Heritage can be a big asset in the automotive world, but when a company has some of the best racing engineers in its employ, perhaps it is best to start with a blank sheet of paper. McLaren is in that enviable position. This brand’s heritage springs from its racing history, and there is the legendary F1.
In the 1990s, it was the supercar ideal, unmarred by overly extravagant styling or any kind of technological compromise.When the MP4-12C was launched in 2011, it was a fitting tribute to the F1, despite its lower market positioning. Down to its matter-of-fact model designation, it is designed to be a precision tool, the perfect weapon, a surgical instrument to cut through time and space as rapidly as possible.But some customers found it to be lacking in drama, noise, and effect.
The 12C does compete, after all, with the likes of the Ferrari 458 Italia—which comes to battle with three shrieking exhaust pipes and the fussy Manettino driving-mode switch on the steering wheel. To address these concerns, McLaren made a mid-2013 update to the 12C to make it louder, a bit faster, and its Track mode even sharper. The 12C delivers just as before, but does so a bit more emphatically.
Those changes continue into 2014.The twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter V-8—co-developed with engineering-house Ricardo—fires up at the push of a button, and it makes its presence known even at idle. Once pushed, it cannot hide its character as a turbo engine, sounding more subdued and generic than the V-8 engines of AMG and Ferrari, or the V-10s of Audi and Lamborghini.
There is the distinct, very 1980s whoosh of the turbochargers, and the 12C does display a whiff of turbo lag. Drivers who wish to mark the corner exit with a precise repositioning of the vehicle’s rear end must practice accordingly. Maximum horsepower is now rated at 616, reached at 7500 rpm; maximum torque is 443 lb-ft, available from 3000 to 7000 rpm.
There is so much thrust on hand at any time that it’s easy for the 12C to achieve triple-digit speeds between corners. The sprint from zero to 60 mph takes a mere 2.9 seconds; top speed is 205 mph. Redline is a lofty 8500 rpm. Yet, the 12C is a highly efficient machine; during our drive it reported an average of 15 mpg in mixed driving, and even stretches of 20 mpg on the highway with a very light right foot. The rear spoiler rises and functions as an air brake during hard snubs, a race-car element rarely seen on public road.
We lament the fact that there is no manual transmission available. In objective terms, however, the 12C’s seven-speed, Graziano-supplied dual-clutch gearbox works with laser precision. It rips through the gears without any fuss or excessive throttle-blipping; an automatic mode is available.
The combination of compact dimensions, precise steering, and predictable handling means that the 12C can be positioned precisely and with great ease. It is tempting to switch off the stability control system, or at least select Track mode, which allows for greater drift angles. But drivers need to respect the race car that lies just beneath the surface. Even though the 12C is relatively forgiving and easy to control, there is so much torque that the rear can break loose under acceleration, even at elevated speeds.
Most McLaren 12C customers now go for the Spider version and its electrically operated convertible top, which is heavier by almost 90 pounds. But the purist’s choice is the coupe, which we drove. The 12C’s seats are comfortable and wide enough for about 90 percent of drivers—in fact, they could be a bit more narrow and snug. The trunk holds a medium-size roller bag and a few small soft carry-ons, comparable luggage space to that of most other exotics. The instrumentation is modest and businesslike. McLaren’s lightweight approach is underlined by details such as the shifter paddle, which is one piece that stretches to both sides of the steering column. The low point of the interior is the navigation system—our test vehicle’s unit crashed frequently. Other irritating details from previous iterations have been corrected: The capacitive sensors that required several swipes to open the scissor doors have been replaced by conventional buttons.
With its race-bred power and dynamics, the McLaren MP4-12C is still the perfect car for a perfect world—so, one without speed limits. Modestly styled, but utterly uncompromising on the road, it can still hold its ground against any competitor.Yet McLaren buyers now have another choice: the 2015 650S. Debuting at at this year’s Geneva auto show, the new car shares the bones of the 12C, but its more evocative styling details, interior upgrades, and higher-yield 641-hp, 500-lb-ft 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-8 should address customers who desire a faster, flashier, and spendier McLaren supercar. Although McLaren hasn’t yet announced 650S pricing, expect a 10 percent premium over the current 12C. The McLaren 12C coupe lists for $241,900, and the Spider fetches $268,250. Of course, personalization options can be added liberally, but the heritage comes standard.
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