Car Enthusiast - click here to access the home page


First Drive: McLaren P1. Image by McLaren.

First Drive: McLaren P1
Five years on, the McLaren P1 is just as sensational


<< earlier review     later review >>

Reviews homepage -> McLaren reviews

McLaren P1

5 5 5 5 5

It's five years since McLaren revealed the P1 hypercar to the world. They're all sold out, but the fifth anniversary of its arrival seemed like a good enough excuse for a drive.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: McLaren P1
Price: 866,000 new in 2012 (circa 2m in 2017)
Engine: 3.8-litre turbocharged V8 with integrated electric motor
Body style: hypercar
CO2 emissions: 194g/km
Combined economy: 34.0mpg
Top speed: 217mph
0-62mph: 2.8 seconds
Power: 916hp @ 7,300rpm
Torque: 900Nm @ 5,500rpm

What's this?

A fifth-birthday celebration. Now, I'm a dad, so I know what I'm talking about here, and fifth birthdays don't get much better. However, there's no face painting, balloons, bouncy castles, candles or cakes in sight, just two McLaren P1s, some Scottish roads and a few laps of Knockhill circuit for good measure. I won't lie, my heart is racing like a five-year old's after a gallon of Sunny D and 20 minutes on a bouncy castle. Outwardly I'm trying to project some nonchalant cool, but I'm going to drive a P1, for goodness sake.

It's not just any P1, either. This is P1 OOV, the car that has travelled nearly 23,000 miles under its own power, and many more as it has been jetted around the world to be driven by the great, the good and a few others in between. It's been on more than 100 magazine covers and counting, so P1 OOV is something of a legend. It's so famous that McLaren has been offered 4million for it, but Production Prototype 3 (PP3) as it's also sometimes known, will never be sold.

Nor will its stablemate, P1 OOU. McLaren built this additional P1 to raise the total production number to 376, the excuse being - as if it really needed one - that it required a fresh example to help with internal validation for its next-generation models.

The P1 then, if it's somehow escaped you, is McLaren's hypercar. It was revealed at the Paris Motor Show just one year after McLaren Automotive had started building cars, and was the Woking firm's take on creating the best driving car in the world. It came as no surprise that it was built around a carbon fibre tub, but what did shock was that its 3.8-litre turbocharged V8 was electrically assisted and developed 916hp and 900Nm of torque.

That's enough to allow the P1 to go from 0-62mph in 2.8 seconds and on to a 217mph top speed. The P1's arrival coincided with both Ferrari and Porsche's take on the genre with the LaFerrari and 918 Spyder respectively. I cannot compare the P1 to the red car, but having experienced a 918, and told by colleagues I respect, that the P1's an even greater sensory hit, to say I'm looking forward to driving the McLaren is something of an understatement. I'm not sure how the nonchalance is working out for me as I get in, but I'm trying...

How does it drive?

Inside P1 OOV, it's as grey as an undertaker's office, and a demonstration of the car's stark functionality. MSO, McLaren's bespoke vehicle tailoring service, could make the P1 as wild as customers wanted, with custom colours and exclusive trim finishes, but I rather like PP3's no-nonsense simplicity.

The door opens upwards and forwards to reveal a sizeable portion of the front wheel, and there's the familiar deep and wide sill to negotiate on the way in. You sit facing slightly inwards, McLaren's obsessive attention to detail pushing you and your passenger closer to the centre of the car, all in the interests of weight distribution.

It's all familiar McLaren inside, from the upright touchscreen for the nav and infotainment functions to the active button and drive mode controllers beneath. The instruments are taken care of by a TFT screen, and there's plenty of bare carbonfibre, Alcantara and that low windscreen scuttle that defines all modern McLarens. The P1 looks and feels surprisingly compact, the view out front helping, the proportions not feeling any more daunting than the latest 720S. Only the P1 has 196hp more output, 130Nm more torque and it's lighter. Yet if my memory serves me correctly, the 720S was other-worldly quick...

There's touch of trepidation pulling away in the P1 then. I could do it quietly in electric-only mode, but decide not to, the allure of hearing that 3.8-litre V8's bark too much to resist. The engine is a derivative of the M838T unit, but comes with unique castings to incorporate the electric motor, has bespoke turbos, allowing it to produce 737hp without assistance from the electric motor. The motor adds 179hp and 230Nm, its effect not just in adding output, but filling gaps where necessary, making for seamless, relentless acceleration.

Trickling away, it's noisy; the angriest, most rousing McLaren engine I've ever experienced. The gasping intake is underpinned by an exotic metallic cacophony that assaults your senses, even at ordinary speeds. The immediacy of the response is remarkable, the accelerator pedal needing the lightest push, the steering, like every McLaren since 2011, fine in its weighting, precise in its response and detailed in its accuracy.

The seven speed paddle-shifted transmission changes with immediacy, while the ferocity of the shifts, the chassis and powertrain, as ever, can be specified via the drive control system covering Normal, Sport and Track modes. The latter is for circuit use only, lowering the P1 to GT3 racer-style stance, while raising the rear wing up into the airflow where it can best shape the air to its particular requirements.

Normal mode is anything but. The alacrity with which the P1 gathers pace is ferocious, but even so the P1 throws up some interesting paradoxes that scramble your senses as much as its pace. It feels ludicrously fast even when it's travelling at fairly ordinary speeds.

At 60mph the P1 could be doing 100mph, such is the intensity of the experience. That's contradictory to the norm among contemporary supercars. While most feel like they're not interesting until they're deep into three figures, the P1 is engaging, immersive even, at velocities suitable for the road. That's unique, and yes while it's a cliche, the P1 feels not dissimilar to a Lotus Elise, and it's backed by its sensational ability to provide taut control from its suspension without deteriorating to harshness. It's busy, yes, but there's compliance, the steering and chassis coping even with the vagaries of the tarmac on Scottish country roads.

There's tractor-flung mud and it's damp, but even so traction isn't an issue. Of course, with 916hp the rear tyres can be made to relinquish their hold, but they do so in such a controlled, measured manner it's not cause for concern, and in most situations the P1 can be enjoyed. It's crushingly fast, no surprise there, but the savage way the car accelerates is, and the immediacy of response is so fundamental that the experience utterly addictive.

Immersive and utterly compelling, the P1 is like little else. It demands all of your concentration, yet it's not exhausting. Those contradictions again, the P1 is full of them. That's the surprise, as much as the numbers associated with it. Sitting here, writing this, I'm no longer left wondering how the P1 manages to better the 0-186mph time set by the McLaren F1 by 5.5 seconds. For the record, the P1 reaches 186mph in 16.5 seconds. That is ludicrous. Yet the P1 is useable, and many owners drive them regularly on the road.

On a track like Knockhill there's not the space to explore the further reaches of its performance, nor the opportunity, although a brisk lap in Track mode sees the P1 change in character to hardcore racer with a prolonged push of the appropriate button. That the P1 is five-years old is remarkable, and it still feels very much like a game-changer, setting a high bar for McLaren itself to better when the next hypercar project comes to fruition.


We missed the opportunity to sample the P1 when it was first launched, but it doesn't feel like we're late to the party. Five years on it still feels utterly relevant, shockingly rapid yet useable and easy, even.

I expected it to be an irrelevance, a hedonistic, super-quick trinket for the incredibly wealthy, lacking some substance and full of compromises. That's true of many mere supercars, but the P1 just isn't. It reveals itself as one of the most immersive driver's cars I've ever experienced. Not because of the sheer speed it can achieve, that is almost a by-product of everything else, but the completeness of the experience. What comes next...

4 4 4 4 4 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

2 2 2 2 2 Luggage Space

4 4 4 4 4 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

5 5 5 5 5 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain

Kyle Fortune - 12 Oct 2017    - McLaren road tests
- McLaren news
- P1 images

2017 McLaren P1 5th anniversary drive. Image by McLaren.2017 McLaren P1 5th anniversary drive. Image by McLaren.2017 McLaren P1 5th anniversary drive. Image by McLaren.2017 McLaren P1 5th anniversary drive. Image by McLaren.2017 McLaren P1 5th anniversary drive. Image by McLaren.

2017 McLaren P1 5th anniversary drive. Image by McLaren.2017 McLaren P1 5th anniversary drive. Image by McLaren.2017 McLaren P1 5th anniversary drive. Image by McLaren.2017 McLaren P1 5th anniversary drive. Image by McLaren.2017 McLaren P1 5th anniversary drive. Image by McLaren.


Internal links:   | Home | Privacy | Contact us | Archives | Old motor show reports | Follow Car Enthusiast on Twitter | Copyright 1999-2024 ©