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First drive: McLaren MP4-12C. Image by Max Earey.

First drive: McLaren MP4-12C
McLaren made some big promises for its MP4-12C supercar; we see if it delivers on them.

 



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| First Drive | West Sussex, England | McLaren MP4-12C |

Overall rating: 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Forget the McLaren F1; the new McLaren MP4-12C is more significant. Destined to be built in significantly higher volumes, the MP4-12C is McLaren's first proper production car. A landmark car for the company then, and one that unquestionably shakes up the supercar hierarchy.

Key Facts

Pricing: 168,500
Engine: 3.8-litre V8 turbo petrol
Transmission: seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic, rear-wheel drive
Body style: Supercar
Rivals: Ferrari 458 Italia, Lamborghini Gallardo, Porsche 911 Turbo S
CO2 emissions: 279g/km
Combined economy: 24.2mpg
Top speed: 205mph
0-62mph: 3.3/3.1* seconds (*Corsa tyre option)
Power: 592bhp at 7,000rpm
Torque: 443lb.ft at 3,000 - 7,000rpm

In the Metal: 4 4 4 4 4

Even in optional McLaren Orange paintwork the MP4-12C isn't as immediately arresting to look at as its main rivals. It's certainly not unattractive; indeed, some of the detailing is sensational, but overall visually it does rather look more engineered with love rather than styled with flair. There's grace there though: the rear haunches and deep intakes on its flanks are nicely proportioned, but while we're sure there's a sound packaging or aerodynamic reason why the tailpipes exit so high at the rear they'd balance the rear better if they were positioned more conventionally.

Inside it's neatly finished and certainly up to scrutiny in comparison with its obvious supercar rivals. There's a real quality feel, though this test car does feature over 12,000 of optional upgrades inside. What's unmistakable though is the user-friendliness of the cockpit - and the comfort of the driving position, thanks to plenty of wheel and seat adjustment. Usefully, there's no need to second-guess controls due to their simplicity, while the steering wheel is reserved for its obvious purpose - steering. Handy when you're piloting a 592bhp car.

Driving it: 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

It's easy to get caught up in the numbers with the McLaren. It outguns its closest Ferrari 458 Italia rival in the power stakes, and through the gears it feels more Bugatti Veyron fast in its acceleration. But it's not just the engine that makes the MP4-12C so rapid, but the quality of the ride. McLaren has done its own thing with the suspension, binning anti-roll bars and combining its wishbone suspension with hydraulic roll control and adaptive damping. The effect it has on the ride is extraordinary, the MP4-12C able to glide over horrible surfaces with the supple comfort of a luxury car, yet offer the precision and roll-control of a supercar. Allied to quick, precise steering (which offers decent, if not masses, of feel) the MP4-12C is one of the finest riding and steering cars you can have on UK roads. That's incredible for something with this level of performance.

Taking an unconventional - among its current supercar peers at least - route with the engine by turbocharging the MP4-12C's 3.8-litre V8 lacks the rousing intensity on the ear of its naturally aspirated rivals. At idle it's particularly ordinary sounding, though wind on the revs and along with eye-widening pace there's aural amusement to be had. It's shockingly fast though; the way the engine relentlessly keeps on piling on speed is quite incredible. Response to your right foot isn't quite as quick as in its best naturally aspirated rivals, but once it's in its mid-range there's very little to touch it for the ferocity of its performance and enthusiasm for the red-line. Grip is high and its balance is largely neutral, with its levels so high that you're unlikely to ever reach them on the road. We'd need some further track time in it for the McLaren to really reveal the depth of its ability.

The seven-speed gearbox is operated by paddles (or left in auto), which, like McLaren's F1 cars, rock across the entire surface - meaning a right upshift results in the left paddle falling away from your fingers. It's unusual at first, and the heavy mechanical action of the shift requires a firm pull. Its response to input for more gears is quick, though downshifts are sometimes a touch leisurely. The push button operation on the transmission tunnel is also a bit lazy when selecting reverse and neutral when manoeuvring. The brakes are its biggest failing at ordinary speeds though; the optional 10,000 carbon ceramic discs prove difficult to modulate and are a little grabby. We'd save the money and stick with the standard items.

What you get for your Money: 4 4 4 4 4

The 168,500 'entry-level' price buys you the supercar of the moment, a car that has been meticulously engineered in a way that only McLaren could manage. It buys you a supercar you can use, though you need slightly deeper pockets if you want the car specified like this one here - it having 54,000 of optional extras fitted. Factor in the McLaren's staggering performance and its exotic carbon-fibre construction and the MP4-12C is something of a supercar bargain.

Worth Noting

Sixty-two mph arrives in 3.3 seconds, and double that in just 9.1 seconds, while the top speed is quoted at 205mph. If you want your McLaren to go quicker then opt for the Corsa tyres, the more extreme tread design and compound dropping the 0-62mph time to just 3.1 seconds.

Summary

It's a landmark car, of that there's no doubt, but for all its incredible performance the McLaren MP4-12C lacks that final intangible fizz that makes some of its rivals so intoxicating to drive. Specifically, Ferrari's 458 Italia. McLaren argues that it's a car you could use everyday - and that's difficult to dispute. But a supercar owner will have a Range Rover for the commute and a supercar for fun, and the McLaren - even with all its astonishing ability and ludicrous performance - doesn't quite captivate as much as it perhaps should. That's not to take away from its incredible achievement, but it's also what stops it gaining that final half star.

If you are a fan of the McLaren brand you could visit the f1 shop over at www.mclarenshop.com to see if they have anything you fancy.

Kyle Fortune - 8 Jul 2011









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2011 McLaren MP4-12C. Image by Max Earey.2011 McLaren MP4-12C. Image by Max Earey.2011 McLaren MP4-12C. Image by Max Earey.2011 McLaren MP4-12C. Image by Max Earey.2011 McLaren MP4-12C. Image by Max Earey.

2011 McLaren MP4-12C. Image by Max Earey.2011 McLaren MP4-12C. Image by Max Earey.2011 McLaren MP4-12C. Image by Max Earey.2011 McLaren MP4-12C. Image by Max Earey.2011 McLaren MP4-12C. Image by Max Earey.



2011 McLaren MP4-12C. Image by Max Earey.
 

2011 McLaren MP4-12C. Image by Max Earey.
 

2011 McLaren MP4-12C. Image by Max Earey.
 

2011 McLaren MP4-12C. Image by Max Earey.
 

2011 McLaren MP4-12C. Image by Max Earey.
 

2011 McLaren MP4-12C. Image by Max Earey.
 

2011 McLaren MP4-12C. Image by Max Earey.
 

2011 McLaren MP4-12C. Image by Max Earey.
 






 

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