McLaren. The name alone evokes memories both of the popular Formula 1 racing team and one of the rarest, most expensive supercars ever built. This niche manufacturer's latest creation, the MP4-12C, will likely inspire the same enthusiasm as the million-dollar McLaren F1 did throughout the 1990s. Yet the 2012 McLaren MP4-12C is a departure from those previous blank-check endeavors; it's meant to be an "affordable" exotic, one that sets you back just $230,000.
For the money, wealthy driving enthusiasts will enjoy a truly superb sports car. A 3.8-liter V8 with an exceptional amount of twin-turbo boost howls with 592 horsepower, while a dual-clutch, seven-speed automated manual transmission provides blindingly fast, nearly seamless shifts. Lightweight construction, a midengine layout and an advanced suspension design that trades stabilizer bars for specialized dampers make the MP4-12C an exceptional handling machine.
The McLaren's styling doesn't flash like some might expect of an exotic. Instead, it's a purposeful and uncluttered execution that lets the package's dynamic performance do the talking. Even so, the dihedral hinged doors that pivot upwards from the A-pillar give this car a unique look.
Within the price category of $250,000 exotics (!), the MP4-12C faces heady competition from the 2012 Ferrari 458 Italia, 2012 Lamborghini Gallardo and 2012 Porsche 911 GT2 RS. With company like this, it's impossible to pick a loser, let alone suggest a winner. It's safe to say, however, that the 2012 McLaren MP4-12C will be an object of automotive lust for quite some time.
The two-passenger, midengine, rear-wheel-drive 2012 McLaren MP4-12C is available in one trim level. Standard features include 19-inch front wheels and 20-inch rear wheels, bi-xenon headlights with washers, power-folding and heated outside mirrors, LED driving lights, an active airbrake, an adaptive suspension with three driving modes, cruise control, manually adjustable seats (power height adjustment for the driver), leather upholstery and trim with faux suede seat inserts, a 7-inch touchscreen display and a four-speaker stereo with Bluetooth streaming audio, a USB port and iPod integration.
Options are plentiful and pricey. Buyers who want a color other than white, silver or blue will pay for the privilege. Other add-ons include contrasting color or carbon-fiber body elements, parking sensors, lightweight wheels, carbon-ceramic brakes, painted brake calipers, a sport exhaust, a full leather interior, carbon-fiber interior trim, power-adjustable heated seats and a navigation system with upgraded surround-sound audio. A Stealth Pack option puts a dark finish to the exhaust tips and rear wing supports, but unfortunately doesn't make the MP4-12C undetectable to police radar.
Styling elements rooted in racing history accent the MP4-12C's cabin, but overall the environment is understated and free of superfluous touches. The standard faux suede dash resists windscreen glare and the seats keep occupants firmly in place. The main interior feature -- a narrow center stack that floats gracefully from the dash and sweeps between the seats -- houses most of the system controls.
With multiple driver-selectable settings for the suspension and powertrain, plus infotainment controls, the center stack could be a confusing mess of buttons and switches. But McLaren has artfully integrated everything into a simple, elegant presentation, with the touchscreen display oriented vertically to maximize available space. The dual-zone climate controls are smartly relocated to the doors.
Don't expect to haul much more than the proverbial butt, though; similar in size to that of a Porsche 911, the McLaren's front trunk accommodates a very small 5.1 cubic feet.
The 2012 McLaren MP4-12C is powered by a twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter V8 making 592 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque. The only available gearbox is a dual-clutch seven-speed automated manual transmission that drives the rear wheels. In Edmunds testing, the MP4-12C accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds, a very impressive time for an exotic without all-wheel drive.
The 2012 McLaren MP4-12C's V8 at cruise might sound too sedate for some enthusiasts, but pinning the throttle to the floor in the Track setting (or buying the optional sport exhaust) will offer a more visceral soundtrack that rivals anything in the production car realm. In a similar vein, the lack of a traditional manual transmission might cause some enthusiasts to complain, but the McLaren's dual-clutch seven-speed automated manual is as good as it gets, with rapid-fire upshifts and impeccably precise matched-rev downshifts.
The MP4-12C is a car that inspires flattery at the highest levels. The precision and palpable feel of the steering rivals the best from Ferrari and Porsche. Combine this with a suspension system that offers real-world compliance with otherworldly poise, and you've got one of the best sports cars ever made. The credit goes to the technically advanced active suspension and the MP4-12C's incredibly effective (yet unobtrusive) electronic driving aids. Whether it's accelerating, braking or ripping through high-g turns, the McLaren delivers uncommon body control -- no squat, dive or roll to speak of. No other car, exotic supercar or otherwise, can claim this wide range of talents at any price.
Standard safety equipment for the 2012 McLaren MP4-12C includes antilock disc brakes, front, side curtain and knee airbags for the driver and passenger, hill-start assist, and traction and stability control. Carbon-ceramic brake rotors are available as an option. In Edmunds testing, an MP4-12C (with the standard brakes) came to a stop from 60 mph in 106 feet, a short but otherwise unexceptional distance for an exotic sports car.
The McLaren MP4-12C is an all-new model for 2012