TOLL CHARGE - HAKONE TURNPIKE

Whilst the 570GT was exploring the volcanic landscape of Tenerife, on the other side of the planet, the 650S Spider was climbing the Hakone Turnpike in Japan.

 

 

There is a little slice of Germany carved into the hills an hour south of Tokyo at the base of the Izu Peninsula. A road that soars from sea level to over 1000m, twisting ever upwards through dense woodland and looking for all the world like the infamous Nürburgring Nordschleife in parts. This is the Hakone Turnpike, one of Japan’s most iconic roads, and a mecca for car enthusiasts the world over.

Built in the 1960s, the Hakone Turnpike toll road is one of a network of incredible mountain roads focused around Lake Ashi in the shadow of Mount Fuji. Although the chance to test your mettle ­– and your metal – on one of the country’s most legendary stretches of tarmac might seem the biggest draw, for a few fleeting days in spring you’ll find as many tourists visiting to marvel at the incredible canopies of Japan’s famous cherry blossom. The McLaren 650S Spider is the perfect car for enjoying both the road and the mesmerising sakura bloom.

 

 

There’s no need to stop to retract the folding hardtop as you approach the toll booth. Simply press the console button at any speed below 30kph (19mph) and the roof folds away elegantly, bringing the sky and the sounds of the twin-turbocharged V8 into sharper focus. Exchange a handful of yen for a bow from the attendant, the barrier opens, and the road is yours.

There’s a sprint from the toll booth to the first corner, a perfect opportunity to test the impressive traction of the 650S Spider and feel the full force of the 650PS (641bhp) output that can fire it from zero to 100kph (0-62mph) in a mere 3.0 seconds. After that the curves begin gently, the wall of trees on either side focusing your attention on the vanishing point. This is the calm before the storm, a chance to toggle the Power and Handling dials from Normal to Sport, adding a sense of urgency to the throttle response and immediacy to the turn-in.

 

 

Now the road gets serious, testing not merely the accelerative capabilities of the engine and fleetness of the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, but asking questions of the Proactive Chassis Control and standard carbon-ceramic brakes. Dab those brakes before the first bridge and, as you cross it, steal a glance left towards the Sagami Bay through the gap in the trees.

Immediately to the left a gaggle of cars sit patiently, hot exhausts ticking while camera phones snap the traditional lanterns hung beneath the cherry trees. The blossom is in full bloom here, but as you dive right and climb higher into the cooler mountain air, the trees have yet to flower. The corners are tighter now, the surface more uneven, but the 650S Spider feels effortlessly composed. Another bridge follows and even tighter turns, then a huge undulating straight that disappears into morning mist, through which looms the hexagonal shape of the café at the summit.

Only one question remains: rest, or re-run? The turnpike is two-way, and every bit as thrilling in reverse.

 

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