It’s a massive gamble which involves pumping £40million into a state-of-the-art production facility and building up a worldwide network of dealers and after-sales agents in which to sell and service their new offering. This is against a backdrop of Ferrari and Lamborghini who already have such key fundamentals in place and who already benefit from a rich heritage in producing fantastic sports cars. This is not, however, another classic case of British underdog; what McLaren may lack in sports car heritage, they more than make up for with racing pedigree.
McLaren Racing Limited, or Vodafone McLaren Mercedes to give them their trade name, are a hugely successful Formula One racing team having won 175 races, 12 Driver Championships and 8 Constructor Championships. They now want to sprinkle some of this racing fairy dust to a new breed of road cars.
In fairness, McLaren do have some previous experience in building road cars. The McLaren F1 was essentially a Le-Mans (famous annual 24 hour race held in the town of Le Mans, France) racer built for the road but it did also have the small matter of being the fastest production car in the world (from 1993 right up until 2005) offering the ability to sit three abreast whilst travelling at a country-crushing 240 miles per hour. Only 106 were ever built making them a specialist one-off model and a very, very good investment for those lucky few who hold the keys to one. Originally costing a stratospheric £600,000 all the way back in 1993, they now (rarely) change hands for £2.5 million and more. Who says cars are money pits?!? You just have to pick the right one, and it doesn’t hurt to have a bank balance that is many digits in length!
From 2003-2009, in a joint venture with Mercedes Benz, McLaren Automotive built the SLR McLaren which was a very fast grand-tourer car, ideally suited for blasts down to the South of France. However, because of the tie-up with Mercedes, the focus was on the ‘golf-club’ set, it was no stripped down racer, instead it was luxuriously trimmed, relatively heavy and offered a boot that could hold the obligatory set of expensive golf irons.
So that’s the background done with, lets focus in on the MP4-12C itself.
McLaren make a formidable rival to the likes of Ferrari and Lamborghini because everything they do is controlled and efficient. They have analysed the competitor offerings, retreated into their James Bond like lair in Woking, Surrey and have quietly gone about making the MP4-12C better in every measurable way. That’s why the design of the MP4-12C is restrained. It does not shout about its ferocious speed or its exotic build, it just gets on with the job of transporting you very quickly in a calm orderly fashion. If you are the type of person who likes the world to notice that you have arrived, well then this is not the car for you, however, you’ll still get the quiet nod of approval for those that are in the know. That matters to some owners who just want the best but don’t want to shout about it.
A Ferrari 458 Italia is perhaps better looking and a Lamborghini Gallardo is for the playboys but, the McLaren looks fantastic in the flesh. It is only then that you start to appreciate the little details: the beautiful carbon fibre door mirrors, the rear grille incorporating the LED lights, the glass cover in which to gaze longingly into at the engine bay and the outstanding build quality.
Step in over the wide sill and it gets even better with the best driver-focused interior I have ever encountered. Want more focus? You’ll be needing an F1 racer.
The seats are incredibly supportive, like a memory foam mattress, in their ability to support and grip every part of your body.
In front of you, the Lewis Hamilton modelled steering wheel fits your hand like a glove, a huge rev counter dominates your forward view with a wicked 9,000 rev limit and the machined pedals are a work of art. All is where you want it and within easy reach. Some interiors intimidate, this relaxes you
You’ll also note a distinct lack of buttons and that’s not because the MP4-12C does without. The aim is to focus the driver on the joy of driving and not to distract him/her with an array of buttons.
The two dials you see above are to set the car’s parameters: One is for ‘Handling’ and the other for the ‘Powertrain’. Basically, these determine how focused you want the car to be, whether that be a comfortable balance between handling and ride comfort or a race-like setup. If comfort is the order of the day, select N for ‘Normal’ on both switches. Want the volume turned to 11? Set everything to T for ‘Track’ mode. That’s the beauty of the McLaren, it’s two cars in one; a car you can thrash around a racing track on chasing lap records and one in which you can drive your unsuspecting mother in law home.
The selection of buttons above allow you to select forwards (D) or reverse (R). Naturally, you can then select the gears via a set of beautifully machined steering paddles, shifting up and down the dual clutch gearbox (Seamless Shift Gearbox in McLaren speak) to your hearts content. If you are not of a technical mind-set and don’t know what a dual-clutch gearbox is, read on to the ‘technical section’ of this review where I talk about the technical highlights of the car but, essentially, a dual clutch gearbox gives you instantaneous gear shifts.
The engine is McLaren’s own powertrain and is a triumph of packaging being both light and compact. It is a 3.8 litre V8 twin turbo-charged unit to give it its technical specification which, in layman’s terms, means it has eight cylinders arranged in a ‘V’ formation when looked at head on (V8) and is very powerful aided by the fact that it uses two turbo-chargers. Turbo chargers force more air into the engine’s cylinders allowing it to burn more fuel increasing power. A lot of manufacturers are introducing turbo-charging to their engines as it is an effective way of extracting more power from a like-for-like smaller engine, improving emission figures.
Performance is truly mind-blowing. The engine produces nearly 600 horse-power and comparing that to a standard Volkswagen Golf, which offers only 120 horse-power, you can see where I’m going. Top speed of 205 miles per hour and from rest to sixty in 3.3 seconds. What is perhaps more impressive is that I know of one client who has managed to get 28 miles per gallon out of his MP4-12C on a journey travelling at ‘motorway-speeds’. Credit indeed to its efficient engine and its low weight.
Some journalists have claimed that the MP4-12C is too clinical and not exciting enough when compared to the Ferrari 458 Italia but I would encourage anyone to get up close and personal with one. It is only then that you can truly appreciate the depth of engineering, the quality and the Formula One influences. It is THE definition of the every-day supercar and the best part, like the finest suits, it’s tailored to fit your mood. Commuter companion in the week, track day hero on a Saturday and carriage of choice for a Sunday lunch dash. An incredible achievement for any supercar to achieve but, as a first attempt by a newly formed McLaren Automotive division, it is stunning.
I wanted to give you, as the reader, an overview of the Formula One/motor racing developments that have been applied to the MP4-12C. The irony is that some of these technological developments are banned in the world of motor racing as they are deemed to give an unfair advantage. There’s no reason why they cannot be applied to road cars however:
Seamless Shift Gearbox
This is an automated, seven-speed manual gearbox, which means it’s a manual gearbox operated by the use of two electronic clutches. Why two when it’s normal for just one I hear you say. Whilst one clutch is in use selecting a gear, the other spare clutch is getting the next gear for selection ready. This gives rise to the name ‘Dual-Clutch’ and such gearboxes provide very quick gear changes because there is no delay between paddle-pull and gear selection. McLaren take this a stage further in a bid to reduce shift time by incorporating a system called ‘Pre-Cog’. By placing a finger on the paddle (right hand side shifts up, left hand shifts down), it pre-alerts the gearbox’s electronic controller of the likely next gear selection. I call it very, very clever, McLaren call it a Seamless Shift Gearbox.
This refers to the carbon-fibre tub which makes up the MP4-12C’s internal skeleton, being carbon-fibre rather than, say, aluminium means it is incredibly light but also very strong. The advance here is that previously, such technology was prohibitively expensive with such a tub costing c. £75,000 twenty years ago, whereas now that same figure is equal to £7,500 for the same tub. It also weighs an incredibly light 80 kilograms.
The rest of the car, such as the doors, roof and front bumpers, are all aluminium (lighter than steel) with the body parts being fibreglass which, again, has been selected for its weight saving properties.
Proactive Chassis Control
This is all about getting the balance between handling and ride comfort just so. Set up a car that handles like a dream and often it will come at the expense of ride comfort. Focus on ride comfort and the handling becomes almost ship-like. McLaren have managed to strike the perfect balance by employing linked hydraulic cylinders at each wheel that work in unison with a pair of pressure accumulators to soak up bumps and distribute forces. There are no old fashioned mechanical antiroll bars which further reduces weight but it also means that the task of keeping the car planted to the road and level through turns is all done by independent hydraulics.
Being hydraulic, their response can be customised by the driver according to whether ‘Normal’, ‘Sport’ or ‘Track’ is selected on the ‘Handling’ dial on the centre-console. Select Sport or Track and the appropriate level of hydraulic fluid is added to the pressure accumulators, which increases the corresponding pressure making the car stiffer and further reduces body roll in corners.
This is a development (that is banned in motor racing) which applies braking force to the rear wheel closest to the corner when the MP4-12C enters a corner too quickly. It has the effect of pulling the car into the corner which in turn reduces understeer (the effect when a car resists turning into a corner and wants to plough straight on). This means the driver can brake later into a corner improving lap times.
Active Air Brake
This is, in essence, a pop up spoiler which aids braking by adding drag and enhancing rear stability which improves the rate at which the car slows down. Again, this has the effect of allowing the driver to brake later for corners.
It can work in two ways:
- To improve rear downforce, it deploys to an angle of 32 degrees which adds rear downforce improving the stability of the car under braking. This counters the natural transfer of weight forward as the car ‘dives’ under heavy braking by pulling the car from behind, keeping it stable and flat.
- Under heavy braking, at speeds greater than 95 kilometres per hour, the spoiler extends to an angle of 69 degrees which hugely increases drag in the car’s airflow helping to slow it down rapidly.
I hope you found this profile review interesting. If you have any questions about the McLaren MP4-12C, please contact me and I will be happy to answer any queries and naturally, coach you towards your new McLaren.
© Nick Johnson Car Journalist & Vehicle Consultant