There could hardly be a more difficult mission for a new supercar company than setting out to beat Ferrari at its game, but that’s the task McLaren has set itself with the McLaren 12C, a natural competitor in terms of performance, price and mechanical layout to Ferrari’s universally admired 458 Italia.

And make no mistake, McLaren is a relatively new supercar company. It has had two previous forays into road cars, but the F1 of the early ’90s, and the spec and positioning of the more recent SLR was so heavily governed by Mercedes-Benz that it couldn’t really be called a pure McLaren.

According to its founder and chairman Ron Dennis, the company plans a three-tier model range: the £170,000 12C is first, the super-expensive P1 is second, and an “affordable" £120,000 model is around the corner.

The 12C (initially called MP4-12C, but it was too much of a mouthful) is most definitely a pure McLaren. Its broad mid-engined mechanical layout is familiar among supercars but it bristles with McLaren-only technology.

Under the skin you'll find a relatively small twin-turbo V8 of unprecedented efficiency and power, a carbonfibre tub chassis made using a revolutionary McLaren-designed process, and an all-independent double wishbone suspension so capable and widely adjustable that the 12C can be made to drive both like a softly damped saloon and a pure-bred racing car.

The icing on the 12C cake is its manufacturing process: McLaren has built a magnificent factory adjacent to its lakeside technology centre – already an architectural icon – where future McLarens will be built to the highest standards.

McLaren says it’s built and maintained to the sort standards popularly attributed to Ron Dennis himself, with the keenest possible eye for quality of materials and high manufacturing standards.

The car is good, especially after an extensive bout of factory upgrades (including a power hike) but it’s not yet perfect.

Save money on your car insurance

Compare quotesCompare insurance quotes

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Alfa Romeo Stelvio
    The new Alfa Romeo Stelvio. We've tested it on UK roads for the first time
    First Drive
    18 August 2017
    First tilt on UK roads reveals a chassis almost as absorbing as the Giulia’s, though the Stelvio’s comfort and quality levels may disappoint SUV clientele
  • Car review
    18 August 2017
    Amid a broader vRS refresh, Skoda has built its most powerful Octavia yet to take on the established order
  • Jaguar F-Type Convertible 2.0 i4 on the road
    First Drive
    16 August 2017
    Having been previously impressed by the agile four-cylinder F-Type, now is our chance to try it in the UK and in open-top form. But can this entry-level Jaguar sports car hold off the impressive Porsche Boxster?
  • Aston Martin V8 Vantage AMR
    The Aston Martin V8 Vantage AMR is a swansong for the Vantage - but the first model to sport the AMR title
    First Drive
    16 August 2017
    Aston Martin's swansong for its venerable Vantage sports car allows it to bow out with its head held high, yet the performance AMR sub-brand's first outing leaves you feeling short-changed
  • Range Rover Velar 2.0D
    First Drive
    15 August 2017
    Can the newest Range Rover deliver the goods when it's being powered by a four-cylinder, 2.0L diesel engine? We tried it on UK roads to find out