After honing their skills on the racetracks of the world with iconic pilots like Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna at the wheel, McLaren didn’t become a household name until the launch of the iconic F1 in 1992.
|1. Powered by a 3.8L twin-turbo V8 the MP4-12C makes 592-hp and 443 lb-ft of torque.
2. 0-62 mph takes just 3.1 seconds with a top speed of 205 mph.
3. The 12C starts at $241,800 including $2,400 destination.
4. A 12C Spider will be on sale next year.
It was then that the racing team turned to street cars to prove a point, which it did, hitting a 240.1 mph top speed – a record that would last for a decade.
McLaren then teamed up with Mercedes-Benz for the SLR, which while built by the Brits, was filled with compromises and never gained the respect of enthusiasts. From that botched supercar was born a desire to build a complete new model from the ground up, and to do it without help. And so was born the MP4-12C.
The first solo project from a company that builds race cars, the MP4-12C arrives with a ray of sunshine from the heavens and a choir of angels. But can it really compete with the established marques like Ferrari and Lamborghini, which have been carefully crafting their exotic sports cars over decades?
There’s only one way to find out.
A SUBTLE EXOTIC
Approaching the car what strikes us most is its size. At 177.4 inches in length, the MP4-12C is about 8 inches shorter than an Aston Martin DBS. Standing 47.2 inches tall, it’s lower than a Ferrari 458, albeit by just 0.6 inches. Measuring 75.2 inches in width, the MP4-12C (which does have a very un-sexy name) is slightly wider than a Lamborghini Gallardo. So it does fit neatly in the current supercar mould, and the design is not bad either.
Penned by Frank Stephenson, whose design credits include the current MINI Cooper, the Maserati MC12 and the Ferrari F430, the MP4-12C is not his prettiest design, though it does look better from the back than the front. Lacking some of the drama of its Italian rivals, it’s still low and wide with the cabin up front and the engine behind.
FIRST GROUND-UP MCLAREN ENGINE
That engine in question is a 3.8-liter, twin-turbo V8, the first ever engine McLaren has designed and built. In its current state the motor produces 592-hp and 443 lb-ft of torque. For 2013, an upgrade is coming which will push the power up to 625-hp. The extra grunt, which will come courtesy of a reconfigured ECU (electronic control unit), will be applied to all the current cars also, at no cost to the owner.
That grunt is sent to only the rear wheels via a 7-speed, dual-clutch gearbox that can swap cogs faster than you can say “McLaren.” Sorry purists, no manual is offered.
INTERIOR: FROM INTERESTING TO ODD
To put its mechanicals to the test, one has to get inside, though that proves tricky since the 12C has no door handles. What you need to do to get in is walk up to it with the key fob in your pocket, slide your hand where you’d expect to normally find a door handle, and viola, the door opens skywards. A supercar wouldn’t be a supercar without gimmicky doors, would it?
Getting inside is a bit challenging also, since the opening is not very big. We tried a few techniques for ingress and egress but none were elegant.
Once inside, you’ll find the cockpit to be narrow, but there is plenty of room for your legs and head. This car was designed for tall drivers.
Once seated, it takes a little time to get used to all the switches, because many are not where you’d expect them to be. The climate control, for instance, usually found on the center console, is on the driver’s side door. The center console is narrow and is dominated by a flat screen, which houses stereo and navigation features. However, for real entertainment, you need to press the big red button that’s marked “Engine Start.”
Hold the starter button in for a few seconds and it fires up the engine with the kind of roar that makes all car enthusiasts grin from ear to ear. It’s loud, like a supercar should be.
To get moving, you have to press a small button on the center console that’s marked “D” and you’re off. No need to worry if you’ve left the parking brake on, because that disengages the second you step on the throttle.
Since there is no heavy clutch to worry about, maneuvering this car at slow speeds is easy. The steering is also very light at slow speeds, which makes it getting in and out of parking lots very easy. The real problem is dodging pedestrians, which turn into pylons as they become motionless gawkers at this new entry to the supercar realm.
Out on the road, one of the things that will surprise you is just how comfortable the ride is. Even the visibility is good. Again, thanks to its controls and transmission, this car is so easy to drive you’ll forget you’re in a 205 mph supercar.
To feel all that this car has to offer, you’ll need to fiddle with some switches. There are three modes for handling (H) and three modes for performance (P). Both are controlled via separate twist knobs and both have Comfort, Sport and Track settings. As you can imagine, these switches change the character (and the volume of noise) of the vehicle, depending on your mood and road conditions.
Next thing to fiddle with is the transmission. You can just leave it in the “Auto” setting, or select “Manual” and now you have full control of the paddle shifters. Now, the car won’t change gear until you ask it to, even if you hit the rev limiter.
Shift down a few cogs, step on it, and your eyes will pop open to full attention, your ears will be assaulted by its V8 concert, and scenery will pass you by in a blur. Illegal displays of speed are just too tempting to not bury the throttle at every opportunity. This is a seriously quick car.
When equipped with its optional Corsa-spec tires and engaging launch control, the MP4-12C takes just 3.1 seconds to go from 0-62 mph. Yes, that is ferociously quick, and yes, it is still a tad slower than what a 2013 Nissan GT-R can accomplish, but trust us on this, it is far more entertaining in the 3,161-lb McLaren.
For the best times, leave the transmission in full auto mode. In manual mode, you have to be quick to pull the up-shift lever to get the next gear in. Unlike most paddle shift systems, the up-shift and down-shift paddles require a firm pull to engage the gear. Touch them lightly and nothing will happen.
So the car goes well, and since it takes just 100-ft to come to a complete stop from 62-mph, it stops well too.
As for going around corners, you can be sure a company that knows a thing or two about making the best handling Formula 1 cars in the world used its knowhow on its road cars too. To get the best possible ride and handling, McLaren has fitted the 12C with what it calls a ProActive Chassis Control, which does away with traditional anti-roll bars. Instead, it uses hydraulically interconnected adaptive dampers, which measure your speed, steering angle and body angle to keep the car as flat and stable through the corners as possible.
Priced directly in competition with Ferrari and Lamborghini rivals, the 12C stickers at $241,800 – including the $2,400 destination charge. You’ll have to order a 2013 model, however, as the 2012s are all sold out.
Is it better than those cars? Objectively, it’s almost too close to tell. Subjectively, there are far more factors to consider. It might not have the sex appeal of an Italian prancing horse or bull, but make no mistake, there’s no shortage of prestige with McLaren. There’s also something to be said for a machine that’s a genuine exotic and one that sparks conversation.
Oh, and if coupes are not your thing, not to worry, the convertible MP4-12C Spider will be on sale shortly.
Unfortunately, not having the option of a proper manual gearbox does mean it just isn’t as engaging to drive as, says, a Porsche 911 GT2, but the McLaren is a much more usable car on a day to day basis. An everyday supercar? Absolutely.
It’s surprisingly comfortable. It looks good, goes like stink and handles like a car built by race car engineers should.