2018 McLaren 540C drive, Road Test, Review, and rating.
Subtle, discrete, quiet, said no-one ever about McLaren’s 540C.
It is lithe, nimble, quick, and light, but above all, fabulous. I could go on and on about the looks and feel, but there is absolutely nothing that will prepare you for the assault on the senses once the engine starts.
The company has sold 69 cars so far this year, and that makes them very rare. You’ll be very lucky to see one on the road, and other road users know this. Never have I received so much attention in any car I’ve driven, and I liked it.
Meet McLaren’s entry level coupe, the 540C. Yes, I said Entry level, and it is a snip at $325,000.
Slung low over 19” wheels up front, and 20” at the back, the 80kg tub carries all of the forces generated by the turbo V8.
Monocell II is all carbon fibre and is just one of the exotic materials crafted in to one of the best-looking cars on the road.
The repeated motif of the McLaren “Swoop” can be seen in their logo. You can see it again on in the headlights, and around the vents, and inside on the doors.
From the side, you appreciate how much of the length is devoted to the magnificent howling twin turbo V8. The cabin, built on the Monocell II, benefits from developmental design tweaks. There is now a subtle dip towards the front end which rises is the sill travels rearward.
Open the door, and that sloping tub allows the feet to be swung in, movie-star-style, without having to be contorted as in earlier McLarens.
Scissor doors swing slightly out before travelling skywards. After you pull up at the kerb, it is the moment everyone waits for.
The door latch is electric and is operated by a rubber button on the under side the graceful arch which sits near the upper edge of the door.
You don’t need the key to open the door or start the car, but the fob has to be used to open the cargo hold at the front, and to lock the doors.
There is no bonnet.
The mid-mounted engine is covered by dark mesh just behind the rear window, with only a small hatch for oil and water. The rest has to be done on a hoist from underneath. McLaren is not fussed on talentless hacks messing with their stuff.
LED lighting looks spectacular. The McLaren swoop defines lighting arrays at either end of the car. At the rear, tail lights are mere suggestions. Fine lines of bright light outline a gentle curve and change depending on whether indicators or brakes are being used.
Reversing lights sit bottom centre of the rear diffuser between the tail pipes.
A super-car cabin can be a stark and lonely place. The 540c eschews the minimalist attitude of race-obsessed jaunty-capped fanboys for a more comfortable experience. Swathes of leather and Alcantara cover almost every surface. Any plastics are of good quality.
The interior is built in and around the Monocell II tub. As you open the door you notice the sill slopes downwards toward the front wheels. It allows your feet to slip more easily over the threshold. This small change made a world of difference to models made previously. It was far more of a trial getting your feet between the sill and the footwell.
Racing seats, normally as hard as nails, cosset the occupants, lightly touching just enough to stop them from sliding out of the saddle. Enthusiastic cornering sees G-Forces akin to jet fighters throw the driver and his friend from side to side.
More mundane tasks carried out through the week will make good use of the cubby holes. Whilst it’s true that you won’t be carrying unnecessary flummery, cups of coffee find homes in the centre console.
There is a glove box big enough for a few small personal items, but a couple of handbags can be stashed behind the seats. A parcel shelf, appropriately enough, is the perfect size for parcels.
The steering wheel is free of buttons. That is normally a bad thing, but not in the McLaren. The leather cladding feels like you’re holding a fine pair of kid gloves.
Behind the wheels sit 4 stalks, and 2 paddles.
Indicators and high beam are inextricably located on the European side. Wipers are on the other side. Below the indicators, a shorter stalk controls car height, and also used to select and change menu options.
Variable ride height is useful for navigating low driveways, and car ferries, as we later found out. It would be much better to have this nifty function on a button all on its own. For obvious reasons, you’ll be reaching for it, a lot.
Cruise control is on the opposite side of the steering column, and up and down paddles select gears in “manual” mode. You can leave these alone if you want the slick automatic to do its own thing.
Doors swing up in a theatrical flourish of “look at me, aren’t I clever”-ness. They are lifted on heavy duty gas struts. The latch is electric with the button located just ahead of the window controls on the door arm rests. Luckily, it only operates when the car is standing still. I frequently pulled it instead of the window lever. You can imagine the hijinks without the safety lockout.
The 540C centre console contains the D,N, and R buttons for the 7 speed double clutch auto just in front of the small armrest bin and cup holder. There is no P which caused no end of consternation. A discrete parking brake is activated by a button on the dash. In many ways, I’d prefer a great big lever on the console, but I’m sure I’d live to regret it.
Just in front of the transmission selector is the all-important “Active” button. Once pressed, the chassis and drivetrain switches scroll through varying levels of insanity. Launch Control can be used if you have a death wish. If you look carefully, you see the outline of a cross-section of the V8 joining the two drive mode dials. It’s a subtle touch, but rather clever none the less.
Design touches, like beautiful curves and graceful arching lines, continue further up the 540C dash where a 7” tablet is mounted in portrait mode. Buttons for main functions act with the touch screen to manipulate the audio, navigation, and settings menus.
The s540C ystem is a trifle slower than I’d have liked. There is a definite pause between selecting functions, and the command being executed.
There is no Apple CarPlay/Android Auto so streaming is either via Bluetooth, or the USB in the centre armrest bin. I confess to being slightly disappointed with the interface, but not the sound. There are speaker upgrades to be had but the standard audio is just fine by me.
Instruments consist of another LCD screen set up racing-style in front of the driver. Bizarrely, it is this screen which is also used for the reversing camera. I hadn’t realised how annoying this was until I wanted to see something with the steering wheel blocking the picture.
If the 540C was Italian, I’d call it “flare”. But, McLaren is made in Surrey, England, so from the land which brought us Lucas, Prince of Darkness, I’m not at all surprised.
Strangely, 540C appears only as a badge on the centre console. All other Badging proudly proclaims McLaren, occasionally with “Made In Surrey”
- Variable vehicle height
- LED lighting inside and out
- 2 LCD screens
- DAB radio
- Monocell II chassis
- Variable drive mode
- 7 speed double clutch auto with paddle shifters
- Carbon fibre and aluminium construction.
- Auto dipping reverse mirror
- Reversing camera (displayed in driver’s instruments)
- All round parking sensors
Drive and Engine
Few will ever get to experience the unbridled joy of sitting in a McLaren. Even fewer will drive one and that is a shame.
Its 90° twin turbo V8 has an impressive 397kw and an even more impressive 540Nm of panty-wetting torque. On the way to a stratospheric top of 340kph, you’ll get to more subdued 100 in 3.5 seconds, and licence-losing 200kph in 10.5 seconds, if you dare.
You come to a complete stop from 200kph in 4.9 seconds while covering just 138 metres. If you through out the anchors at 100kph, only 34m and 3.1 seconds will be required. It may well detach your retinas but is well worth the risk. You don’t want to do this too often, or men with blue lights will come.
Fuel consumption is modest at 11.1 L/100k combined. You’ll expect 16.6 around town and 8.1L/100k of highway travel. On the track, all bets are off.
The engine rasps angrily to life after a quick stab of the starter button.
The note is much higher than the low, visceral tone of a V8 Vantage. McLarens demand attention as the exhaust bounces of any near surface to reverberate for what feels like hours.
Left in nana mode, you can beetle about as if you were driving Miss Daisy. Pushing your loafer into the carpet brings the thing to life, and it will take off like a scalded cat. In sport and track modes, the electronic nannies gradually cede command to a boasty driver. If you are intent on selecting the suicide modes, make sure your ego doesn’t write cheques your skill can’t cash.
Massive reserves of power remain lagooned amid the sea of refinement, but once the tornado is unleashed, the super-light body shows the rigidity of a brick, that can caper like a mountain goat, at the speed of NCC 1701. NCC74656 speed is reserved for the posher models.
There is not a skerrick of movement in the 540C chassis and the steering is near psychic. Don’t sneeze unless you want to change lanes.
There are none of the driver aids you get in a humble Kiahttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Driving_Miss_Dais. Lane change assist? No. Radar Cruise control? You must be joking. Blind Spot Monitor? That’s for pussies!
Our drive covered several routes over roughly 400km. Some of it was in the city, but a smattering of highway speed cruising was interspersed with frisky corners and spirited straight-aways. Wiseman’s Ferry is a great favourite but not without drawbacks especially at low tide.
I know what you’re thinking: How will a super car that can barely cross a sheet of A4 without needing big hugs, possibly get on to a barge. Well, it did. Ask the hunky Ferry Master to come a little further up the beach if you’re feeling queasy. Remember, you have almost 40mm of extra height to call on if you need it, and we did.
If the McLaren range was a musical group, it would be called The Speed Girls starring posh Girl, Posher Girl, and Dead-Posh Girl.
There is no ANCAP rating which is no surprise.
You get the usual traction controls, ABS, Launch Control and an open differential with brake steer. I’d be lying if I said I knew what the latter meant.
Much of the safety comes down to the fact that the pin sharp accuracy of the drive keeps the person behind the wheel alert.
- Superb handling
- Breath taking acceleration
- Excellent ride, sort of.
Not So Good Bits
- No Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Vehicle lift can be complex to use
- Sluggish infotainment system
540C has drop-dead-gorgeous looks, face-ripping handling, and performance that makes the blood pool at the back of your head. they combine to make this rare, under-rated coupe the object of lust the likes of which most car makers could only dream of.
It drives beyond the realms of expectation, but unlike most super cars, is easy as a daily driver. You can, as i did, and visit Maccers for lunch after meeting friends for coffee. You can shoot up the Wiseman’s Road for a ferry ride across the Hawkesbury. You can meet a mate at the Inn for some secret men’s business, and still be home in time for tea.
McLaren’s 540C is bold in an understated way. It is beautiful, yet functional enough to be as useful as it is fast. You feel every little undulation in a way that makes you grateful to be alive.
If it meant being able to own it, I’d be happy never to eat again.
Before I go, it is worth noting that a couple of security risks have been reported in the media. McLaren says it has not yet been affected, but is none-the-less working to make sure no key can be cloned and your prized Maccer nicked.
TAKATA airbag inflators: although NO McLarens have the more dangerous ALPHA inflators, McLaren are replacing the passenger’s side TAKATA airbags. SEE HERE for the schedule and further information. NOTE: previously replaced TAKATA airbags may ALSO BE FAULTY.
Facts and Figures: 2018 McLaren 540C
- Engine: 3.8L V8 twin turbo petrol producing 398kW/540Nm
- Transmission: Seven-speed double clutch sports automatic
- Warranty: 3/ unlimited km
- Safety: Not tested
- Origin: UK
- Price: from $325,000
Author: Alan Zurvas