It could go even faster but in the interests of sanity the P1's top speed has been governed to 350km/h.
It could go even faster but in the interests of sanity the P1's top speed has been governed to 350km/h.
The P1 has a Drag Reduction System like a Formula One car, complete with a moveable rear wing. Picture: Oliver Hirtenfelder
The P1 has a Drag Reduction System like a Formula One car, complete with a moveable rear wing. Picture: Oliver Hirtenfelder
It's all business in the carbonfibre-dominated cockpit.
It's all business in the carbonfibre-dominated cockpit.
Signature McLaren angled hinges make the P1 look like something out of Transformers with its doors open.
Signature McLaren angled hinges make the P1 look like something out of Transformers with its doors open.

Pretoria - Numbers schmumbers. We could tell you that the McLaren P1 wields 673kW of power and 900Nm of torque.

That it has a (governed) top speed of 350km/h, and that it can chomp a quarter-mile sprint in just over 10 seconds. And that if you were one of the fortunate 375 people in the queue to buy one of these left-hand-drive-only hypercars, it would cost you about R26-million.

But as impressive as they may be, it’s not numbers you’re thinking about when you drive this hybrid British brute, the most powerful road car McLaren has produced to date. What grabs your attention is the sheer violence of the acceleration as it pummels you into your seat like you’d been rugby tackled by Bakkies Botha.

We were given a chance to road-test a pre-production demonstrator that was in the country to take part in last Saturday’s McLaren day at Kyalami, where it set a new lap record for a production car of 1m45s. The day before that we were given the exclusive opportunity to strap on our Vbox testing equipment to see whether it would also set a new quarter-mile record on the long straight at the Gerotek test centre outside Pretoria.

It did. With a time of 10.31 seconds the P1 became our new quarter-mile king and dislodged its less powerful stablemate, the McLaren 650S, into second place with its 10.94 seconds. As a comparison, Porsche’s best yet, the 911 Turbo S, needed 11.31seocnds for the same job.

The P1 shattered every other acceleration record we’ve ever set including the 0-100km/h, which it did in three 3 seconds flat (The 650 S took 3.15, the Porsche 3.31). That’s impressive given that we tested at altitude and also that this pre-production car’s launch-control system wasn’t working.

INSTANT RESPONSE

With launch control at sea level, we have little doubt that it will hit 100 in McLaren’s claimed 2.8 seconds.

McLaren says the P1 will blast from 0 to 300km/h in less than 17 seconds – five seconds quicker than the legendary McLaren F1 (our test track wasn’t long enough to test that claim).

It’s instant, lag-free response. One moment you’re at a standstill, the next you’re halfway down a one-kilometre straight as if hyperspaced there by some cosmic smoke-and-mirrors act.

The monster of an engine behind your back hisses and roars ferociously, a cacophony of a V8 howl accompanied by a chorus line of whistling wastegate. It’s as subtle as a wrecking ball straddled by a naked Miley Cyrus.

The source of all the fuss is a 3.8-LITRE turbopetrol V8 paired to an electric motor, mid-mounted in a carbon-fibre two-seater body that weighs a relatively light 1498kg. Energy that would normally be wasted is captured by the electric motor when lifting off the throttle, and stored in the battery.

The battery can be charged from a wall socket too, and the car can be driven in electric-only mode for more than 10km and at speeds of more than 160km/h.

A PROPER HANDFUL

Considering all that firepower goes to just the rear wheels and not all four, the P1 is reasonably civilised and easy to control, not the rodeo-horse of a car that you might expect. A dual-clutch seven-speed gearbox simplifies things. Mash the throttle and the flamboyant two-seater just grips and goes in a straight line, launching with barely a chirp of wheelspin. In the dry, that is. McLaren’s test driver, who accompanied us during our testing, assures us that the car’s a proper handful on a wet road.

The carbon ceramic discs are infused with a surface layer rich in silicon carbide – one of the hardest substances known to man. This specially developed highly durable ceramic layer coats the friction surfaces which not only gives superior stopping capabilities but also an attractive mirrored finish.

McLaren’s stated goal with the P1 was to be the best driver’s car in the world on road and track, and it recently became one of two production cars – the other being the Porsche 918 – to set a laptime of under seven minutes around the famous Nurburgring Nordschleife circuit in Germany. Apart from its not-inconsiderable power output, the reason for this is the McLaren’s aerodynamics, which make it produce more downforce than any other production car.

FLAMBOYANT STYLING

It has a Drag Reduction System just like a Formula One car, with a large rear wing that can be raised or lowered to maximise either straight-line speed, or cornering downforce. A number of road and track modes - E-mode, Normal, Sport, Track and Race - adjust the car’s personality. In the max-attack Race mode the wing is raised, the hydro-pneumatic suspension is lowered, and the spring rates stiffen by 300 percent, allowing the P1 to corner at more than 2g.

The wing puts the styling cherry on top of a flamboyant styling package that had onlookers snapping selfies with this McLaren wherever we stopped.

The P1 occupies a hallowed place in the pantheon of hypercars, alongside machines such as the LaFerrari and Porsche 918. Only 375 examples of this mega McLaren will ever be built to keep it exclusive, and they’re all spoken for.

P1 refers to first place or position one, and it’s aptly named because this is the quickest car we’ve ever put against the clock.

For now ...