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McLaren 12C Spider review (2012 onwards)
Summary: McLaren's 12C Spider promises roof-down thrills without any compromise in driving quality thanks to a super-strong carbonfibre chassis that requires no extra strengthening - but has it worked?
We like: aural improvement, astonishing performance, handling poise, grip and balance, rigidity
We don't like: lack of self-cancelling indicators, centre console display confusing initially, wind rustle at speed
The noise reverberates angrily off the mountain walls, ferocious pops, bangs and crazy whooshes of turbo. The roof is open, the sun is out and the road ahead looks as if it is straight out of the handbook for great driving adventures.
We're traveling high above the Costa del Sol on our way to the Ascari Race Resort in the McLaren 12C Spider. The Spider receives the latest changes to the coupe most notably a revised 625hp engine and an improvement in the noise leaving the exhausts. Both enhancements are evident right away.
More crucially, the 12C is built on the same carbonfibre MonoCell chassis, so strong, says McLaren, that the convertible hasn't required any of the additional strengthening that would typically be required when you cut the roof off a car. The Spider is only 40kg heavier than the coupe.
McLaren has also dropped the MP4 part from the name: it is simply 12C Spider.
A 3.8-litre, twin-turbo V8, developed in-house by McLaren, provides the thrust. It feels more like the work of Nasa: with 625hp and 459bhp/tonne, the performance is of the space voyage variety. The turbos spool up with no noticeable lag and launch you and your lunch forward at such force you can feel your chin being forced into your chest. A G-suit should be a prerequisite before climbing aboard this rocket ship.
The performance is astounding, ready to pulverise your internal organs at every flex of your foot, and the Spider's incredible ability to put its power down means it feels even quicker than the power figures suggest. Overtaking traffic requires no forward planning. See a gap. Go. Sixty appears on the digital display in 3.1 seconds and 204mph is possible if you've an empty autobahn at your disposal.
The Spider's double-clutch gearbox gains the coupe's revised shift action, now faster and less aggressive than before. Hold the left-hand paddle down continuously when braking heavily and the gearbox automatically bangs through the down changes to maximise braking performance.
There is a bit of a squirm as the brakes wrestle 625 horses into submission but the standard forged aluminium and cast-iron discs are strong, fade free and full of bite. Even after a few fast laps of the notoriously tricky Ascari track they are rock solid. The accompanying airbrake, which rises when braking from speeds above 59mph, ensures the rear end remains as planted to the deck as a stubborn bull.
Ride & handling
This is the biggie. Scuttle shake, cabin shimmy, flex - call it what you want - these traditional convertible attributes simply don't exist with the 12C Spider. What's even more amazing is that McLaren didn't add strength - and weight - to the chassis to eradicate this. The MonoCell is 25% stiffer and lighter than an all-metal structure and was originally designed to suit both the coupe and Spider.
The engine is placed low in the chassis and the driver sits towards the centre of the car, so weight distribution is perfect. Turn into a corner and the 12C remains flat. Mid-corner bumps are no match for the suspension, which eliminates body roll while conveying the sort of ride quality many luxury car makers would die for.
This soothing ride is down to the ProActive Chassis Control, which means McLaren doesn't need to use anti-roll bars. Drivers can choose between Normal, Sport and Track settings (for suspension and performance) and each brings more aggression to the throttle, steering and stability control - but not ride quality.
Brake steer pinches the inside rear wheel to tighten your line, which means few supercars could stay with a Spider over the sort of roads we're testing on.
The glass rear window can be lowered independently of the roof and allows the driver to revel in the intoxicating exhaust noise even when the conditions are less than ideal for open-air driving. When you do feel the need to take on some vitamin D the roof can be opened or closed at speeds of up to 19mph and in 17 seconds. A metal roof ensures that the Spider loses none of the refinement of the coupe. This is a car you don't need to lock away pending the arrival of a cloud-free day.
Inside, the seating controls are placed on the leading edge of the seat, and they offer plenty of adjustment, but sometimes I struggled to find my ideal driving position. Elsewhere, the cabin is a serious, focused environment: the centre console houses an iPad-style interface that controls many of the car's main functions, while heating controls are placed on both doors leaving just the most important switches in the centre within easy reach of the driver.
Economy & safety
Twin-turbocharging is the future of supercars and the benefits are relatively low emissions and decent fuel economy. The Spider should average 24.2mpg and returns 279g/km of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. In comparison, the Ferrari 458 Spider pumps out 307g/km and averages 23.9mpg.
MSN Cars verdict
McLaren's second supercar from its new Automotive business is every bit as good as you'd expect. In fact, the convertible is such a superb all-rounder I wonder why anyone would even buy the coupe when the Spider offers all of the benefits without any of the compromise. With cars this impressive, McLaren is becoming a serious force in the supercar world.
Need to know
Engines, petrol: 3.8-litre, twin-turbo V8
Torque: 442 lb/ft
0-62mph: 3.1 secs
Top speed: 204mph
MPG combined: 24.2mpg
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