We decided to take the fast way to Hell and back. Hell, Michigan, that is, at the helm of the McLaren 650S Spider. It's not quite the fastest car on the planet, but able to launch from 0 to 60 in a mere 2.8 seconds, and with a top speed of 207 mph, we're not about to complain as we blast through some of the sharpest corners and steepest grades you'll find in the Midwest heartland.
With its nose mere millimeters off the pavement, its rear wing popping up as the speed surges into triple digits, our Mantis Green "ultracar" might be confused for a Ferrari or Lamborghini. The McLaren name might not be quite as familiar. Founded in 1963 by New Zealand native Bruce McLaren, the British company is, however, one of the oldest and most successful names on the Formula One circuit. In 1989, McLaren Cars put track technology onto the street with an unusual three-seat layout. It went on to develop the gull-winged Mercedes-McLaren SLR, with Daimler AG. Renamed McLaren Automotive, it's now amping up its efforts with a series of fast, faster and fastest sports cars.
At $351,815, our well-equipped 650S Spider sits in the middle of that strategy, just below the P1 hybrid hypercar, the F1's long-awaited successor. The two models have a lot in common, including their ultra-light and super-strong carbon-fiber chassis and body panels. Designed by former Ferrari star Frank Stephenson, the nose of the 650S scowls with menace to urge other drivers out of the way as you scream down the freeway, its massive front and side scoops gulping air to feed the 641 horsepower, twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter V-8.
Powering it up isn't for the faint of heart, nor is getting into the rigid-formed, carbon-fiber bucket seats easy without yoga experience. You press a hidden button to pop open the mantis-like scissor doors, fold and flop your way inside and tap the start button. Switch a toggle on the center console, and the Spider's roof folds up like origami in less than 20 seconds.
We hit the activity button and switch to sport mode, which dials back the electronic stability control and other nanny features. A tap of the "D" shifts the seven-speed, double-clutch transmission into gear, and a firm push on the throttle plunges us deep into the Alcantara-upholstered racing seat. The steering is direct and precise, and the huge carbon-ceramic brakes immediately scrub off speed in the corners. If you have the place to exercise this beast it will take you as close as you're likely ever to come to snagging a ride on the Formula One circuit. Yet, it's content to putter along in a school zone.
While McLaren might have neither the familiarity nor cache of a Ferrari or Lamborghini, it only takes a little time behind the wheel of the 650S Spider to realize that the British marque is every bit their equal. It's a hell of a ride.