First Look

First Look: McLaren MP4-12C

McLaren is ready to take on the world once again. Besides their successful racing program, the British firm is intent on expanding their reach off the track. And since production ended in 1998 of the beloved F1, McLaren has refrained from building a street-legal replacement. Until now. After 13 years, McLaren has returned to legal roads with the all-new MP4-12C. The main target? The Ferrari 458 Italia.

The long-running Formula 1 duel between the two will always be ongoing, but now it spreads once again off the track. As the supposed Chinese proverb says, "May you live in interesting times," the MP4-12C represents not only a new era for McLaren, but also a new standard for the mid-engine, lightweight, V8-powered supercar. Taking the fight to the street, the MP4-12C is quite possibly the quintessential 21st century performance car. It's race-derived twin-turbocharged V8 displaces 3.8 liters and produces 592 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque, 80 percent of which is available from less than 2,000 rpm.

Due to its construction from lightweight components, the engine weighs just 331 lbs and thanks to the dry sump lubrication it's mounted as low as possible. Mated to a dual-clutch transmission that McLaren calls the "Seamless Shift Gearbox," it is paddle-operated and has modes that include 'normal', 'sport', and 'performance', along with 'automatic' and 'launch'. Perhaps the most fascinating piece of construction here is the carbon fiber tub that McLaren named the Carbon Monocell. Considered to be the car's "backbone," it's an industry first for a production car.

Weighing only 165 lbs, it's stiffer and lighter than the carbon fiber structure that was in the F1. The body is composed of a spaceframe made from lightweight, high-strength aluminum alloy that's bolted to the front and back of the Carbon Monocell. In case of a front-end collision, the sections up front are designed to crumple on impact, thus avoiding energy that would normally be absorbed by the Monocell tub. Total curb weight is just 2,868 lbs. Like the 458 Italia, the 12C has a traditional two-seat, side-by-side layout.

However, it's the cabin design that further separates it from the Ferrari. Whereas the 458's cabin comes across as very hi-tech with many buttons and switches mounted on the steering wheel, the 12C has a simple central touch-screen. There are two main dials, one controlling the engine and transmission, and the other for the suspension. Each dial has three positions: Normal, Sport, and Track. Each can be switched at any time, regardless of how the other dial has been set. A large red starter button (there's no mechanical key) ignites the V8.

It's best to describe the 12C's interior as something of a cross between an F1 racer theme mixed with sleek Swedish simplicity. The real question everybody wants to know is whether the 12C outperforms the 458 Italia. Looking at the numbers, and well, you get the idea: 0 to 60 mph in 3 seconds flat, as where the 458 does it in 3.2 seconds. 0 to 100 mph? Almost 10 seconds for the Ferrari. 8.9 seconds for the McLaren (even faster than a Ferrari Enzo). Top speed is in excess of 200 mph.

Interestingly, the 12C also beats out Ferrari's efforts to go green. It does 24 mpg, whereas the 458 does 21 mpg. Official EPA certification hasn't been done yet, but their final numbers should be similar to McLaren's figures. As with any car of this caliber, speed doesn't come cheap. Base price is $231,400, just slightly below the 458, basing at $240,000. McLaren has undoubtedly built an amazing car. However, it doesn't have that Italian flare that Ferrari buyers often seek - especially in its exterior design.

But with numbers like these, the McLaren 12C is closer in performance to a Bugatti Veyron than the Ferrari 458 Italia. And with that, I'm sold. Interesting times indeed.

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