2012 McLaren MP4 12C a street-legal speed demon
The corners rush up at you as if you’re in free fall. This kind of velocity only occurs with race cars or jet fighters. It warps your normal perception of time and space. To stay on the tarmac, make your adjustments and make them quick.
You don’t have time to think in a 2012 McLaren MP4 12C, you just use your instincts.
At wide-open throttle, the V8 roars to life as the twin turbos start their high-pitched growl and the thrust pins you into the seat like a 400-pound sumo wrestler sitting on your chest. Acceleration of this sort makes short work of the straights at the race track. Your speed hits triple digits in about three seconds and scenery becomes a blur. Braking points need to be adjusted at these velocities even with massive multi-piston performance brakes.
On top of this extreme bodily experience, there are the auditory sensations and I’m not referring to the four- speaker Meridian sound system: Two of the most exciting sounds for any auto enthusiast are the grumble of a well-tuned V8 and the roar of turbochargers. The McLaren MP4 12C fills its cabin with a symphony of both for driver and passenger to enjoy.
This type of performance was only available in expensive race cars just a decade ago or so. But this is no race car. This engineering wonder was designed and built for the street.
McLaren and Pfaff Automotive recently brought a gorgeous 2012 McLaren MP4 12C in carbon black out to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park for me to test.
At the Toronto debut of the MP4 12C back in September 2010, McLaren was very proud of the extreme lengths the engineers attained to keep the weight of this sports car under 3,000 lbs. dry. No lead-acid battery in this lightweight machine: McLaren uses a lithium-ion battery to save more weight. On the road it tips the scales at a svelte 3,279 lbs., remarkable for a vehicle with a twin-turbo V8, 7-speed Seamless Shift Gearbox (paddle shifting), all government-mandated safety features such as airbags, door beams etc. as well as the many comfort features that come standard.
McLaren designed its own carbon-fibre “MonoCell” chassis to keep weight down while making the structure extremely rigid for better handling. To this, it added aluminum substructures on which to attach the race- inspired suspension and engine outback.
McLaren also designed its own twin-turbo-charged, 90-degree aluminum 3.8L DOHC V8 that puts out 592 hp at 7,000 r.p.m. This engine boasts 443 lb.-ft. of torque from 3,000 to 7,000 r.p.m. For 2013 models, the output has been raised to 616 hp. McLaren will update all the existing 2012 models to have the same pony power.
Despite these impressive numbers, is it really a supercar? A “supercar” is one that exceeds the sum of all its’ parts. A supercar must deliver the goods without punishing the driver or passengers. It has to have performance worthy of a race car, yet not beat the stuffing out of the occupants. It has to make any enthusiast want to drive it and never stop.
Time to put the McLaren to the supercar test.
The seats are very supportive. The high lateral g-loads that this sports car developed in the corners never had me feeling like I had to hang on just to stay in the driver’s seat. This is critical for remaining in control while cornering at or near the car’s limits. Pirelli P-Zero (235/35 — 19 front, and 305/30 — 20 rear) McLaren spec tires deliver plenty of rib-crushing lateral grip.
The driver has the option of leaving the 7-speed transmission in automatic mode or paddle-shift manual: I chose the latter. Shifts are lightning-quick and can make even the slowest of drivers feel like an F1 pilot when changing gears.
After a few warm-up laps, it was time to see what this missile could do.
With its twin-turbo engine, there was no noticeable lag as you might find in high-performance turbo engines while they try to spool up boost. Acceleration was linear, without pikes of power that can make sporty driving difficult. Light weight and smooth torque curve allow the McLaren to blast from 0 to 100 km/h in a tick over three seconds. Incredible.
To haul it down from the super-high speeds, the MP4 12C comes with massive disc brakes, front and rear, with four-piston calipers. For more effective braking, McLaren added a hydraulic air brake that raises the rear spoiler into a vertical position to increase aerodynamic drag and slow the car down. For the pure enthusiast who wants to clock in plenty of track time, it has a carbon ceramic disc brake option.
Even on Mosport’s punishing track, there was no fade at all from the standard aluminum and steel brakes.
I felt there was more nose dive on hard braking than there should be for a car with racing-style suspension even when it was set to “Sport” and “Track” mode. The other two suspension modes are normal and winter — as if you would drive it in a Canadian winter.
After this adrenalin rush of a test, I’ve concluded that yes, the MP4 12C definitely exceeds the sum of its parts.
Supercar status approved.
2012 McLaren MP4 12C
ENGINE: 3.8L DOHC V8
POWER/TORQUE: 592 hp/443 lb.-ft.
COMPETITION: Ferrari 458, Lamborghini Aventador, Lamborghini Gallardo, Lexus LFA
WHAT’S BEST: all-round performance: acceleration, handling, styling,
WHAT’S WORST: that I don’t own one, price, ingress/egress, lack of trunk space
WHAT’S INTERESTING: hydraulic air brake, F1 engineering, scissors-style doors