We test manic McLaren MP4-12C

By Minesh Bhagaloo Time of article published Feb 2, 2012

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Say hello to the fastest car this media group has ever performance tested.

It's called the McLaren MP4-12C and is a full-on Formula One inspired supercar produced by McLaren's former F1 team boss Ron Dennis at the company's automotive facility in Woking, England - the same division famous for other weapons of mass destruction like the McLaren F1 (built between 1993 and 1998) and the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren (2003-2009).

But this baby is different, it's the first all-McLaren hand-built supercar and hence the first to bear the Mclaren logo on the bonnet - no carryover parts from any other manufacturer are used.

Okay, the name doesn't quite have that Superleggera or Aventador sexiness about it, but to explain the method in the madness: the MP4 stands for McLaren Project 4, the chassis designation for all McLaren Formula One cars since 1981.

The 12 refers to McLaren's internal vehicle performance index (which rates performance for both competitors and its own cars). And the C refers to Carbon, highlighting the application of carbonfibre technology to the car.

We just call it The McLaren.


We're talking about a two-seater, mid-engined 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 pushing 441kW and 600Nm through those monster Pirellis at the rear, mated to a seven-speed Seamless Shift dual-clutch gearbox (SSG). Think outputs of 116kW per litre.

The chassis is a carbon monocell weighing just 75kg, explaining the supercar's low 1300kg kerb weight and more importantly its power-to-weight advantages.

Dennis reckons that at sea level his baby will hit 100km/h from standstill in 3.2 seconds, break the quarter mile in 10.9 and only run out of steam at 330km/h. When we tested the car at Gauteng altitude last week we achieved 3.4 seconds to 100 and a quarter mile of 11.3 - which is not far off Woking's claim.

The McLaren also topples our previous and long-standing quarter-mile king, the 368kW/700Nm Porsche 911 Turbo PDK, which blitzed the quarter mile in 11.4 seconds. And we were told that with street-legal semi-slicks we'd shave off another three-tenths.


But as fast as it is, there's also quite a calm and unexpected side to the 12C. Your two main setup buttons in the cabin are marked Handling and Powertrain, with each offering the same three settings: Normal, Sport and Track. Leave these in Normal and you'll find the gearbox getting up to seventh gear by 60km/h, with the car chilled out and happy to cruise - making you forget that you're piloting something created alongside F1 machinery driven by world champions.

Find the right piece of road and you will soon start understanding the McLaren badge on the bootlid and DNA under the skin.

The dual-clutch gearbox is very, very good. In auto mode it lives up to the seamless part of its name, but hit the manual button and the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel become warp-zone activators.

The shifters have a solid and positive feel - which I like - and the gearbox follows your shifting requests with the precision of a Swiss watch. It'll even allow you to pre-select gears by half-clicking the levers before downshifts so that you can jump straight from seventh to third on corner entry.

Acceleration leaves you wondering if you should be calling an exorcist. Boost is truly relentless, with the electric speedometer jumping through scary bands of numbers.


How can it not with all that F1 heritage? The body was styled for maximum downforce, a brake-steer system limits understeer, and the suspension can be hardened with Sport and Track settings. Proactive Chassis Control also negates the need for mechanical anti-roll bars.

Stopping is just as impressive. Not only does the McLaren boast brakes with aluminium hubs (which weigh less than optional carbon ceramics) but there's also a very cool airbrake on the bootlid which pops up under hard deceleration and really makes a noticeable difference. Hit the Aero button and the airbrake stays partially up for additional downforce.


Man, and then there's the sound this thing makes. Hit the start button and it fires up like a jet fighter. Get rolling and that holler gets deep and angry, scaring birds from trees. The exhaust pipes sit quite high up at the back which looks cool too.

And you know this is the real deal with menus showing specifics like tyre temperatures and time span to heat the oil; just one big rev counter in front of the driver with its 8 500rpm redline (speed is shown digitally); and no gearshifter but instead buttons on the centre console to engage Reverse, Neutral or Drive.

What is also quite noticeable is how clean and easy to use everything in the cabin is. There are just a few buttons with the necessary settings, an intuitive touchscreen which handles entertainment, the normal stalks alongside the squared-off steering wheel (which has no buttons), and climate control settings on both door panels.

“Needs some Lambo Reventon meets Ferrari 458 Italia flair”

The only thing I'm not convinced about is the Mclaren's styling. I think it's a bit rounded and needs some Lambo Reventon meets Ferrari 458 Italia flair. The scissor doors are very cool though (with a touch-sensor replacing door handles). They're easy to use and getting in and out of the McLaren - even with a thick door sill - was much easier than in the Merc SLS Gullwing. The bucket seats are comfy too, but the electric mechanism would lose your setting everytime you switched the car off.

The 21.3l/100km consumption figure, which was running over 3 100km, was another typical supercar trait.

Twenty six MP4-12Cs have been sold in SA at a cost of R3.2-million, with seven already delivered to customers by the Daytona Group. -Star Motoring

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