What is it?
The MP4-12C is no less than McLaren Automotive’s brand new answer to the Ferrari 458 Italia, and quite some car it is too.
Priced to rival the 458 head on (it costs £168,500 whereas the 458 comes in at £169,545), yet toting more power, more performance and even greater technical sophistication than its nemesis from Maranello, the 12C is without question Britain’s most exciting new supercar.
It’s also one of the fastest cars ever to be offered for use on the public road, with a claimed 0-60mph time of 3.1sec, 0-100mph in 6.1sec and a top speed of 205mph.
At the centre of the 12C sits a full carbonfibre tub, and that alone makes it different from, and theoretically superior to, any other rival at similar money. But it’s the car’s suspension that’s perhaps the most ground breaking. It features double wishbones and coil springs but no traditional anti-roll bars as such, and instead uses hydraulics and active dampers to provide its control. This system, claims McLaren, provides the 12C with as much as 25 per cent more grip than conventionally suspended rivals.
The 12C’s 3.8-litre twin turbo V8 engine was developed jointly by McLaren and Worthing-based Riccardo Engineering, and it develops a thumping 592bhp at 7000rpm and an arguably even more impressive 442lb ft right the way from 3000-7000rpm. To this is mated a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox (made by Graziano), which features a 'Pre-Cog' selection mechanism that shifts gear faster and more smoothly than in rival systems.
All up the 12C weighs just 1301kg when dry and when specified with the lighter of the two alloy wheel designs. That gives it a kerb weight with a full tank of fuel and all its fluids of a whisker over 1400kg, which is at least 50kg lighter than the 458 (although in reality it’s nearer 100kg if you specify the two cars like for like). Braking is provided by huge steel ventilated discs front and rear, and also by an Air Brake system that deploys only when the car’s sensors detect that a really big stop is required. Carbon ceramic discs can be specified as an option.
What’s it like?
In a word, incredible. And very, very fast indeed. There are all sorts of elements that define the 12C dynamically and elevate it above its already esteemed competition, but the ride, handling and above all else the performance are probably the stand-out features.
The first time I put my foot down and held it there properly, the level of thrust that was unleashed through the rear tyres came genuinely and sincerely as a shock. It starts from the moment you nail the throttle at anything beyond 1500rpm, even in fourth gear, and by 3000rpm you can already feel your organs being squeezed hard into the seat.
From there until the cut out at 8500rpm there is then just a vast, constant wave of energy that catapults the 12C forwards – with more conviction than any road car you can ever remember this side of a Bugatti Veyron. Including the legendary F1. And the numbers would appear to support this impression, too; in all three acceleration disciplines – 0-60mph, 0-100mph and standing quarter mile – the 12C is faster than the McLaren F1. Only on top speed does the legendary old timer have the measure of the new car.
And then there’s the noise it makes, which, at a steady 3000rpm/seventh gear cruise is virtually non-existent, but which at 8000rpm in third gear is brain-bendingly loud. Not quite in 458 Italia territory for sheer volume or quality of sound, perhaps, but not far off.
On the road you don’t need to go berserk in the 12C to realise how quick it really is, and it’s the torque that makes it feel so effortless. Even at half throttle it provides enough acceleration to leave most other cars reeling in its wake. And at full throttle it feels quite magical in the way it picks up and hurls itself down the road.
And that’s before you so much as mention the 12C’s handling, ride, steering and braking capabilities, all of which are perhaps more extraordinary still than the straight-line speed. There’s so much grip and such a high level of dynamic composure to the car that you really need to drive it on a circuit to get anywhere near its towering limits. Which is precisely what McLaren allowed us to do at Portimao in Portugal, albeit for a few brief laps.
What’s most spooky about the 12C’s chassis is the lack of inertia it suffers from. The nose snaps to attention and glues itself on to the apex of whichever kind of corner you aim it at (and at seemingly any speed). And the rest of the car then just seems to follow.
Yet despite the urgency of its responses there’s nothing remotely neurotic in the way the 12C behaves. There are no spikes in its behaviour, no sharp edges to its handling. So while it feels nailed to the ground through any given corner, it doesn’t feel nervous or scary to go with it.
And that, apparently, was one of the key remits when designing not just the chassis but the car’s whole dynamic personality; it had to be quick with a capital F in terms of response, but at the same time approachable and friendly near the limit, and supremely comfortable as well. It’s a job more than well done on this evidence.
Should I buy one?
If you’re in the fortunate position of being in the market for this kind of car then the choice has just become a whole lot broader, and the decision process has become harder to make at the same time. Yet there can be no doubt that what McLaren has produced in the 12C has taken the game so far forwards – dynamically if not aesthetically – that you’d be either foolish or very stubborn in your ways indeed not to at least give it a try.
And if you are seriously in the market, and you do then go for a proper drive in the 12C, you will be hooked. Instantly. And you’ll never look at the Ferrari 458 or Lamborghini Gallardo in the same light ever again. So don’t say you haven’t been warned…
Price: £168,500; 0-60mph: 3.1sec (claimed); Top speed: 205mph (claimed); Economy: 24.1mpg (combined); CO2: 279g/km; Kerb weight: 1434kg; Engine: V8, 3799cc, twin turbo, petrol; Power: 592bhp at 7000rpm; Torque: 442lb ft at 3000-7000rpm; Gearbox: 7-speed dual clutch auto