McLaren 540C coupe
"The McLaren 540C is the most affordable of the brand's cars yet, but it still has much of what makes its flagship supercars so great"
- Most affordable McLaren yet
- More exclusive than rivals
- Impressive performance
- Ride occasionally uncomfortable
- Porsche 911 Turbo easier to live with
- Engine suffers from turbo lag at low revs
The McLaren 540C is effectively the British manufacturer’s entry-level model, slotting in beneath the 570S to become the most affordable McLaren in the current range. It uses a less powerful version of the 570S’ engine, but its 533bhp 3.9-litre V8 is still punchy enough to get the car from 0-62mph in 3.5 seconds.
On the road, the 540C handles brilliantly and barely feels any slower than the more expensive 570S. And as it’s part of McLaren’s ‘Sports Series’, it’s a much more usable car for long journeys and everyday trips than the more extreme models in the range.
Running costs are high and practicality isn’t great, but the 540C is a brilliant car to drive with supercar looks. Compared to similarly priced rivals like the Porsche 911 Turbo and Audi R8, the 540C feels much more exclusive, too.
MPG, running costs & CO2
The twin-turbo 3.8-litre V8 engine in the 540C is designed for performance not efficiency and the result is an official fuel-economy figure of 25.5mpg, with CO2 emissions of 258g/km. The new VED (road tax) system means the 540C incurs a flat rate of £140 a year, plus a £310 surcharge for in years two to six, because it costs more than £40,000. This results in an annual tax bill of £450 during that time.
New McLarens come with a three-year/unlimited-mileage warranty. This can be extended up to 12 years from the car’s date of manufacture at extra cost. Servicing is every year or 10,000 miles (whichever comes first) and you can expect a dealer visit to cost well over £1,000.
Engines, drive & performance
The 540C’s 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 petrol engine is the same as the one in the more expensive 570S, but in the 540C it has slightly less power, developing 533bhp. This is still more than enough to make the car extremely quick, with 0-62mph taking just 3.5 seconds when you use the launch-control feature. Compared to the turbocharged engines in the Porsche 911 Turbo and considerably more expensive Ferrari 488 GTB, the 540C suffers from noticeable turbo lag at low revs, meaning throttle response is not as immediate as in the other two cars. Once the turbochargers are working optimally, the acceleration is brutal and shifts from the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox are rapid – particularly in Track mode.
Steering is one of the 540C’s best features. It feels perfectly balanced and communication to the driver of what’s happening at the wheels is excellent. Light but retaining enough weight for a sports car, the 540C’s steering is also less darty than that of the 570S, making the 540C more relaxing on long journeys.
The brakes are impressive and the 540C generates huge grip. The ride is generally supple and poised, but the car’s carbon-fibre structure and firm suspension mean vibrations are felt inside from time to time. The engine does tend to drone a little at cruising speeds and the gearbox can occasionally send a thump through the interior when it changes gears.
Interior & comfort
The inside of the 540C lacks outright flair, but it’s beautifully detailed, reflecting that the car is more about driving than posing. You still get leather upholstery, however, as well as McLaren’s latest infotainment system, which has shortcut keys for systems like the sat nav and climate control.
As always seems to be the case with cars made by McLaren, the 540C’s driving position is perfect, with a low-slung seat allowing your legs to stretch out under the well positioned steering wheel. The digital dashboard is easy to see, but doesn’t distract from the view ahead.
Practicality & boot space
The 540C is one of the more practical McLarens, partly because it isn’t intended as the ultimate, uncompromising McLaren flagship supercar. It’s still only a two-seater, however, and the boot isn’t particularly big.
It has spectacular ‘scissor’ doors that look they might be awkward in tight spaces but the truth is they don’t really take up much more space than conventional doors, so getting into the car isn’t difficult. You sit inside a carbon-fibre tub and McLaren has managed to make the sides of this lower in the 540C, so it’s easier to slide your feet into the foot well.
Once inside, there’s a small glovebox, which is worth mentioning as some McLarens in the past didn’t have one at all, plus door pockets that can be closed to stop their contents falling out when the doors are opened. A large parcel shelf behind the seats provides some extra storage space.
The boot in the nose of the car provides 144 litres of space, which is actually quite a lot smaller than the 230 litres available in the nose of the Ferrari 488 GTB, but only slightly down on the 150 litres of the Lamborghini Huracan.
Reliability & safety
McLaren has relatively little experience of producing road cars, but they’re made to such high specification that reliability should be good. It’s hard to get much data or even anecdotal evidence on the 540C’s reliability because relatively few are actually made.
For the same reason, Euro NCAP won’t ever crash-test the 540C. However, the car’s carbon-fibre construction means it should offer plenty of protection to occupants should it ever be involved in a crash. There are plenty of clever electronic systems keeping the car stable, too.
Price, value for money & options
The 540C is effectively McLaren’s ‘entry-level’ model and starts at just under £130,000. While not cheap, it offers fantastic performance and feels much more exclusive than rivals such as a Porsche 911 Turbo or an Audi R8.
Kit like sat nav and climate control comes as standard on the 540C. There are still plenty of options to choose from, though, including alloy wheel designs, paint finishes, a Bowers and Wilkins stereo, rear-view camera, front and rear parking sensors, vehicle tracker and a telemetry app.