By Matt Degen
For decades McLaren cars have proved their mettle on racetracks, and now they are taking on cars such as Ferraris and Lamborghinis in a totally different setting: the showroom. While the U.K. company made a barely-street-legal car in the past – the highly acclaimed F1 – the all-new MP4-12C establishes McLaren as a legitimate player in the elite world of road-ready supercars. The mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive 2-seat coupe distinguishes itself with a surprisingly compliant ride, striking design, a featherweight body, and a voracious V8 engine. Aside from being limited in the number of vehicles coming to the U.S. for 2012, owners will have even more exclusivity since this marks the inaugural year for the MP4-12C. The 2013 model year is set to bring a topless version of the car.
If you require your supercar to stand out even in the rarified air of exotics, the McLaren MP4-12C is up to the task with its very limited production, jaw-dropping looks and racing pedigree. On the pragmatic side, it's quite easy to drive, too.
Wanting a McLaren is one thing, obtaining it another. Just a few hundred have been allotted to U.S. dealerships, which themselves are few and far between. If you want a car that's about as fast and can be had today, Porsche, Audi and Jaguar dealers will welcome you with open arms and save you money to boot.
The McLaren MP4-12C is an all-new car, and the first proper, street-legal McLaren since the fabled, million-dollar-plus F1 of the 1990s (the more recent McLaren SLR was built in conjunction with Mercedes-Benz). The 2012 MP4 uses copious amounts of carbon fiber for its strength and weight-saving properties, and a compact V8 engine that makes almost as much power as the F1's big V12.
Driving Impressions Before you fire up the McLaren, you must finagle yourself into it. The upward-opening doors are a nice effect, but you must awkwardly drop across the tall, wide doorsill and...finally into the low seat. You might think this initial chore portends a temperamental ride, but the MP4-12C is actually a tame beast when you want it to be, a car that won't fuss about trips to the market. In "normal" mode, the chassis quells rough roads with surprising authority. Switch to "sport" or "track" settings, though, and the McLaren becomes another car. Here, its compliant ride and smooth shifts from the 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission are replaced by a ferocity that leaves no doubt about the racecars that inspired the MP4-12C. Turbo lag from the small V8 engine is nearly nonexistent, and well-launched the McLaren can hit 60 mph in the low 3-second range. The MP4 corners precisely and makes even novice drivers look good thanks to a system that applies brakes when needed to help keep you – and the car – in one piece.
The McLaren MP4-12C "only" uses a V8 engine, and a small one at that, but the powerplant churns out 592 horsepower, more than some rivals' V10s.
LUXURY RIDE QUALITY
Many cars can go fast and many more can be comfortable cruisers. Few do both laudably. Thanks to the McLaren's sophisticated design and engineering, the 2012 MP4-12C has a Jekyll and Hyde personality that enables it to hit 205 mph on a track and still be livable in stop-and-go-traffic.
After you've squeezed yourself into the MP4-12C via the aforementioned process, the car is quite comfortable, if not confined. The two seats are appropriately bolstered, and to McLaren's credit there is even cargo space on a bench behind the seats in addition to the cavity up front near the bumper (remember, this is a mid-engine car). Directly in front of the driver is the large oval instrumentation that will let you know when you're traveling at jail speeds. Between driver and passenger is a long, thin console that stretches up the dash and grows into a vertical screen that resembles the world's biggest iPhone.Exterior
A defining characteristic of just about any supercar is a look that makes admirers stop in their tracks. Drive an MP4-12C, and be prepared for an onslaught of adulation. The McLaren has more curves than a supermodel and skin as scintillating as one. Massive air intakes define the MP4's sides, while even the vertical-opening doors are a work of design magic. Up front, long and trapezoidal headlights are reminiscent of Ferraris, and the rear boasts high-mounted exhausts that howl from above, not below, the bumper. The McLaren's mid-mounted V8 heart, meanwhile, is displayed under a panel of glass for all to see.
All 2012 McLaren MP4-12C models come with a twin-turbocharged V8 engine, a 7-speed transmission that can be shifted manually or automatically, 19-inch wheels in front and 20-inch wheels at rear, bi-xenon headlights, cruise control, a 7-inch touch-screen monitor, dual-zone climate control and a Meridian 4-speaker sound system with AM/FM/USB/hard drive and iPod integration.
The McLaren can be taken to even higher heights with carbon ceramic brakes (roughly $13,000 alone), an upgraded exhaust, power-adjustable seats, custom interior trims including Alcantara, an upgraded audio system with satellite navigation, and exterior bits that include carbon-fiber engine panels.
The heart of every McLaren MP4-12C is a twin-turbo V8 engine that makes nearly 600 horsepower (2013 models are actually set to cross that threshold when they go on sale). All that power is transferred to the rear wheels via a dual-clutch 7-speed transmission that can shift automatically or manually via F1-style paddle shifters. In a car that weighs less than 3,000 pounds, all this might makes for a vehicle that can hit a top speed of 205 mph and blast to 60 mph in about 3.3 seconds.
3.8-liter twin-turbo V8
592 horsepower @ 7,000 rpm
443 lb-ft of torque @ 3,000-7,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 15/22 mpg
At over $230,000, the McLaren MP4-12C isn't exactly a good choice for folks who enjoy practicing self-denial, or for those who might be interested in using that kind of cash to buy something more pragmatic. Like a house. Options on this car can quickly add up to tens of thousands more, easily pushing this car to a quarter-million dollars. At these prices, the MP4-12C is comparable to a Ferrari 458 Italia, about $40,000 more than a base Lamborghini Gallardo and Aston Martin DB9, and over $100,000 more than the Audi R8's starting price. Since the 2012 McLaren MP4-12C is a first-year model that is very limited in quantity, we expect its value to hold up well in the years ahead.