McLaren 650s Spider, Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet, Front view 24 Photos Zoom

McLaren 650s Spider, Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabrio: Exclusive biturbo dual

We were the first magazine worldwide to take the McLaren 650S Spider out for a drive with measuring devices and set the new car the challenge of seeing how it fared against the Porsche Turbo S Cabrio when pushed to the limit.

Internal gallery A, Row 6, Seat 274 – the blue seat with patina has outlived them all: the four-cylinder turbos of the eighties with more than 1,000 bhp, the V12 heroes of the nineties or the high-revving v8 of the 2000 generation, screeching up tp 20,000 rpm. Before the sounds of the new Formula 1 V6 turbos find their way into the Hockenheim Motordrome, today other turbocharger-based fun and games will be attracting visitors: 2 x biturbo, 2 x 3.8 litre cylinder capacity, rear drive with 650 bhp up against all-wheel drive with 560 bhp – the McLaren 650S Spider is challenging the Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet.

Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabrio charges to 318 km/h

Sport Plus button activated, PSM off, brake held down and foot to the floor – first up is the Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabrio, which tenses its muscles like a 100-mtre sprinter in the starting block. The Launch Control feature adjusts the starting speed to 5,000 rpm. When the brakes are released, the Cabrio version with its 560 bhp biturbo box engine zooms away from the starting line, as explosively as is coupé brother. Here too, the variable all-wheel drive with its electro-hydraulically controlled multi-disc clutch distributes the drive torque between the front and rear axles at lightning fast speed. Slip? Not that's noticeable.

3.1 seconds, 10.6 seconds, 31.9 seconds – the Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabrio flies past the 100, 200 and 300 km/h marks almost as casually as its fixed roof relative (Coupé: 3.0 s; 10.0 s; 31.0 s). Thanks to the impressive Launch Control and fast gear-shift processes of the standard seven-speed dual clutch transmission, in the Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet anyone who is reasonably competent behind the wheel can join in the orgy of speed. With serene directional stability, the double turbo-charged open-top 911 storms to up to a max. speed of 318 km/h and is thus just as fast as the Coupé.

Given this perfectionist drag and the ease of operation, the Porsche developers could easily have instilled more warlike acoustics into the Turbo S. With the roof down, a turbo hiss does indeed surge over the bonnet and into the cockpit, but the biturbo sound always reveals that it had to find a compromise between shopaholic corporate wives and technically refined turbofans.

McLaren 650S Spider - more than just a facelift

Hissing, whistling, chirping – you don't hear discharge noises in the Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet either. We would love to listen in on the various stages of the current 991 Turbo development at some point. Without doubt one or another of the memorable 917/30 Turbo sounds were tried out, which unfortunately then failed to make it into the series model.

Wine tasting or a trip to the pub – there are different ways to achieve revs. Acoustically speaking, McLaren opts more for the second option. Press the start button on the elegant central console and the McLaren 650S Spider projects its combustion melody into the atmosphere with a typical can-do attitude, right from the moment the engine starts up.

Detractors will refer to the McLaren 650S as merely being a facelift, as it is based on the 12C. However, that is not quite accurate as the 12C will still remain available in a Coupé and a Spider version, alongside the 650S, and besides this, the modifications are not purely in terms of appearance. The facial features of the 650S, with a new front skirt and LED headlights are similar to the McLaren-Supersportler P1. The new three-part bumper on the back is reminiscent of the GT3 racing model.

The McLaren engineers have also reworked the V8 biturbo engine, referred to internally as the M838T. New pistons, cylinder head and exhaust valves, along with different valve control times, increase the power from 625 to 650 bhp. Compared to the 12C, the McLaren 650S Spider now reacts a little more spontaneously to accelerator commands. The 911 Turbo S Cabriolet does, however, depend comparatively more directly on the gas and lines up with arguably greater turbo punch at the bottom end of the rev range.

Biturbo explosion in the McLaren 650S Spider

If you are looking to surf on the 678 Nm torque wave when overtaking in the McLaren, you should either have the seven-speed dual clutch transmission gear down by means of its Automatic mode, or select a lower gear manually using the steering wheel rocker switch, for with its slight turbo lag at under 3,000 rpm, the V8 will otherwise indulge in a brief pause for thought. At over 3,000 rpm, or at least from 4,000 revs, the McLaren 650S Spider, regardless of which gear you are in, sets off a biturbo explosion, which only ends at the top engine speed of 8,500 rpm.

Time for our dragstrip. The rear-wheel drive McLaren also masters dragster-style catapult starts with its eyes closed. Noticeable slip? Here too this is a foreign concept. 100 km/h is history after 3.1 seconds. The McLaren 650S pulverises the 200 km/h mark in 8.7 seconds. After just 26 seconds the GPS speedometer shows a speed of 300. With this the British newcomer not only reaches the magic speed threshold half a second earlier than the plan in Woking promises, but also almost six seconds than the Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet.

The newly calibrated seven-speed dual clutch transmission of the McLaren 650S impresses, not only with even faster gear-shift times, but also with jolt and delay-free gear changes. The 12C assembly still responds to late upshift with a hiccup. However, the Brit doesn't even come close to the everyday comfort of the 911 Cabriolet with regard to gearbox control, seating position, suspension behaviour and the ability to conceal ruts in the road surface.

Porsche masters the balancing act between city and race track driving

It is fantastic how the Porsche developers have mastered the contradictory specification requirements imposed by city traffic and the race track. For us, the latter is the most important. As the pit light turns green, the Porsche is the first to roar onto the short circuit.

Turbo-charging pressure jolts, a lack of power steering , ABS-free brakes – of course this isn't the case, the 911 Turbo S cabriolet is as far from the era of the rugged 930 Turbo as Tokyo is from Zuffenhausen. The 911, fitted as standard with all of the driver dynamics-related touches of finesse, such as rear steering, electronically controlled rear axle differential locking and PDCC anti-roll control thrust forwards with agile, and largely neutral handling within the limit range. However, we can also notice minor differences in drive dynamics.

In comparison to the Turbo S Coupé, the 77 kilos heavier Cabrio version does indeed corner similarly directly and decelerates with similar stability, but does respond with a touch more fragility to load changes and when under load the rear of the vehicle occasionally thrusts when exiting corners. The open top Turbo S does not master driving within the limit range quite so neutrally as the Coupé. With a time of 1:09.8 minutes, the Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabrio lags well behind the best time of its hard-top relative (1:08.7 min) in spite of the Dunlop Sport Maxx racing tyres.

A change of scenery. Out of the Porsche and into the McLaren 650S Spider. Here the lower seating position immediately conveys that motor sports feeling. A press of the Active button and the pair of control dials on the central console, for Powertrain and Handling, turn from Normal via the Sport setting, and finish in Track mode. Once you have then successfully battled your way through the cumbersome combination of buttons to disable the electronic stability control you can then finally go off in hunt of best lap times in the McLaren 650S Spider.

The McLaren 650S Spider feels tighter than the 12C

With a speed of 221, the McLaren the Porsche on the start-finish straights in Hockenheim by 8 km/h. When braking, the rear spoiler (Airbrake), which can be deployed at an angle of up to 69 degrees, certainly does stabilise the McLaren 650S Spider, however, while braking the rear of the Porsche Turbo S remains more composed than that of the McLaren, especially over bumps in the road.
In comparison to the 12C, in the 650S the spring rates were designed to be firmer, by 22 percent at the front axle and 37 percent at the rear.

The damping of the electronically controlled chassis, PCC (Proactive Chassis Control), has also been made firmer. Within the limit range, there are fewer noticeably roll and pitching motions about the longitudinal and transverse axes than in the 12C and in Turbo S Cabriolet. The McLaren also foregoes any anti-roll bars or mechanical differential locking. With traction control activated, in the 650S the latter function is also performed via selective braking interventions on the rear wheel on the inside of the corner (Brake-Steer system). However, with disabled traction control (part of the ESC) the McLaren 650S Spider corners its way around the short circuit, characterised mainly by tight bends, a few tenths faster.

While in Manual mode the Porsche-PDK can be manually geared up and down by kicking down, the manual transmission mode in the Track configuration of the McLaren 650S Spider is really a genuine manual mode. The transmission holds the gears. In comparison to the 12C Spider, the McLaren 650S Spider corners more directly, and the tendency towards understeer has been minimised.

The McLaren 650S Spider cuts 1.1 s off the Porsche time

The McLaren 650S Spider now masters narrow radii, such as in the Sachs corner or the Senke on the Hockenheimring, with greater cornering speeds, without immediately pushing over the front axle. Other than this, the mid-engine two-seater with the carbon chassis now performs with a more agile cornering behaviour when pushed to the limit. While in the event of a load change the 12C followed its line almost stoically, the rear of the 650S reacts to the play on the accelerator pedal by pressing down slightly.

The traction at the rear axle reduces a little in favour of the traction at the front axle. Whereas the rear of the 12C could only be coerced into kicking out within the limit range, in the 650S with disabled ESP easily controllable oversteer does now occasionally occur. The ABS tuning of the carbon ceramic braking assembly, which is now fitted as standard in the McLaren 650S Spider, has potential for improvement. On bumpy road surfaces the system, in combination with the optional Pirelli P Zero Corsa sports tyres is not quite so refined as in the Turbo S with Dunlop Sport Maxx racing tyres.

Although let's not dwell on that, even if we will always find points of criticism, today Woking receives a great deal of praise. With the McLaren 650S Spider, the drive dynamics genes of the 12C have been thoroughly redeveloped, as is impressively evident in the lap time on the short circuit in Hockenheim. With a time of 1:08.7 mins, the 650S Spider carves its way around the short circuit half a second faster than the 12C Spider and thus steals the unofficial title as the fastest roadster in Hockenheim from its soft-top relative.

Christian Gebhardt


Rossen Gargolov


23 May 2016
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