I’m not sure how fast I was going when I got that sensation where your head gets light and your stomach gets heavy. It’s the feeling that jet fighter pilots get all the time. I was getting a small taste thanks to the 2014 McLaren MP4-12C.
Actually, it wasn’t the speed that mattered, it was the acceleration. The McLaren has 617 horsepower and weighs just under 3,000 pounds. It will take you from 0-62 mph in 3.1 seconds. There is a small handful of cars that are faster, but not by much. And not many. It’s the kind of acceleration that grabs your attention by the neck. The closest feeling most people will get is when they ride the California Screamin roller coaster at the Disneyland Resort. That initial acceleration is a shock to your system. The 12C takes that feeling up a big notch because you’re in control.
You could call The McLaren a race car in street clothing, but that would be doing it an injustice. This is a performance car that was designed for daily use. I’m sure it would feel just fine on the track, but it’s equally at home on city streets. It’s drivable and forgiving. I’m sure you could get yourself into trouble if you push the envelope, but at least you don’t feel like you’re starting on the ragged edge.
Any car with 617 horsepower requires some engine explanation. It’s a 3.8 liter twin-turbo V8 that was built by McLaren. They didn’t just buy something from another company and tweak it up. It’s mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox made by Graziano. There’s no clutch pedal, but calling it an automatic is just not fair. Like a modern formula one car, it uses paddle shifters (or you can truly go automatic and let the car choose for you).
I managed about five 0-60 runs that were truly exhilarating. From a dead stop you give it full throttle. There’s a very slight lag as everything spools up and then suddenly you’re wondering what hit you. In reality, the acceleration is almost a little frightening if you’re not ready for it. Without the clutch you’re simply flicking the paddles to bounce up through the gears. Like most engines, it has an optimum torque range, but I didn’t feel locked into a narrow band. I just shifted when it felt right and power was no problem. It also has an airbrake to help bring you down quickly from whatever speed you’ve attained. Just for the record, the mileage isn’t horrible. 18 mpg city/22 mpg highway.
The carbon fiber tub, or chassis, weighs just 176 pounds. Stiff enough to keep all the corners flat in the turns, but not so harsh that you feel you’re being abused. The McLaren proactive suspension has no anti-roll bars. They’ve been replaced by a computer that is constantly evaluating how much roll rate should be applied at each corner.
There is nothing crude about the interior. My test car had a mix of carbon fiber and premium leather. The display on the center console is not just another cookie-cutter adaptation. Long and thin, it had everything neatly laid out in an attractive package. About the only thing it was lacking was a backup camera.
Interestingly, some folks have knocked the 12C’s design. They argue that it’s almost Teutonic in its functionality, when it should be more artful. I disagree. I like the fact that it has curves instead of angles. It’s after form and function, not desperately searching for some way to upstage on bling alone. Trust me, everyone will know it’s something special.
One of McLaren’s obstacles is its name. Everyone knows Ferrari and Lamborghini. For years, only Formula One fanatics knew McLaren. Since 1966, the company has won 182 races, 12 drivers’ championships and 8 constructors’ championships in grand prix racing. The company built its first road car (the McLaren F1) about 15 years ago. The MP4-12C is the company’s second stab at a purpose-built McLaren car for the street. This time it has a dealer network, including the newest showroom in Scottsdale.
Of course, supercars have super prices. The sticker on the MP4-12C Spider starts at $265,750. Throw in a handful of appearance options and it can easily top $300,000. While this may sound hard to believe, it’s not a bad price for a car in this league. Plus it’s a pretty exclusive club. McLaren expects to sell just 224 of them in North America in 2014.
The reality is that you won’t get too many chances to enjoy the McLaren’s peak performance. After all, police frown on that whole exhibition of speed thing. But that’s what makes the McLaren so impressive. You don’t have to feel like you’ve given up daily comfort for rarely used exhilarating acceleration. You can have both. Assuming your head and stomach are ready.