The big news for the 2013 McLaren MP4-12C midengine sports car is its smattering of handy upgrades, such as more power and a novel interior sound level control for the twin-turbo V8. But let's be clear: The real achievement remains the car itself. McLaren's last street car, the F1 (1992-'98), was arguably the best sports car of its day, and the British carmaker's aims were no less lofty when the MP4-12C debuted last year. We can report from experience that McLaren's latest comes very close to this ideal.
When you're dropping between $200,000 and $300,000 on a new supercar, the only corner-cutting you want involves apexes on a track. McLaren gets it. The MP4-12C lays bare the company's acute case of engineering OCD. Yes, the 592-hp 2012 model was one of the quickest cars we'd ever tested, and the 2013 model's 616 horses and reprogrammed transmission should make it faster still -- but this car is about so much more than just speed. We were equally struck by its approachable handling, bang-on driving position, telepathic dual-clutch transmission and finely crafted interior. Supercars used to require sacrifices in the name of performance, but the MP4-12C is exceptionally good at pretty much everything.
And therein lies the rub, if there is one: In attempting to build the perfect sports car, McLaren may have overlooked that elusive concept of the soul. The MP4-12C's twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter V8 may be objectively faultless, but does it wail like the Ferrari 458 Italia's naturally aspirated V8? The exterior may ace the wind tunnel test, but does it quicken pulses like the brash Lamborghini Gallardo? Even the 2014 Porsche 911 GT3, at half the price, delivers inimitable rear-engine character and a scintillating flat-6 soundtrack. For better or worse, the MP4-12C's approach can seem a bit clinical in this crowd.
But it's easy to be a critic from the cheap seats. If you have the resources to acquire a car like this, the McLaren's cool, comprehensive mastery may be precisely what tips the scales in its favor. Any supercar worth its salt will wow you at track day, but few can turn around and give you a luxurious commute the next morning. If that's the standard by which sports cars are judged, the McLaren MP4-12C coupe makes a compelling case for being the best.
The two-passenger, midengine, rear-wheel-drive 2013 McLaren MP4-12C coupe is offered in one well-equipped trim level. Standard features include 19-inch front wheels and 20-inch rear wheels, bi-xenon headlights, power-folding and heated outside mirrors, an active air brake, an adaptive suspension with three driving modes, an "intake sound generator" with selectable engine sound levels, cruise control, manually adjustable seats (power height adjustment for the driver), leather and faux-suede upholstery and trim, a 7-inch touchscreen display and a four-speaker Meridian audio system with Bluetooth streaming audio, a USB port and iPod integration.
Options are plentiful. Highlights include an adjustable-height suspension for easier driveway ingress/egress, contrasting-color or carbon-fiber body elements, parking sensors, three styles of lightweight wheels, carbon-ceramic brakes, painted brake calipers, a sport exhaust, a full leather interior, a semi-aniline leather interior, carbon-fiber interior trim, six-way power heated seats with lumbar adjustment and memory functions, a fire extinguisher and a navigation system with seven-speaker Meridian surround-sound audio. The Stealth Pack adds a satin black finish to the exhaust tips and rear wing supports, but unfortunately doesn't make the MP4-12C undetectable to police radar.
The MP4-12C also offers fully customized interior treatments through McLaren Special Operations, including bespoke fabric and colors.
Race-inspired touches abound in the MP4-12C's cabin, including a large center-mounted tachometer and a flat-bottom steering wheel. Thankfully, though, the overall effect is understated and classy, with attention to detail that rivals the best luxury cars. Practically every surface you touch and switch you press feels rich. The standard faux-suede dash resists windscreen glare, while the enveloping sport seats provide firm support for all types of driving.
Most of the MP4-12C's controls are housed in an unusually narrow center stack that sweeps gracefully between the seats. 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, which helps give the center stack its uncluttered appearance.
Don't expect to haul much more than you-know-what, however, as the MP4-12C coupe's front trunk accommodates a paltry 5.1 cubic feet of cargo -- and there's nothing but a twin-turbocharged V8 out back.
The 2013 McLaren MP4-12C coupe is powered by a twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter V8 that sends 616 hp and 443 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels. The transmission is a dual-clutch seven-speed automated manual with paddle shifters.
In Edmunds performance testing, the slightly less powerful 2012 MP4-12C accelerated from zero to 60 mph in a fleet 3.2 seconds.
On the fuel economy front, the MP4-12C is surprisingly frugal for a supercar, with the 2012 model returning an EPA-rated 18 mpg combined (15 city/22 highway).
The MP4-12C's default engine note is relatively sedate, but McLaren has conveniently provided a separate intake sound control for 2013, allowing you to tailor the engine's volume to the occasion. Previously, you had to put the car in Track mode to hear the V8 in all its glory. Even with the volume cranked to 11, the twin-turbocharged power plant won't tingle your spine like an Italian thoroughbred, but when you're going this fast and feeling this secure, do you really care?
Indeed, the MP4-12C inspires flattery at the highest levels. The precision and tactility of the steering rivals the best from Ferrari and Porsche, while the adjustable suspension and savvy electronic driving aids serve up a sublime mix of compliance and control. The dual-clutch transmission is perhaps the most proficient we've experienced to date. A supercar is always a highly personal purchase, of course, but if you're a true perfectionist, there may be no better car in the world than the MP4-12C.
Standard safety equipment for the 2013 McLaren MP4-12C coupe includes antilock disc brakes, six airbags (front, side curtain and knee), hill-start assist, and traction and stability control. Carbon-ceramic brake rotors are available as an option.
In Edmunds brake testing, an MP4-12C coupe with the standard brakes came to a stop from 60 mph in 106 feet, a short, though generally expected, number for this type of car.
Entering its second year on the market, the MP4-12C coupe receives a number of notable changes, including an extra 24 horsepower, tweaked transmission programming, driver-selectable engine volume, more conventional exterior door buttons in place of last year's touchpads and an optional adjustable-height suspension that should minimize expensive scraping noises. The new retractable-hardtop Spider model is reviewed separately.