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

  • Genesis G70
    First Drive
    22 September 2017
    Based on the Kia Stinger, Genesis' new G70 saloon shows plenty of promising signs that it could be a hit in Europe
  • Lamborghini Aventador S
    First Drive
    22 September 2017
    Still visceral and dramatic as ever, but does the vast number of mechanical changes and tweaks help make the Lamborghini Aventador S more engaging?
  • Renault Koleos
    Car review
    22 September 2017
    Renault’s new crossover sees the Koleos name return, attached to an SUV of a quite different stripe
  • Nissan X-Trail
    First Drive
    21 September 2017
    On our first chance to get the facelifted Nissan X-Trail on UK roads, the petrol proves a viable alternative, although for outright pulling power the 2.0 dCi is the better bet
  • Alfa Romeo Stelvio 2.2d 210
    First Drive
    21 September 2017
    Most powerful diesel version of the Alfa Romeo Stelvio is swift and more frugal than its closest rivals, but makes less sense than the range-topping petrol version