Ok, now I get it. When I drove the BMW i8, I met a nice chap who had a McLaren (MP4-) 12C and had just taken the i8 out. He decided to keep his McLaren. Now I know why.
On the same day I got to drive the Audi R8, the opportunity arose to take the McLaren for a spin round the track. Another one of those situations where you just can’t say no.
The McLaren turned up as a concept in 2009 and hit the roads in 2011, a full 12 years since McLaren’s last car, the granddaddy hypercar of them all, the F1. In this time McLaren worked very closely with Mercedes-Benz to bring their magic to the SLR and it’s subsequent versions but the MP4-12C was the first all new car to come from McLaren. The took their time and it shows.
Fast forward to the end of 2014 and the MP4- has been dropped and the car is just called the 12C. McLaren also make the P1, the true successor to the F1 and the 650S which is like a 12C but turned all the way up to 11.
McLaren make racing cars. That’s what they do. Their production cars have that DNA wound through them. It’s always been said that the top end of Motorsport previews what technologies will become default to all cars. From anti-lock brakes to sequential gearboxes, from fuel use to aerodynamics, it all eventually filters down. Audi and Toyota have Le Mans, McLaren has Forumla 1.
The first clear sign of this with the 12C is the engine. In the middle of the car sits a 3.8 litre V8 which while not having a huge capacity, has two turbos bolted on to it. All together, the 12C delivers 616bhp (That’s nearly 3 Audi S1s) through the back wheels. All that power pushes you to 62mph in 3.3 seconds, to 124mph in 9.2 seconds and onwards to a top speed of 204mph. To put that in some more perspective for you, in the time this car gets to 124mph, a family saloon / hatchback will not have gotten to 62mph. Can you get where I’m going with this?
The McLaren is ludicrously fast.
So fast that you need to be brave and trust in the decades of engineering and that’s wrapped up in carbon fibre that you’re in the middle of. This car is only scary if you’re scared of speed. That said, there’s a very good chance you’ve never experienced speed like this (Want to? Alton Towers have a ride called Rita: Queen of speed that goes from 0-61mph in 2.5 seconds.) so there’s a good chance you’d find it scary. Me? I found it exhilarating and I couldn’t get enough of it.
Given time constraints and not wanting to murder the clutch, I got under way from a typical automatic gearbox creep and not the full bar ‘launch control’ start. When rolling though, you sing your right foot and you’re gone! The twin turbo arrangement mean that there’s torque from very low down in the rev range and that carries you until the full turbo is charged. When that happens, the world is going backwards quicker than you could plausibly imagine.
As mentioned in the Audi R8 review, I prefer paddles and luckily for me, that’s all the 12C comes with. The dual clutch gear box in the 12C makes from seamless shifts up and down the gears, making gear selection seem instant. Handy given that on the straight on the way up to the first corner the rev counter was moving faster than a child that had been filled with energy drinks, chocolate and promised a puppy.
Approaching a corner at over 130mph is one of the best and worst feelings you can every have. Every time someone interviews racing drivers, the same thing comes up, how to not be scared and just drive. This scenario (in retrospect, not at the time) gives you the ability to understand the difference in people’s mind sets. It’s simple, you’ll either break early and go slowly, or, you’ll do what feels right, break as late as possible and position the car to come out of the corner as quickly as possible. How can you do the second thing? Trust. Trust in the car that it will go where you want it to and that you can get it back it if do. After the first corner, I trusted the 12C with my life.
The front of the McLaren goes exactly where you want it and the back follows swiftly after. The cornering is smooth and flat. That’s not to say it’s without drama. If you were to give it too much gas then yes, the back end will present it’s self in a sideways manner, but you feel like you don’t want to. There’s so much grip that, getting round the corner and down to the next one is the only purpose of being alive. The grip is persistent and unlike a four-wheel drive system feel light and smooth, rather than grabbing at the tramac to make sure you don’t fall of the edge of the world.
Another straight section with a slight corner in it allows you to open the taps again. The engine tares up its rev range, singing all the way and never giving in. Coming down to a shacain the brakes prove their worth and add to the over all feeling of trust. At this point, I was settled to the point I could have done this all day.
Coming out of the complex to the last straight and back to the holding area, I gave the 12C a few more prods, just to get the feeling of limitless power to linger in my mind even longer.
When I parked up, I didn’t want to get out. I just wanted to keep driving that car. Everything is just so ‘right’ with it that you can trust in it to take you in to a corner faster than touring car and bring you out of the corner in better shape than you went in.
Given that this is the way the 12C behaves on a track, it’s a safe bet to say that on the open road, it’s incredible speed will be somewhat unusable, it’s rather reassuring to hear from other reviews that the hydrologic suspension in the McLaren make it a comfortable car to live with and drive every day and all of that adds up to a tremendous machine.
The i8 is wonderful and amazing, but now I can say to the McLaren man, I get it.