What is it? Not content with beating Ferrari in Formula One, McLaren now wants to give it a hiding on the road, and the MP4-12C is the car thats aimed at doing so.
Whats it like to drive? Subtly stunning. The McLaren doesnt do arm-waving ebullience, it simply gets on with the jobs of going extremely quickly and making you feel good about life. The twin-turbo 3.8-litre V8 isnt the most soulful-sounding engine, but it packs a seismic punch. It belts out 592bhp and 442lb ft of torque.
When you put your foot down at low revs, the response is quick, but nothing prepares you for what happens when the turbos join the fray. The MP4-12C slings itself along the road with a force thats genuinely unsettling, as the rev-counter whips round to the 8000rpm redline. Then you just pull on the beautifully tactile gearshift paddles, the jewel of a gearbox snicks seamlessly into the next ratio, and the fury begins anew.
At this point, youll be closing on the next corner doubtless more rapidly than you expected to be. Squeeze the brake pedal (which could do with a touch more initial bite) and the car dives into the corner at speeds that will have passengers drawing breath sharply. The steering is just right; not too sharp, not too vague. The grip is total; if youre going fast enough to unsettle the McLaren on the road, you will go straight to jail for some considerable period.
The body stays flat, but the high-speed ride is remarkable. McLaren is known for being a high-tech company, but it feels almost like it has discovered how to make a car levitate, so good is the ride. It puts a BMW 7 Series to shame. Its also quiet enough at speed to mean going a long way isnt going to be a test of endurance.
Day to day life isnt to be avoided either; you can leave the car in its default full-auto, full-soft setting and just use it to go to the shops and back; there will be no tantrums. Be prepared to find a crowd round it every time you come back to it, though.
Whats it like inside? Getting into and out of the car is an event in itself. Once the cars unlocked, you simply slide your hand along a touch-sensitive panel and the door pops open. In theory. In reality, the system doesnt work every time, so you end up looking like youre standing beside your car and stroking it. Not cool. Also, you are running your hand along a body panel, and in winter the body never stays clean, so you simply end up with a grubby hand. Again, not cool. Still, you could just hold down the unlock button on the plipper and the door will pop open, which is much easier.
Once unlatched, the doors open up and out, which brings a certain sense of drama.
Inside, the McLaren feels bespoke, which it is; you wont find any bits from lesser cars here. The seats are comfortable, supportive and beautifully trimmed, and getting a comfortable driving position is easy. Theres plenty of head- and legroom for the driver and passenger. In many supercars the driving position can be skewed by the inside of the front wheelarch, but this wasnt the case in the left-hand-drive car we drove, although we are yet to see if this translates to UK-spec right-hand-drive versions.
The MP4-12C scores a notable win over rivals such as the Ferrari 458 Italia simply because its easy to see out of it. The glass area is decent, which allows you to place the car exactly where you want it, and you can even see over your shoulder when pulling out of angled junctions.
Stowage space, something so often forgotten in such a style-led class, is decent. Theres a small lidded cubby between the seats, and another beneath the centre console. The boot is perfectly capable of holding a couple of squashy weekend bags.
Should I buy one? Yes. If it means selling a relative or perhaps even a limb, do it. The price is on a par with that of the Ferrari 458 Italia, and the McLaren back-up will be second to none. The subtlety and depth of quality evident in the MP4-12Cs engineering makes it a supercar you could truly use for much more than just weekend blasts. That 168,500 price looks like a bargain.
What Car? says