less high-tech setup based around coil springs, adaptive dampers and anti-roll bars. It also has regular cast iron disc brakes rather than fancy carbon ceramics (you can pay extra for them if you really want to).
On the road, it’s as much of a delight as the 570S. The steering is fast and beautifully weighted, helping make the car extremely agile at slower speeds. You can really feel the benefit of its mid-engine layout and scant 1,311kg kerbweight.
Equally remarkable is the ride quality, which is even and impeccably damped. It glides over surfaces in a way few supercars can – only the most severe of bumps will crash into the cabin.
It’s ferociously fast. You’re almost certain not to feel the difference compared to the 570S, and acceleration from 0-62mph in 3.5 seconds is still mighty quick in anyone’s book. All-out, it’s just 1mph shy of 200mph.
The engine starts up with an impressive roar, although the idle is a bit more flatulent. No problem – get it on the move and it howls nicely. The transmission is surprisingly smooth, with intuitive and seamless gearshifts, and clutch take-up in town is even. Paddleshifters feel good to use, and are simpler than the confusing dash-mounted mode switches.
This minor quibble apart, the cabin is stunning. It’s much more intuitive than earlier McLarens, particularly the crystal-clear infotainment system. It’s slightly simpler than the 570S, but this is no detraction, because all the built-in quality is there.
Most will find it almost impossible to split the 540C from the 570S. The fact that it’s cheaper doesn’t show through on the road and simply opens it up to many more fans of the brand seeking something different to an R8 or 911. It doesn’t feel anything like the down-specced tax-break model it may be marketed as in some parts of the world.
The icing on the cake is a finance deal that, in the supercar arena, is a bit of a bargain. Put down a £35k deposit and it can be yours for £1,000 a month on a three-year personal lease scheme. And that, to us, is an absolute steal for a supercar that’s as alluring as this.