REVIEW DATE: 15 Jul 2010
McLaren is brings its racecar knowhow to the road with the MP4-12C. Steve Walker takes a look.
When McLaren takes it upon itself to build a road car the world tends to sit up and take notice. The main reason is that that the British engineering firm best known for its exploits in Formula 1 racing isn't exactly prolific. McLaren's first effort was the awe-inspiring F1 of 1993, a supercar which set the extreme standards by which all others have subsequently been judged and precious few have equalled. After a short break, we now have a second McLaren that's designed and built in-house. The MP4-12C sets out to define its genre with a subtlety and lightness of touch more in tune with the world 17 years after the F1.
Where the McLaren F1 was a road-going race car that competed and won on track with only minor modifications and cost over half a million pounds, the MP4-12C is a more mainstream proposition. The F1 could famously top 240mph and had a total production run that barely squeaked over 100, including race-specified versions. Its spiritual successors are modern hypercars like the Bugatti Veyron the Pagani Zonda and the Ferrari Enzo. Plans to build over 1,000 units per year indicate that McLaren is targeting a humbler position in the market for the MP4-12C. That's if Porsche's 911, Lamborghini's Gallardo and Ferrari's 458 can be called humble.
This is a two-seater supercar of the classic mid-engined rear-wheel-drive layout and at its heart is a 3.8-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine. Peak power of 600bhp and maximum torque totalling 600Nm confirm the MP4-12C's status as a thoroughbred. The turbochargers help to ensure that an incredible 500Nm of that peak torque output is available from 2,000rpm all the way through to the 8,500rpm red line. Show the MP4-12C an empty airfield and it can pass 124mph in under ten seconds while braking from 62mph requires just 30 meters of road.
"Few modern cars display the clarity of vision behind the MP4-12C"
Distributing the power is an F1-style seven-speed paddle shift gearbox with connected paddles that pivot in the centre of the steering wheel and move with the wheel as it's turned. A system dubbed Pre-Cog allows drivers to place pressure on the shift paddle, preparing the gearbox in advance so that the gearchange can be executed even more quickly when the paddle is fully pressed. The active suspension system is designed to produce the highest levels of performance but also deliver a comfortable ride. Hydraulic dampers can be set manually or left to adjust automatically to the road and driving conditions.
McLaren's record in Formula 1 suggests it knows a thing or two about aerodynamics and lightweight design. This knowledge is used to full effect on the MP4-12C. Weight has been meticulously purged from this car at every stage of its design and development with the aim of maximising performance and handling. It's built around a carbonfibre MonoCell or 'tub' just like a race car with the whole structure weighing just 80kg. As well as being light, it's immensely strong, bringing major safety benefits and enhancing the rigidity of the car.
This design concept has also enabled McLaren to keep the MP4-12C a manageable size. This isn't one of the hugely wide supercars with appalling visibility that can prove so daunting to pilot in everyday conditions. The large windscreen extends low down at the front in a similar style to that of the McLaren F1 and it's also possible to see out of the back which is by no means a given in rival models. Despite being relatively narrow, the car still boasts a well-appointed cabin large enough for two tall occupants.
In many respects the exterior design of the MP4-12C are classic mid-engined supercar with the short-stubby bonnet and the curving roof and the lines rising towards the tail. The shape has also been conceived to produce high levels of aerodynamic downforce, however, and the attention paid to the airflow around the vehicle is evident in the huge cooling ducts down the flanks of the car that feed air into radiators mounted adjacent to the engine.
All the talk of weight saving around the MP4-12C doesn't lead you to expect a luxurious cabin environment but the interior of the car isn't the stripped-out carbonfibre fest that you might imagine. There's dual-zone climate control, electric seats, a premium stereo system, a trip computer, cruise control plus a series of electronic driver aids and settings which are governed by the Active Dynamics panel on the centre console.
Amongst the electronic arsenal of the MP4-12C are Brake Steer which automatically brakes individual wheels to improve its responses when cornering and an anti-roll system which uses the adaptive dampers to counteract cornering forces and keep the car flat through the bends. There's a Winter mode which turns all of the electronic supports systems up to maximum assistance while also softening the responses of the engine and gearbox to compensate for slippery conditions. At the other end of the spectrum is a full launch control system and a button to deploy the rear spoiler for extra downforce.
Technologies that McLaren has brought from Formula 1 to the MP4-12C are not purely designed to enhance performance. The lightweight design and aerodynamic efficiency of the car bring big environmental and cost benefits as well. It's reasonable to expect that we'll be seeing features from the car filtering down to other road cars in the future as the desire to improve efficiency become more pressing.
The MP4-12C is the first McLaren road car to be created entirely in-house and it gives a fascinating glimpse into how McLaren sees as the future of the sports car. Where the BMW-engined F1 was a thinly veiled race car with lunatic tendencies and the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren combined luxury with its fearsome pace, the MP4-12C is a paragon of efficiency and technology designed to put the cat amongst the pigeons at the lower end of the supercar market.
Few modern cars display the clarity of vision behind the MP4-12C, McLaren has employed its formidable technical expertise to engineer a road car around its driver with the aim of delivering the ultimate driving experience. There are some big names out there competing for a similar slice of the market but they'll know instinctively not to take McLaren's effort lightly.
The results below show the top MERCEDES BENZ deals on buyacar
|Mercedes Benz S Class S500L 4dr Auto saloon|
|Mercedes Benz SLK 250 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY AMG Sport 2dr Tip Auto diesel roadster|
|Price £32,085||Save £4,195|
|Mercedes Benz E Class E220 CDI SE 4dr Tip Auto diesel saloon|
|Price £28,514||Save £5,406|
|Mercedes Benz C Class C220 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY AMG Sport 2dr diesel coupe|
|Price £28,190||Save £4,750|
|Mercedes Benz B Class B180 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY Sport 5dr Auto diesel hatchback|
|Price £24,500||Save £680|
|VIEW MORE DISCOUNT MERCEDES BENZ DEALS|
|For MP4-12C null|
|OVERALL||7.9 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||10|
Let our car quote assistant help you configure your ideal new Mercedes Benz - it's 100% free and easy to use...
Click below for more information: