McLaren Automotive has marked its return to the automotive world with the release of the McLaren MP4-12C. The brand new sports car starts a new era for the specialist from Woking. To experience the launch of the new car company, we were granted a day behind the wheel of their new sports car at the factory in Woking. Introduced as being designed around the driver, the MP4-12C is the start of a lineup of cars to be released over the coming five years.

A McLaren team with experience in developing successful Formula 1 cars and expertise gained from launching McLaren cars in the past, came up with the new type of sports car. The MP4-12C uses numerous parts developed together with their successful Formula 1 team. The result is a car that McLaren believes is faster, more efficient, more agile and even more comfortable than any other sports car in its sub £ 200,000 segment. A combination which is new to the sports car segment and sets a different type of level we will try to explain in our road test.

The most noticeable part fitted to the new McLaren is the one-piece carbon MonoCell chassis, which is used as a basic structure for the car. The MonoCell is a lightweight, hollow, very strong and predictable structure that is produced in one piece through the Resin Transfer Molding (RTM) process. Other interesting and unique features are the Proactive Chassis Control suspension system, race-derived Brake Steer and McLaren Airbrake.

Road Test 2012 McLaren MP4-12C 01

The British supercar, poised for battle with Ferrari’s 458 and Lamborghini’s Gallardo, is powered by a M838T 3.8 liter twin turbo V8 engine delivering 600hp at 7,000rpm and 600Nm between 3,000 and 7,000rpm. The performance offers a sprint from zero to 100km/h in 3.3 seconds (3.1 seconds with corsa tires) and zero to 200km/h to 9.1 seconds (8.9 seconds with corsa tires). The engine sits behind the cockpit, with a seven-speed, Italian-made Graziano twin-clutch transmission attached to the back. The newly developed setup features a system dubbed Pre-Cog which allows the driver to pre-select the next gear by lightly tapping the paddle shifter.

The performance build up is linear as you would expect from a twin-turbo engine. The initial acceleration is fast in low revs, but nothing prepares the driver and its passenger for the seismic punch produced at higher revs. Push the car up to the redline and pull the newly developed paddle shifters, which are using a one-hand shift principle and the whole accelerating principle re-occurs after the ultra-swift gear change. The finger-tip controls mounted on a rocker behind the 12C steering wheel offer an up shift by either pulling with the right hand or pushing with the left, and vice versa to downshift. This ‘one-hand shifting’ principal, and the mechanical “click” on gear change, ask for a clear learning curve for new drivers unknown to this setup.

The MP4 has three special weapons found in no other supercar, all linked to the handling of the car as such. The MP4 skips conventional antiroll bars for hydraulically linked shocks that permit ample wheel movement yet limit cornering roll. Two side effects are part of the new setup. The MP4-12C has become one of the most comfortable sports car out there with a hydraulic pump constantly letting you know that it is working it’s ass off to keep you on the road. The pump is a vital part of the whole system being linked to the power steering and the ProActive Chassis control at the same time. The noise it makes at standstill is sometimes irritating, while the comfort is somewhat of a surprise when you are used to sports cars in this segment. Especially, when it runs 19 inch cast alloy wheels at the front and 20 inch wheels at the rear.

The second weapon is an automatic trail-braking system – Brake Steer – operating the inside rear caliper during cornering, to pull the nose into bends. It does the same job as a torque-vectoring differential, but is up to 20kgs lighter. Under heavy braking above 95km/h, a piston operated by transmission hydraulics raises the third weapon, an airbrake to 32 degrees. Once the first stage wing angle is set, and the airbrake pushed into the airflow, the center of aerodynamic pressure forces the bottom of the ‘wing’ back up to 69 degrees. These features help you to achieve high cornering speeds, short breaking distances and a flat body ride, making the McLaren feel like it levitates.

Road Test 2012 McLaren MP4-12C 02

In the center console the driver can opt for ‘Automatic’, ‘Launch Control’ and ‘Winter’ modes selected on the Active Dynamics Panel, the latter changing all electronic functions to suit low grip conditions and delivering maximum driver aid and support. There is no traditional manual transmission on offer. The Active button in the center console activates all the dynamic controls: on ignition, the 12C starts in ‘automatic’, and ‘normal’ settings for Handling and Powertrain. Depressing ‘Active’ then engages the preferred driver settings. There are two buttons. “H” means Handling and it sets the suspension, steering and ESC between normal, sport and track offering you more room to play. And “P”, which stands for powertrain and has the same modes for throttle-engine mapping, gearshifts, exhaust tone as well as management of the intake plenum tone inside the cabin.

The exterior design philosophy supports function and aerodynamics. All the fins, vents and the flat underbody are there for a reason. No styling has been incorporated simply for appeal or style, which is in our opinion one of the biggest criticisms of the MP4-12C. Due to its ambitious surge for performance, handling and function before passionate styling, it looks to have less sex appeal in comparison to its competitors, of course depending on the color and trim package you choose. Its visible link to sophistication is a character on its own, something you will only experience by driving the car and not so much as by looking at it. A pity, but the truth.

The driving experience is started by entering the cabin via the dihedral doors, which allow the driver and passenger to get into and out of the car as easily as possible. The doors are unlocked by sliding your hand along a touch-sensitive panel where you would normally expect to find the door handle. Great in a science fiction movie, but in reality it doesn’t seem to work as fluently as you would like it to. We opted to use the key instead. Closing means using all the force you may have or else they won’t completely shut and you have to re-start the sequence all over again. It is a normal behavior the first twenty times you are trying to close the door.

The seating position behind the wheel is what you may expect, excellent. The only minor fail are the controls for the windscreen wiper and the direction lights. Both are placed too far away for your fingers to gently touch them while holding the oval and squared-off steering wheel. The environment feels understated and lacks unnecessary features, similar to the exterior. The center stake features most of the controls and a touchscreen display with multimedia features oriented vertically to maximize available space. The dual-zone climate control buttons are placed inside the doors reconfirming the driver’s focus setup. Underneath the center console and behind the seats you get more than enough space to store your belongings.

Road Test 2012 McLaren MP4-12C 03

The engine is ignited using the starter button on the center console. The twin-turbo comes to life with a slight growl from the exhaust. The overall experience from the dual-pipes at the rear is rather modest and mercifully quiet. Driving off is easier than expected. The dual-clutch automatic gearbox feels slightly fussy at low speeds, but better than other cars with the same system.

Leaving the premises of the factory onto UK streets meant experiencing the utterly comfortable characteristic of the suspension. Bumps and pot holes are taken with a comfort you hardly come across in any other sports car. There is no steering reaction either. The only point of remark is the noticeable “clunk” you hear when one of the wheels hits a pot hole hard. It remembers you that you are driving a sports car with a carbon fiber tub. But somehow it doesn’t fit the comfortable luxury ride you are experiencing and asks for more sound cancelling.

Switching through the H and P control modes brings the MP4-12C to life. Our favorite setting was handling in sports and manual shifting offering the right amount of oomph at the moment you want it. The setting change converts it from a daily driver to a full race-bred sports car capable of attacking every single corner with an incredible high amount of G and with an exit speed derived from a Formula 1 car. Also the exhaust noise of the sports exhaust became more prominent, but still not on a level we would opt for. We want more McLaren! The acceleration and ultra-swift gear changes are a true feast driving down the roads of the UK country side.

Road Test 2012 McLaren MP4-12C 04

The McLaren MP4-12C is one of those sports car on many wish lists. Experiencing it, makes you love it because of its versatility. Easily capable of moving you around anywhere you want, and ready to attack any track you come across on a Sunday afternoon. Its cleanliness and sophistication is McLaren’s idea of saying that this is the future of the sports car, and leave the so-called passion to the Italians. The McLaren is ahead of the pack in many ways – technical as well as in terms of experience – leaving behind some kind of sex appeal found in many other sports cars currently.

A Mclaren sports car is not the ordinary sports car as you know it, it is a look into the future. The MP4-12C comes from that future where electronics rule the game, a future currently visible in Formula 1 where being ahead of the other teams is achieved by technical advancements. McLaren translated this to the road in a way very few people will initially understand, because there are simply only two seats available in the McLaren Formula 1 team. Add to this the option of choosing anything you can think of and your wallet allows via McLaren Special Operations, and you have a winning combination of performance, handling, versatility and your own personal choice of adding any type of sophisticated passion.

Special thanks to the Brooklands Museum in Weybridge, Surrey offering us the opportunity to combine two pinnacles of British engineering in our photo shoot.

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  1. Clearly the MP4 12C is intended to be an engineering statement, not a fashion statement. It is appealing to the logic of efficient design, and not the illogic of sex appeal.

    So the question really is do you want a car to drive, or a set of clothes to wear?

    As an retired engineer, Id rather go fast safely and efficiently, than look fast.

  2. Buying a supercar is somewhat about the sex appeal. It’s about the feeling you get when you look at it and when you put your foot down. And if you compare it to the 458 the Ferrari laps most tracks faster and looks better. The 12C I’d say is marginally safer and more efficient, but marginally.


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