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's 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