One must assume a proper driving position when traveling at speed, with the back being well in contact with the seat, so that any lateral movement of the car is instantly felt. The McLaren MP4-12C takes this basic performance driving rule to a new level, as it also requires the driver to pay extra attention to the position of the neck.
At full blast in a straight line, this thing is so fast that the back of your neck will receive an undesired form of massage, one that will send you searching for a HANS device.
The McLaren MP4-12C is a tad lighter and slightly more powerful compared to the Ferrari 458
it aims to beat. The Brit manages to put the power down just as well as its Italian rival, so it obviously accelerates quicker. Place the two on a drag strip and you’ll notice that the MP4-12C needs 10.9 seconds to play the quarter mile game, while the 458 Italia takes 11.2 seconds for the job.
The 3.8-liter twin-turbo V8 shows that it means business right up from its rather irregular idle, when it emits a menacing burble. Since this is a rear-wheel drive car, the launch control doesn’t bring too much drama, but you are asked to keep the throttle welded to the floor for two or three seconds in order for the boost to build up.
Once you release the brake, an endless g force assault starts. The engine pulls well starting from under 2,000 rpm, but its full force can be felt from 3,000 rpm onwards. Despite the fact that this is a turbocharged unit, it can rev up to 8,500 rpm, falling only 500 rpm short of the naturally-aspirated V8 in the 458 - it also feels excellent in the stratosphere of the rev counter.
On the road you won’t feel any turbo lag and you’ll also enjoy the linear power delivery, as well as the double-clutch gearbox. The pre-cog function is fun for a while, as it’s nice to be able to prepare your shifts. To put it shortly, this works similar to a photo camera’s shutter button, which has two positions. This is McLaren’s way of dealing with the dullness issue of double clutch transmissions.
Unfortunately, this is a feature that you’ll only randomly use, but it does come with a drawback - since the rocker used to shift gears must have two pressure points, the shifting process requires a considerably more firm action from the driver and this can become a bit tiring.
The shifts feel just as quick as the ones in the 458, but there is one drawback: the throttle blip on the downshift is not as precise as in the Ferrari - a turbocharged engine is more difficult to keep in the optimum rev range compared to a naturally aspirated one.
The standard brakes offer superb modulation and stopping power and you feel your confidence growing when the Airbrake is deployed. Just make sure to look in the door mirrors when braking, as the interior one is filled by the silhouette of the Airbrake. As for the ceramic brakes, these offer an unpleasant modulation, using a short active pedal travel that makes it difficult to get a proper feel.
Placing the carbon fiber supercar on a track will reveal that the engine does have a bit of turbo lag, but this drawback is quickly forgotten thanks to the MP4-12C’s excellent steering and suspension.
The steering definitely deserves a place on the podium of the supercar world, offering perfect weight and adaptability and being generous in terms of feedback. Couple this with the hyper-ergonomic F1-inspired steering wheel, which also offers a gear shifting rocker, and you’ll get plenty of excitement.
We’ll remind you that in the 458 Italia the steering wheel, which Ferrari brags benefited from Michael Schumacher’s expertise, brought an overcrowded arrangement. This made the car difficult to use on the road - all the buttons migrated to the wheel in order to leave the are around the paddles clear.
When it comes to fuel efficiency, the McLaren MP4-12C has an EPA figure of 18 mpg (13 l/100km), while during our test drive, the vehicle returned 15 mpg (15.6 l/100 km).
As for the suspension, the interlinked hydraulic adaptive dampers manage to keep the car perfectly flat through the corners, boosting the handling and also giving you courage to push the car harder.
The same suspension manages to tackle road irregularities with incredible ease, doubling the incredible handling with a ride that’s just as impressive. Unfortunately, the system doesn’t know how to handle larger obstacles and will give you a rather nasty feeling when you encounter these. What’s more, hitting a more serious bump may also cause the suspension to become fidgety for a short while.
Since we mentioned the technical glitch above, we’ll go deeper into the implications brought by the core principle of the McLaren MP4-12C - robotization. This is most felt in terms of handling, where the supercar replaces the limited slip differential (LSD) with an advanced form of torque vectoring.
We’re referring to McLaren’s F1-borrowed Brake Steer system: this counteracts understeer by braking the inside wheel on a corner entry. As for the oversteer fight, it can apply brake pressure on the inner wheel on corner exit. Many modern cars have an ESP that’s able to do that, but the hardware in the MP4-12C is sharper. In addition to that, its software is set up to take far more advantage of this.
A Ferrari 458 Italia likes to go about the business of hard cornering by wagging its tail in a controlled way that fills the driver with emotion. Alas, this can become too much and lead to a crash on certain occasions.
The McLaren MP4-12C offers the exact opposite handling at the limit - it stays firmly planted on the road - only the most extreme of the three handling modes, dubbed Track, allows a certain degree of rear end slip.
What’s more, you have to almost eliminate the usual countersteering maneuvers, as the Brake Steer sorts out the handling all by itself, so your steering wheel inputs will end up overcorrecting or interfering with the system.
One could say that the MP4-12C requires a certain degree of driving discipline - getting used to the way in which the system does its job and working with it. This would be excellent, as you can’t just climb aboard a supercar, floor it and expect everything to end well. Except there’s a little problem - while Brake Steer fights to cancel understeer, sometimes you have to push the throttle further than in a car fitted with a LSD in order to achieve the desired effect.
This can require one to overcome the conservation instinct. That’s just what race drivers do, but in the real world, where drivers obviously don’t have the same level of training as professionals, the approach can become dangerous.
Thus, while the McLaren MP4-12C is extremely easy to drive fast, things change once you go past eight tenths.
Nevertheless, when you have the perfect conditions (read: track), you’ll enjoy this electronic handling, as it offers a perfect balance, the kind that puts a Porsche to shame - while in the Zuffenhausen-built machine you know that a hard bite awaits at the end of the balance, the MP4-12C holds no such violent traps, despite the aforementioned issue.
When used on the road, the McLaren MP4-12C supports daily driving though its highly adaptive powertrain - we often found ourselves cruising peacefully in seventh gear at just below 1,000 revs.
However, the limited ground clearance and aforementioned suspension glitch keep it from being easy to use though. The first problem may have been solved by the addition of an optional lift system and the second can be dealt with using more attention. Unfortunately, there’s apparently nothing that can be done for the exhaust sound.
The noise is simply too strong when you’re driving normally and even when you’re flooring it it’s still unpleasant. McLaren has spent a long time tweaking the exhaust, but the average tone is still uninspiring.
The MP4-12C features an intake sound generator (ISG), which, from the 2013 model year on, also offers three levels of intensity for each of the powertrain’s three modes. As you accelerate, you can hear the intake swiftly sucking out all the air in the world to feed that V8. And you’ll also hear the extra pressure being released once you lift off the throttle. The system is a sweet toy to have, but it can’t make up for the aforementioned exhaust voice issues.
You can clearly feel the motorsport roots while driving the McLaren MP4-12C. This does bring a special kind of pleasures, but when you’re not in attack mode, the passion level drops dramatically.Continue reading
Hold on, Mary would like to say something...
Let me see if I’ve got this straight - these supercars are all “super” thanks to the fact that they make you feel “super”. Well, I didn’t find the “super” part here! All I did during the entire drive was to sweat while striving to avoid scratching the car over bumps and trying to ignore the awful exhaust sound. Yes, it was pleasant when I could use the throttle to massage my back on the track, but the price I has to pay for that makes this feel like slavery.
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