2012 McLAREN MP4-12C REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Supercar
Price: $490,000 plus onroad costs.
Fuel Economy (claimed): 11.7 l/100km
Fuel Economy (tested): Not recorded
If ever any company could lay claim to actually putting what it has learned from Formula 1 into its road cars, it would be McLaren.
With the MP4-12C, the Woking-based company has set about creating a supercar sports coupe from the ground up, with the company’s mission statement as its goal: make it fast.
Fast it is – like, blistering, mind-warping – but this is not just a straight-line warrior. It’s properly good at going around corners. And stopping in the space of a heartbeat.
You may have read elsewhere the notion that the MP4-12C is too clinical – just disregard it: it’s a crock. The McLaren is involving, fun and a little scary all at the same time.
Quality: Believe the hype. The MP4-12C’s interior is simply exquisite.
The smell of soft-leather greets your senses with contrasting red stitching flowing up onto the dashtop. It borders a slab of perfectly-formed carbon-fibre on the centre stack, while the A-pillars and roof-lining are swathed in alcantara.
The steering wheel uses perforated leather, as does the wheel hub; spokes are carbon-fibre. The switchgear all feels ‘right’, though the font for the HVAC display is a little old-hat.
In the white of our test car, all the shutlines are sharply visible. Wherever you look, you can’t help but notice how well put-together it is.
There are beautiful touches like the McLaren ‘boomerang’ echoed in the running lights. The carbon-fibre tub is also visible when the doors are swung open.
But opening them requires more than just a touch in the right spot.
You actually have to run your hand along the door, caressing the car’s side strake. Not that we’re complaining, but a non-car person may think you have an unhealthy obsession with your car (which you would).
But more than once the door didn’t open, requiring a second or third go at it. The doors also require a lot of force to shut.
Comfort: Hopping into the McLaren is not particularly graceful. It’s bum-first over the wide, suede-covered sill and then a slide into your seat.
In this respect, the Ferrari 458 Italia has it all over the Macca, with its traditional doors.
It may appear cramped when you first enter, but headroom is quite impressive once seated.
Then, seats and steering wheel are adjusted manually (the driver’s seat-height adjust is electric) and the driving position feels completely natural.Except for the pedals, which are offset to the left due to the front wheel arch, but you become accustomed to that.
The seats offer good support, and plenty of bolstering, though it must be said these are sports seats and not quite as cosseting as those found in a grand tourer.
Equipment: While the interior is fairly basic in presentation, it does offer all the modern amenities. Centrally located is a seven-inch touch-screen monitor, with USB audio, iPod integration, a HDD for music storage and a Meridian sound system. Keeping things cool is dual-zone climate control.
Storage: Don’t expect to take a week’s worth of luggage with you. The MP4-12C was built to save weight, meaning storage is at a premium.
There’s a small centre-console stowage area, two cupholders behind the centre stack, and reasonable-sized door pockets. Up front, under the boot, there’s space for a small bag and backpack, or some emergency groceries.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: The 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 uses a flat-plane crank, which is why it doesn’t sound like a traditional V8. However it’s a lot louder than expected, particularly when cold, but once warmed up it quietens down to provide a less aurally-intrusive experience.
There’s a bit of lag when accelerating, which is helpful around town, as you can drive it off boost. But once those two turbos kick in from about 4000rpm, you’ll know all about it.
The full fury 441kW slams you into your seat in a split-second, and if left with your right foot buried, it’ll cover the quarter mile in 11 seconds flat.
If that’s not enough, then you’re in luck. The power will be upgraded soon, to a staggering 465kW for new cars from October, and as a free upgrade to those who’ve already taken delivery. Now that’s service.
You can let the Macca shift itself, or use the paddles to take full control. But when you do, your hands will get a workout.
Pulling on the paddles requires a fair effort, and because the two paddles are made from a continuous billet of metal they rock on the column – as you pull up on the right, the left paddle pushes back; there won’t be any accidental shifting in this car.
The gearbox itself is one of the best you’ll find. The shift quality is completely seamless at any speed, which gives you smooth driving in normal mode, or instant changes in track mode.
It all makes for a devastatingly fast machine – 0-100km/h is dispatched in just 3.3 seconds. And if you’ve got stickier tyres, 3.1 seconds. Ridiculous.
But come to your first corner and the telegraphic steering makes its presence (literally) felt in your hands. There’s no kickback or rack rattle – just pure feedback and perfect weighting.
It helps when the traction is fully off (by pressing the Active button on the centre-stack) as the V8 will happily overcome the grippy rear Pirelli PZeros. The sideways movement is announced early, and the smallest amount of counter steer is needed. Controllable? No problem.
It’s also predictable under hard braking (when the rear spoiler pops up to help as an air-brake). And it’ll also brake the inside rear wheel during cornering to counter-act understeer.
The McLaren’s limits are way beyond anything you can do on a public road. That’s when you’ll be grateful that both the powertrain and suspension have three settings each - Normal, Sport and Track.
To really find out what the MP4-12C’s limits are, you’re going to have to book yourself a closed circuit. And then take some brave pills. Or swallow the whole packet.
Refinement: When first started, it’s loud - the two turbos don’t dull it down at idle; anyone standing outside will understand what the car is all about. That said, the Riccardo-built V8 is super-smooth while revving, though its sound is better near its 8500rpm redline.
Suspension: Crucially, the McLaren’s suspension is coil-sprung with cross-linked hydraulic dampers. There are no sway bars, giving it a suppleness that is remarkable for a supercar.
While it’s firmish and pitches front-rear on some bumps, it’s on the sharp ridges (potholes, train tracks, etc) that you brace, expecting it to be brutal on your kidneys. But the punishment never comes.
The ride is by far the best for this segment, and probably many other segments, too - if there’s one thing McLaren does well, it’s suspension. Thank F1 for that.
Braking: While there’s a carbon-ceramic option, our test car used standard cast iron discs, which McLaren says stops in the same distance, though the carbon discs won’t get as hot during track work.
The discs are 370mm fronts and 350mm rears, and at slow speeds need a bit of modulating as they’re slightly grabby. At medium to high speed the pedal feel is brilliant.
ANCAP rating: Not tested.
Safety features: The MP4-12C has been built with an immensely strong carbon-fibre tub, with aluminium crumple zones front and rear, keeping the passenger cell intact.
There’s also driver and passenger front, side and head airbags, as well as traction control, ABS, ESC, brake-disc wiping and precharge.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: 3yrs/unlimited km
Service costs: Not available.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY:
Ferrari 458 Italia ($526,950) – The MP4-12C’s main rival, the 458 sounds brilliant, has more instant throttle response and, arguably, the more widely-recognised name.
Some say it’s more involving, but it’s also more expensive and not as quick. Do you want the badge, or do you want the better machine?
Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 ($455,000) – By far the most ostentatious and best sounding of this group, the Gallardo is a hoot to drive, if a bit slower. It’s also all-wheel-drive, so it’s safer at the ragged edge.
The gearbox is nowhere near as refined as the McLaren or Ferrari, but the Lambo is cheaper and more recognisable. And that V10 is a peach.
Note: all prices are Manufacturer's List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
If it’s the quickest sports car you want, then there’s just no going past the MP4-12C. While the Italians rely on flair and a ‘sense of occasion’, this British bulldog is a sledgehammer capable of pulling out mind-blowing lap times.
It has a few foibles, but McLaren’s racing heritage is infused into every pore of the MP4-12C.
Its build quality is brilliant, the ride is unmatched by any sports car, and its speed will widen the eyes of even the toughest of car nuts.
This is no run-of-the-mill car with a sticker that has a tenuous link to an F1 sponsor; the McLaren MP4-12C is the real deal: Formula 1 technology for the road.