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Deep Dive: McLaren P13, P15, P16

McLaren has several new cars on the way, but the most crucial newcomer of them all is next year's P13, which may be badged 500S when it arrives in early summer 2015. Unlike Ferrari and Lamborghini, who so far avoided more affordable supercar territory like the plague, McLaren will launch the P13 to take on high-end Porsche 911s like the GT3 and the turbo. Other designated rivals are the Mercedes-Benz AMG GT, the BMW M6, the Maserati Alfieri, and the next Nissan GT-R. A spokesman has pegged the asking price for the McLaren P13 at two thirds that of a 12C, which suggests a $189,000 sticker for the base coupe.

The McLaren P13 is the third model built on the same cookie-cutter carbon-fiber chassis which was instrumental in curbing development, procurement, and assembly costs when the New McLaren Automotive hatched in 2011. Although the 911 fighter is obviously similar in size to the existing P1 and 650S, McLaren decided to invest in a heavily modified monocoque for the P13. Featuring slimmer door sills, a roomier cabin, additional storage space behind the seats, and an even stiffer clamshell passenger cell (tub and roof are again baked as two separate pieces), the 24/7-capable 500S is clearly a more practical sports car than the 2015 McLaren 650S (pictured).

Although CEO Mike Flewitt described the shape of the McLaren P13 as evolutionary, design director Frank Stephenson promises a breakthrough product with a distinctly different bodystyle: "Ferraris must look like Ferraris, and Porsches invariably look like Porsches, but there is no fixed formula for a McLaren. I have all the freedom I need to conceive fresh shapes that have 'Desire!' written all over them. We are a very small team, but the creativity is incredible."

An engineering driven company, McLaren starts every new product development with a very precise technical brief. In the future, this underlying DNA will be significantly more flexible, offering greater variation in terms of wheelbase, width, and length. Powered by a version of the company's twin-turbo 3.8-liter V-8 detuned to approximately 500 hp, the McLaren 500S has been described by an insider as, "a more credible [Jaguar] E-Type replacement than the F-Type." There will be three different versions, sources say: coupe, spider, and an emphatically sporty lightweight GTS.

Although most of the secondary controls will again be grouped in the center stack, the McLaren P13's cabin promises to boast much more advanced ergonomics, not just a bigger and more legible touchscreen. Unique to all future McLarens is an optional head-up display which uses, for weight and packaging purposes, a transparent fold down driver-side visor. Also in the works are a more intuitive voice recognition system; a direct-access drive mode selector for changing the calibration of the powertrain, shock absorbers, and stability control; and two new lightweight compound materials named carbomite and alumite, which can fulfill structural or cosmetic functions.

The P15, P16, and a new 2+2

In addition to the more affordable P13 and the P1 GTR trackday special, a deep look into the crystal ball reveals three more new McLaren models. These are the near-supercar P15, the 650S replacement codenamed P16, and a ground-breaking 2+2 which doesn't even have an internal designation yet. The unofficial timing looks like this: P13 coupe and possibly 650S GTS arrive in 2015, P13 Spider and P1 GTR in 2016, P16 coupe in 2017, P16 Spider and P13 GTS in 2018; P13 facelift, P16 GTS, and P15 in 2019, and the 2+2 in 2020. At a glance, this launch plan appears logical and straightforward. But when you take a closer look, the early intro date of the P16 comes as a surprise, as does the relatively late arrival of P15.

Although some dates are still in a state of flux, it helps to bear in mind that key rival Porsche has pushed back the arrival of its high-end mid-engined 960, which is powered by an eight-cylinder boxer engine, to 2019, while the 992 (which replaces the current 911) will not arrive in showrooms before late 2017 or early 2018. Although the McLaren P16 remains loyal to the existing mid-engine layout and the carbon-fiber chassis, packaging and efficiency are bound to improve. And if McLaren is serious about energy recuperation (ERS), E-boost and E-charging, a parallel 48-volt electrical system and an advanced buffer battery are essential ingredients which make an evolution of the modular vehicle structure mandatory.

According to those in the know, the McLaren P16 won't actually be much faster than the 650S, but it should offer superior in-gear acceleration, higher cornering speeds thanks to a semi-active suspension, and a notably smaller CO2 emissions footprint. The McLaren P13 may not be available with the full selection of green technologies, but it is bound to be prepared for future efficiency upgrades. The P16 should already incorporate some of these upgrades, and it is set to receive over its lifecycle other goodies like hydro-electric yaw control, anti-squat, anti-dive, roll compensation, and torque vectoring. Lift-off coasting is one of the easier tricks in the book which must eventually also make provision for some type of longer-range zero-emission mobility. Since even the most advanced batteries still weigh a ton, the next breakthrough in this department is probably three to five years away.

Once electrification becomes more important, McLaren might start thinking about a smaller engine, possibly a 2.9-liter V-6. If the brand switches to plan B and brings the $542,000 P15 forward to 2017 while pushing back the P16, the vehicle concept would have to be finalized by the end of this year, making do with the somewhat limited hard- and software available at cut-off time. That's probably okay if your main targets are the current Lamborghini Aventador and the Ferrari F12, but it may take a bolder game plan to fend off more sophisticated rivals like the next Ferrari F12, the high-tech SLS AMG replacement, and the evolution of the Porsche 918 Spider. When it comes to alternative propulsion systems, borrowing an extra year or two really helps, so maybe the timeline posted above does indeed combine the best of all worlds.

We know very little about that still-sketchy 2+2 which is being conceived with the North American and Chinese markets in mind. While one engineer familiar with the project didn't rule out a mid-engined 2+2 based on a stretched McLaren P16 tub, another source claimed that the modular matrix can even be tweaked to create a front-mid-engine configuration. A third source assured us that a McLaren SUV was an absolute no-go, and that there is currently no P1 replacement in the making either.