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.