The return of the British supercar
McLaren is a very well-known name on racing circuits, but will their latest supercar capture the hearts and certified cheques of those who can afford one?
Early indication says yes. McLaren Toronto, which has just had its official grand opening this June, have already delivered 35 examples of the MP4-12C in Canada and expect to deliver an additional 20 units by the end of the year.
So is this initial sales success due to its stratospheric performance, its sleek looks, or is it just the latest fashion accessory for the rich and famous?
Just days after a McLaren MP4-27, driven by Lewis Hamilton, won the Canadian Grand Prix, I got my chance to get behind the wheel of the MP4-12C.
Yes, it doesn’t have a sexy name, and pronouncing that collection of alphabets and is likely to leave you tongue tied. Plus, it sounds too much like a name given to a printer.
But there is a reason for its name. All McLaren Formula One cars since 1981 have names starting with MP4, which marked the merger between McLaren and its executive chairman Ron Dennis’ company, called Project 4. As for what 12C stands for, McLaren set out 12 criteria for their new road car, which it had to achieve. Put it all together, and the name starts to make sense, although I wish it was an internal code name for the car and not the actual model name.
However, the name is not important, but rather its reason for being. It exists because McLaren wanted to once again make the world’s best supercar; their first ever road car, the F1 from 1995, is still one of the most highly desired automobiles and is one of the few cars that actually appreciates in price. So have they succeeded? Is the MP4-12C better than rivals like the Ferrari 458 Italia or the Lamborghini Gallardo?
As I approached the MP4-12C, I noticed two things. First, it is much smaller than I thought. At 4,509 mm in length, it is 280 mm or 11” shorter than a Cadillac CTS-V coupe. Secondly, it looks much better from the back than it does from the front. Since the rear view is what most people will see of this car on the road, a stunning derriere makes sense.
Reach for the door handle and, well, it doesn’t have any on the outside. If you have the key with you, than you gently slide your hand where you’d expect the door handle to be, and it will open the door skywards.
Slip in through its rather tight opening, and you’ll notice that the interior is narrow, yet doesn’t feel tight. Ergonomically, things are not all where you’d expect them to be. The power seat controls, for instance, are in the front of the cushion and take a little getting used to. The climate control system, typically found on the center of the dashboard, is on the driver’s side door.
However, the button you’ll be most interested in engaging is the red “Engine Start” button; hold it in for a second and the 3.8L, twin-turbo V8 fires up with a menacing growl. This motor produces 592 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque; that power is fed to the rear wheels via a 7-speed, dual-clutch gearbox.
To get the car moving, you need to engage a button marked “D” which is located on the thin center console between the seats, under your elbow!
The electronic parking brake will disengage as soon as you touch the throttle and off you go.
Maneuvering at slow speeds is remarkably easy, since there is no heavy clutch to worry about. And thanks to its dual-clutch transmission, it doesn’t lurch and stop like automated single-clutch systems do (ahem Lamborghini and Aston Martin). The steering is light, and while it doesn’t give you lots of feedback at low speeds, it’s still easy to point the car in the direction you want it to go.
Out on the road, I played with its different settings. There are three modes for the handling and also three for the performance. Both are controlled via separate twist knobs and both have comfort, sport and track settings. As you can imagine, these switches change the character and noise of the vehicle, depending on your mood and road conditions. I did most of my drive in “Sport” for both settings.
Driving along, you can either leave it in auto mode for the transmission, or select “Manual” by pressing a button. Now you decide when the car should shift up using steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
In most cars equipped with the latter, a light touch engages the next gear, but not in the MP4-12C. In this car, you better pull the paddle all the way or it just won’t change; this took a little getting used to.
You will also need to get used to its performance, as this car is blisteringly quick. Engage launch control and 0-100 km/h takes just 3.1 seconds, while top speed is 333 km/h. Thanks to its twin-turbo setup, there is no boost lag and the car just rockets ahead the instant you twitch your right toe.
Passing other cars on the road is a little too easy. To wash off the speed, its 370-mm front and 350-mm rear cast iron brake discs with four-piston callipers, along with its air brake rear spoiler, will slow you down very quickly. If you need even more braking power, larger carbon ceramic discs are available as an option.
So it goes well and stops well, and thanks to McLaren’s experience in making race cars, you can bet it handles well, too; you get the sense that this car can corner faster than you’d dare it to. When you look at specs like computer-controlled suspension, a carbon-fibre tub for ultra rigidity, and one of the most sophisticated stability control systems ever developed for a road car, you’ll learn this car was put together by people who understand speed.
So if all this sounds enticing to you, you’ll need to come up with at least $247,500 (plus fees and taxes) to get one. McLaren will produce about 1,100 units of the MP4-12C this year, out of which only 50-ish cars will come to Canada.
So is it the greatest supercar currently on sale? My drive was far too short to determine that, but I will say it is going to give its competition lots of sleepless nights.
Auto journalist & Consumer Ratings
Editor's Review Highlights
2012 McLaren MP4-12C Specifications