McLaren MP4-12C review (2012 onwards)
Model: McLaren MP4-12C
Bodystyle: two-door supercar
Engine: 3.8-litre, twin-turbo, V8
Transmission: seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic
Date of test: February 2012
Blog: trying to vmax a McLaren MP4-12C
Ferrari 458 Italia v the Isle of Man
What is it?
If you had to pen the perfect supercar recipe, you would take one look at the spec sheet for the McLaren MP4-12C and head to the pub satisfied with a job well done. It is, on paper, practically impossible to improve on what this car has to offer.
600hp and 24.2mpg
Perfection is in the detail. And the details are these: a carbonfibre chassis mated to a twin-turbo V8 engine that cranks out 600hp but also returns 24.2mpg. Formula One engineering on a scale never before seen on a road car. Carbon dioxide emissions that are green by supercar standards. Performance of the lung-rupturing kind.
Take the chassis, for example. Like a Formula One car, the tub that the engine and suspension is bolted to is constructed from a single piece of carbonfibre to improve stiffness, weight and safety.
Of course, driving a supercar is an emotional experience. None of the detail matters if your heart doesn't flutter with first-kiss excitement once you're behind the wheel. Crucially, what we want to discover is, in making the McLaren so perfect, has some of the supercar magic been lost?
Where does it fit?
The MP4 is the first in a line of supercars being produced at McLaren's new factory in Surrey: an MP4 convertible is next, then a sub-£100k 911 rival, and a hypercar to take on the Lamborghini Aventador, Pagani Huayra et al...
In terms of direct rivals to the MP4, the Ferrari 458 Italia is closest in price, spec and performance. But where the Ferrari is typically Italian, shouty and boisterous, the McLaren is quieter and more dignified. Very British.
Is it for you?
The Porsche 911 appropriated the notion that supercars could be used daily to the extent that it has become an oft-trotted out cliché. But this isn't the point of a supercar and nor should it be. If, however, you so desire this to be your daily conveyance, the McLaren is comfortable enough, smooth enough and spacious enough to do so.
What does it do well?
Pub debate dictates that we have a cavernous vat of car performance figures at the ready for fear of being upstaged, or worse, corrected by a fellow back-pages studier.
So here they are for the McLaren MP4. Top speed: 205mph. 0-62mph: 3.3 seconds. 0-124mph: 9.1 seconds. Quarter-mile: 10.9 seconds.
It was that first one, the 205mph bit, which caught my attention. Normally I wouldn't bother reporting top speeds but for this test we had a two-mile long runway to play with. Yes, you know what's coming...
So how close did we get to the McLaren's top speed and what did it feel like to get there?
a second slower than a Bugatti Veyron
Left foot on the brake pedal, engage launch control, right foot flat to the floor. Side step the brake and... well, things start to get a little fuzzy through the first three gears. The MP4 is an animal. Give it the beans from a standing start and it feels like being hit in the chest by a sledgehammer. Over a quarter of a mile it is only a second slower than a Bugatti Veyron.
The rev needle sweeps manically around the dial, the digital speedo displaying ludicrous speeds each time I dare steal a glance. During my boldest run I manage to nudge the speedo up to 190mph before running out of bottle and runway.
It could have gone faster if I braked later, because those £10,000 optional carbon ceramic discs have the biting power of a starving lion. Initially, they don't feel responsive. That is an illusion. Together with the air brake that rises up from the rear deck to keep the back-end planted, the MP4 seems to stop like a burglar who has heard footsteps.
The Highway Code says the typical stopping distance from 60mph is 73 metres. The MP4 will stop in just 30. Your face might never recover...
What doesn't it do well?
Press the starter button and the engine catches quickly but without the blaring histrionics of a Ferrari 458 Italia. Whisper it, but the McLaren sounds a bit bland. Turbocharging might unleash devastating power and friendlier environmental credentials, but it also robs the engine of personality.
Thankfully, the MP4 has a three-stage setting for the chassis and suspension, each of which can be tweaked independently of the other. Move from Normal to Sport and then to Track and there is a noticeable change in the MP4's attitude - including the sound leaving the exhausts. Throttle and steering sharpens, the electronic stability control takes more of a back seat and the exhaust note changes from a background whoop into a full on war cry. Compared to a Ferrari it is still discreet. The optional sports pipes might be a wise investment.
the tail will slide impressively
The handling also changes by fiddling with those switches. In Normal mode, the MP4 has a tendency to roll on cornering but twist the dial and the ProActive Chassis Control increases the damping pressure so that the body remains flat and devastating through the bends. Get too fruity with the throttle pedal too early and the tail will slide impressively before the electronics intervene.
Turn into a corner, and brake steer pinches the rear brakes to point the nose in, and balance the car through the corner.
The seven-speed, double-clutch gearbox isn't as quick or ferocious as the Ferrari's system, but it does have a manual function operated by paddles, which we used on track. In both scenarios, the changes are surprisingly smooth and power rises so quickly that it's easy to head-butt the rev limiter.
Perhaps the McLaren's greatest achievement is its ride quality. No matter which setting you put the suspension in, it steam-rollers over the imperfections. This supple ride quality means you can drive faster and faster without being unnerved. No other supercar rides with such fluidity.
What's it like to live with?
Settle in behind the wheel and you will be shocked at just how uncluttered and minimalist the interior is. This is definitely a case of function over form. Yet in its own way, this neat approach is extremely appealing and shows up just how untidy the 458's cabin is in comparison.
Ahead of the driver is a massive rev counter, below that a digital speedometer and to the side various dials displaying the car's main functions.
A central column sits to the right of you (our car was left-hand drive), shrouded in optional carbonfibre, and houses the Star Trek-style interface to control the car's sat-nav, stereo, heating and other systems.
It isn't small and cramped inside, either, feeling wide and airy, with superb all-round visibility and a Porsche 911-rivalling boot.
How green is it?
Green is perhaps a strong word in this company. Nevertheless, 24.2mpg combined and emissions of 279g/km makes the MP4 look comparatively divine against rivals. Open the taps, though, and expect that figure to plummet to mid-teens.
Would we buy it?
There's no point asking if you would choose the McLaren MP4-12C over a Ferrari 458 Italia. Despite their on-paper similarities they are surprisingly different propositions. The Ferrari is edgy and angry, the McLaren a symphony of technology and precision. It is like a ninja in a business suit: subtle but still deadly. And if I were you, I'd buy both...