Steve Sutcliffe
17 October 2012

What is it?

The MP4-12C Spider, McLaren’s unashamed attempt to provide an alternative to the Ferrari 458 Spider, and also the Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder and Porsche 911 Turbo convertible. It was planned in to the engineering process from the word go by McLaren, and as such suffers zero compromise when it comes to torsional rigidity or overall stiffness compared with the coupé MP4-12C. And it costs £195,500, undercutting the Ferrari 458 Spider by a small and not especially significant £3436.

Just like the Ferrari, the 12C Spider’s roof is a folding hard-top that disappears gracefully into the rear bodywork at the press of a button. It takes 17sec to go from fully closed to fully open, and the roof can be raised or lowered at speeds of up to 25mph. All-up, the Spider weighs mere 40kg more than the coupé, with an overall kerb weight of just 1474kg, a class best according to McLaren.

Also new for the Spider is an upgraded version of McLaren’s 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 engine, featuring more power (up from 592bhp to 616bhp), fractionally better economy (24.2mpg v 24.1mpg on the combined cycle) and exactly the same CO2 emissions as before (279g/km). Peak power arrives 500rpm higher than before, adding to the sense of acceleration at the top end, claims McLaren, while removing nothing from the flow of torque, which peaks as before at 442lb ft.

Key modifications to the software of the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox have further improved the speed and quality of the gear changes, says McLaren. In its most aggressive settings the shifts are faster than ever, while in auto mode they are smoother and more intuitive than before. Not that there was a whole lot wrong with the way the MP4-12C performed or shifted gear previously.

Elsewhere, the Spider 12C is identical to the coupé in its engineering. Same steering, same suspension set-up, same brakes, same everything. And in case you were wondering, all of the various engine, gearbox and ECU upgrades applied here will become available on the coupé for the 2013 model year. Owners of earlier models will also be able to get the upgrades installed for free by taking their cars to one of McLaren’s 38 worldwide dealers.

What is it like?

Roof up, the 12C Spider feels much like a 12C coupé to be honest, albeit with a bit more rage at the top end and an even sharper gearbox than before. But ping the roof down and the transformation is extraordinary; the extra noise provided not just by the exhaust but the engine, the wind and whatever else the world chooses to fire at you once the lid has been removed makes the Spider feel three times more dramatic – more emotional, if you will – than the coupé once on the move.  

And if you then drop the small heated glass panel that sits where the rear bulkhead does in the coupé, the extra noise that erupts from behind your head becomes twice as loud again, and is four times better to listen to as a result.

At a stroke, the whole character of the 12C seems to crystallize and become larger than life once its roof has been removed, which is just what the doctor ordered on a subjective level. The mild sense of politeness that underpins the coupé’s personality disappears straight into the ether when the hood goes down, and what you get in its place is a car that, metaphorically at least, appears to be grinning from ear to ear most of the time.

It feels much more alive on the road, too. The engine and gearbox tweaks make a surprisingly big difference on their own, providing an intensified sense of urgency – and sound – over the last 1000rpm that wasn’t quite there before. And the improved gear shifts merely add to the heightened subjective experience.

It sounds quite different, too, thanks to the tweaks McLaren has applied to the induction and exhaust systems, both of which now generate more noise inside the cabin, and deliberately so. Under load the combination of induction suck and exhaust scream make the Spider sound much naughtier, and much more like the outrageously rapid supercar that it is. There’s also a more pronounced 'wap-wap' audible during downshifts, Woking’s engineers having realised that outright refinement isn’t necessarily what the customer wants in a car like this.

Should I buy one?

Removing the roof and turning up the volume where it was needed has unlocked the 12C’s personality, and allowed it to dazzle rather than merely impress beside the rivals with which it was designed to compete.

Rotate a few buttons, put the hood back up, glide the rear screen into place and it will do the full Jekyll and Hyde routine, in either direction. Which makes it one of the most versatile supercars there has ever been, and one that even the 458 Spider might struggle to match. 

No wonder McLaren expects more than 80 per cent of 12C customers to choose this model when deliveries start at the end of next month.

McLaren MP4-12C Spider

Price £195,500; 0-60mph 3.1sec; Top speed 204mph; Economy 24.2mpg (combined); CO2 279g/km; Kerb weight 1474kg; Engine V8, 3799cc, twin turbo, petrol; Installation mid, longitudinal, rear wheel-drive; Power 616bhp at 7000rpm; Torque 442lb ft at 3000-7000rpm; Gearbox 7-speed dual clutch auto

Join the debate

Comments
13

Marks out of ten, I'd give it

2 years 2 weeks ago

Marks out of ten, I'd give it one!

Fantastic, this seems to be

2 years 2 weeks ago

Fantastic, this seems to be just about perfect.  Also Mclaren seem to have started something different with this free upgrades process.  There is no penalty for buying version 1.0 of a car as all mid model improvements will be provided for no charge.  It must give owners the same satisfaction us mere mortals get with iOS upgrades.  Not only is there massive excitement when you take delivery, each time it comes back from the dealer it is a better car.  I am not aware of any other car manufacturer offering this other than for recalls.  Another subtle quality USP from Mclaren.  

It still looks so

2 years 2 weeks ago

It still looks so underwhelming and everybody just seem to prefer the ferrari 458 for driving dynamics driver involvement and pretty much everything else. Mclaren going all williams 1993 on the car didn't do itself much favour and the interior is...yak.

Redundant

2 years 2 weeks ago

Looking at the report it would appear to make the coupe all but redundant.

For once in my life, I would take the drop top over the coupe version.  A great acheivement and a British one at that.

 

 

It's all about the twisties........

--

2 years 1 week ago

I saw my first MP4 a couple of weekends ago. In McLaren Orange and in the sunshine it looked amazing just burbling along the high street.

I was surprised how impressive it looked, so much better in the flesh than the pictures. Sounded great away from the lights too. If this Spider adds more then that's only a good thing.


These all seem like positive

2 years 1 week ago

These all seem like positive changes, and great to hear Mclaren will put the updates onto all older model year cars for customers.

No word on driving dynamics or the nannying effect in the review, and bearing in mind just how gushing the initial reviews were of the coupe in isolation, I'd say it's only fair to wait for the group test vs the 458.

Sounds perfect, but what does

2 years 1 week ago

Sounds perfect, but what does it look like with the top up? As it's such a useable supercar it'd be important to me (assuming a miracle happened and I could afford one) that it looked good for the majority of days when the top was up due to to the weather.

Generally convertibles never look as nice as the hardtop version IMO and nasty big gaps in the roof mechanism would swing it for me. The 458 drop top being a case in point. Looks pants compared to the hardtop when the roof's up.

Impressive!

2 years 1 week ago

Whether or not it is better than the 458 Spider or other rivals, you've got to be impressed with such a thoroughly developed car by McLaren in what is effectively only its 3rd full production car ever.

It is a testament not only to McLaren's all round engineering expertise, but, surprisingly perhaps, also its production capabilities, which includes the car's engine designed in-house (built by Ricardo). Not at all easy to come up with your own in-house engine that meets its targets and is reliable (just think of TVR's ill-fated AJP v8), for such a small-scale manufacturer. But McLaren seems to have pulled it off with ease.

Evo_ermine wrote: Sounds

2 years 1 week ago

Evo_ermine wrote:

Sounds perfect, but what does it look like with the top up? As it's such a useable supercar it'd be important to me (assuming a miracle happened and I could afford one) that it looked good for the majority of days when the top was up due to to the weather.

Generally convertibles never look as nice as the hardtop version IMO and nasty big gaps in the roof mechanism would swing it for me. The 458 drop top being a case in point. Looks pants compared to the hardtop when the roof's up.

And in the 458 Spyder, you can't see the engine - a definite minus point.  Well done to McLaren for keeping the engine on display in the Spyder

Convertable supercar??

2 years 1 week ago

I hate people who say I dont see the point in a car with .......but I never saw the point in buying a supercar as a convertable so maybe Im as bad. However this could change my mind as there really doesnt seem to be any compromise over the coupe. It's irrelevant because I'll never afford one...

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Our Verdict

McLaren 12C

The McLaren 12C has extraordinary pace and handling, but is a touch clinical

Driven this week