2012 McLaren MP4-12C Road Test Review
Is the all-new 2012 McLaren MP4-12C too advanced for its own good?
The tremendous power of the 2012 McLaren MP4-12C’s twin-turbo engine can be felt even with gentle power delivery at moderate throttle levels. All 593 hp lurking in the 3.8-liter V8 are like a herd of war horses, waiting to break from cover and trample anything in their path. The drivetrain offers a very useable power band, with seatback-compressing torque coming in early at around 2500 rpm and remaining flat at a peak 443 pound-feet from 3,000-7,000 rpm. Passing other, mere mortal vehicles becomes academic, with a quick shove of the right foot flinging the sub-3,000-pound supercar from zero-to-60 in about 3 seconds before hitting a top speed of 210 mph.
This is true with the transmission set in either Auto or Track mode, though in Auto mode the car’s seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is one of the best double-clutch systems currently available. Shifts are smooth and quick enough for any public road situation, foregoing the need to use the “Track” setting (which makes them even quicker while retaining the tranny’s silky gear swaps).
However, in manual mode we did initially notice shifts were not occurring after we thought we’d engaged the steering wheel paddles (easy to confirm with the numerical gear display mounted in the dash). Turns out we were being tricked by the “Pre-Cog” feature, whereby the initial pull on the shift paddle sets up the next gear swap – but doesn’t actually execute it despite a tactile “click” from the paddle.
To perform the “real” shift the driver must use a firmer effort, going beyond the “click” and fully engaging the paddle’s range of movement. As you might expect, this reduces shift time by queuing up the next gear before it’s actually needed, yet the dual-stage paddle feedback takes some getting used to. Pre-Cog is arguably more trouble than it’s worth on public roads, though the design should be useful at the track where every millisecond counts.
Our McLaren MP4-12C was equipped with the optional sport exhaust system. We found the exhaust note to be quite aggressive regardless of driving style, and at higher rpm and throttle openings we detected a slight drone that is not common among the 12C’s competitors. Perhaps a system that allows for the selective opening of valves (either automatically or via a switch inside the cabin) would be a better solution for daily usage.
The balance between responsive handling and comfortable ride quality is remarkable for such a high-performance supercar. The MP4-12C turns in quickly and remains flat even under high lateral g loads. There’s simply no denying the McLaren’s poise under extreme driving conditions, but the feedback from the steering and suspension can be inconsistent at times, often limiting our confidence in how much speed to commit to the next corner.
In fact, the car has been criticized for delivering an “antiseptic” driving experience, and we can see where that’s coming from given its advanced, computer-controlled brake-steer technology and highly adjustable throttle and suspension mappings (three settings exist for each). But we’re also convinced extended seat time and complete familiarity with the MP4-12C’s subtle feedback mechanisms will ultimately provide owners the confidence they need to fully exercise its remarkable capabilities.
Interior Design and Function
As you raise the McLaren’s scissor-type doors and slide inside the cabin the first impression is that of elegant functionality. The car is a finely engineered piece of technological prowess, and the interior design effectively communicates this much like a Leica camera or an Apple computer can at first glance. Overall it represents high workmanship and build quality combined with exceptional materials.
Consistent with the general theme and personality of this car, the best way to describe the interior is “cold and calculated.” The steering wheel is devoid of any buttons. The center console is an elevated platform reminiscent of a Carrera GT and the newest 911. The center “Iris” display is a high-resolution unit that would look right at home in a Mission Impossible movie. It almost felt like a vehicle from the future that has travelled through time to visit us. Techno-geeks will love it.
Nearly every design element looks to have function and simplicity in mind, though the cup holders are just two round receptacles situated underneath the rising console, in front of the driver’s knee. This locations means (depending on the height of a drink) one would need to lift the cup out of the binnacle and turn it sideways to clear the console, which would require some deft wrist action to avoid staining the carpet. It seems odd such an engineering-obsessed company would let this design through, though it could be McLaren’s subtle way of saying, “MP4-12Cs are for driving only.”
Primary Features and Options
Surprisingly, a base price north of $230,000 does not include much. Many items buyers would expect in a $200,000-plus car are options. The Iris display, (which includes navigation, Bluetooth and stereo) is listed as an option for $6800, although it is a “mandatory” option for the McLaren. A full leather interior is an option, along with the powerful (but unnecessary in this flyweight car) ceramic brakes at around $15,000. Custom colors and various interior and exterior carbon fiber trims can all be had – for a price. This strategy maintains the illusion of a lower base price when compared to, say, a Ferrari 458 Italia, but most buyers will pay far more given the McLaren’s limited production run (just 300 for the U.S. market initially) and high demand.
It’s Perfect For…
If the goal is to acquire the most technologically advanced supercar and achieve the highest possible lap times on a given race track, the McLaren MP4-12C is for you. But achieving that means the driver must know how to fully exploit all of the car’s computerized transmission, suspension and braking systems while foregoing much of the normal driver “feel” associated with cars like a GT3RS and, to a lesser degree, the 458 Italia. One example of a machine that operates with a similar philosophy, but in the lower end of the supercar price spectrum, is the Nissan GT-R. Just like the MP4-12C, the GT-R can outrun cars at twice the price – provided the driver has learned to utilize all of the technology built into it while ignoring the lack of natural feedback.
An expensive GT-R? That description probably thrills as many folks as it annoys – making it clear who should buy a McLaren MP4-12C.
Vehicle Tested: 2012 McLaren MP4-12C
Base MSRP of Test Vehicle: $229,000
Options on Test Vehicle: Super-Lightweight Forged Wheels ($5,140), Electric and Heated Seats ($3,430), Carbon Fiber Front Splitter ($2,860), Carbon Fiber Wheel Arch ($2,860), Full Leather Interior ($2,290), Polished Brake Calipers w/Black Logo ($1,150), Stealth Pack ($1,030 – includes black airbrake mechanism and black exhaust finishers)
MSRP of Test Vehicle (including destination charge): $247,760
The manufacturer provided Total Car Score this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Photos Courtesy of the manufacturer.