McLaren MP4-12C: First drive review

With 0-62mph acceleration in just 3.3 seconds and a claimed top speed of 205mph, the McLaren MP4-12C has all the performance credentials of a proper supercar.

But what is it like to drive? Well after two years anticipation, Autoblog became one of a select band of roughly 1,000 drivers to try the first in what will be a range of Woking-built supercars.
What do BBC's Top Gear and the 12C have in common? Well, they share the same test track. So we were chauffeured to Dunsfold for some road and track action.

On the outside, the 12C perhaps isn't as distinctive as supercar rivals from Germany and Italy. But, the clean lines are discreetly handsome and look like they will age well.

Highlights include the turning vanes down the side of the 12C, which draw air into the engine and are designed to follow the shape of the badge. At the front, there's the unique front air dam which is also a vane design. Whilst at the back, there is the distinctive high-mounted exhausts and LED rear light strips.

Inside, the McLaren's interior which is part of lightweight, revolutionary carbon MonoCell, is driver-focussed. The small bank of instruments is dominated by the rev-counter which red lines at 8,500rpm. There's a small flat-bottomed Formula 1-style steering wheel, with its chunky paddles and a slimline centre console with an iPod-like stereo stack.

Neatest touches of the 12C's interior include the turbine-like air vents, which look and feel superb, then there's the simple air-conditioning controls on the door card of the gullwing doors. We also like the simplicity of the centre console, which is dominated by the magnetos controlling the powertrain and suspension modes.

The carbon-fibre interior trim of all the cars we drove was also beautifully finished and neatly executed.

First up was the chance to take to the roads of Surrey in the McLaren. After negotiating the high sills, we found it very easy to feel at home in the 12C. The driving position is excellent, the seats supportive and there's also a surprising amount of headroom. So even the tallest should get comfortable.

We start out in the Normal modes for both the engine and suspension, thumb the engine start button and the 3.8-litre, twin-turbo, V8 engine whirs into life. In Normal mode, the performance wick is turned right down, as such the engine noise is perhaps too subdued considering the performance.

As we head out on the road, the first thing to impress is the ride. The 12C is fitted with ProActive Chassis Control, which is basically an adaptive damping system. Replacing the usual anti-roll bars, the 12C special dampers seems to give an almost limo-like ride, yet its cornering responses still seem razor-sharp. Its ability to absorb potholes is impressive too.

We soon switch from full-auto to the more engaging paddles and we're immediately impressed by the quality of the rockers and switchgear. The gearshift paddles, like the steering wheel are designed to mimic those fitted to a McLaren Formula One car and are the best we've ever tried on a road car.

Beautifully finished, we like the fact that they're far stiffer to pull than anything else we've tried. They give a satisfying 'click' when the next gear engages. We like the handmade feel to the column stalks too.

Around town, the 12C's twin-turbo is tractable and feels happy in start/stop traffic. All-round vision is excellent and it doesn't feel dauntingly wide in urban situations. Yet, give it a short dab of the accelerator and the 12C swiftly turns back into a supercar.

Out of town and we get the first chance to chip at the McLaren's massive performance. This is also the time when we moved both magnetos to the Sport position. We noticed a deepening of the exhaust note, but as we pulled for another gear, the change was swifter and the ride and handling tauter, but not uncomfortably so.

The 12C might have twin-turbos, but apart from one instance when we were trying a different car on the Top Gear test track, it thankfully remained free of turbo lag. Acceleration is almost instantanious and electrifying, but you're always aware they are there, as on top of the charismatic V8 soundtrack in Sport mode, there's also a constant hiss.

Work the 12C harder and it is then that you become aware of how good the steering is. Responsive and slack free, along with good vision, it is very easy to place the McLaren in corners.

The final part of our 12C road drive consisted of some dual carridgeway and it was at this point we turned the McLaren's performance wick up to the max, with Track modes for both the engine and transmission.

As the name would suggest and having also tried this mode on the Top Gear test track, we don't think its best use is on the road. The most obvious dynamic changes are an even quicker gearchange, an deeper bark to the exhaust and a harder, more uncompromising edge to the ride.

The 12C is a seriously fast car, we found ourselves carefully watching the electronic speedo so as not to break speed limits. The power delivery is so linear, that you find yourself going much faster than you might expect, very easily.

Thankfully, considering the performance, the 12C's standard non-ceramic brakes are more than up to the job of hauling the McLaren to a stop. In fact, they are so much sharper than other standard brakes we found ourselves almost overbraking.

One of the other 12C's that we drove on the track was fitted with the £9,770 carbon-ceramic brake option, but we're not sure that the braking performance was improved over standard enough to justify the extra cost.

On the track, the 12C continues to impress by how easy it is to drive and how accessible the performance is. The only car we can liken it too is a faster, more bespoke Audi R8 . Grip and poise in corners is most impressive, with McLaren's Brake Steer playing its part here.

Developed from a driver aid used sucessfully in Formula 1, it basically applies braking to the inside wheel when the 12C enters a corner too quickly. Normally this would equal understeer, but Brake Steer controls this and brings the nose back in line.

The unique McLaren Airbrake is also a worthwhile feature on the track, as it adds drag and rear downforce helping to slow the 12C down and allowing more pressure to be used. You can tell when this feature is working as the adjustable rear wing raises to a near vertical position.

So in summing up, it is hard not to be impressed by the McLaren MP4-12C. The attention to detail is amazing as you might expect and the build quality superb. We also like the use of old Formula 1 technology that has gone to make what has to be one of the most capable, driveable supercars on sale.

McLaren MP4-12C
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