12 Apr
We grab the wheel of one of the finest machines money can buy

This is our second collaborations with automobile culture site eGarage. Our aim is to bring you a series of pieces that reflect our mutual aesthetic — which means beauty, transmitted through machinery. This is only our second episode (after our Day On the Paul Ricard Circuit With the 740 HP Mercedes Benz SLS AMG Electric Drive), in which we take one of the finest machines money can buy — the McLaren MP4-12C — and flog it from Venice to Malibu, chasing the elusive sunset. Do we catch it? You’ll just have to watch the clip to find out…

Since the 1960s, only Ferrari has won more Formula One races than McLaren. Ruminate on that for a moment. Every major automaker from Mercedes, Renault and Lotus to Honda and Toyota have shoveled heaps of dollars into the research furnace, funding deep-pocketed teams to take down the great minuscule McLaren, and yet none — other than the venerable Ferrari — have been able to beat them consistently. Yet despite their ample racing success McLaren never entered the world of “consumer” cars until 1993, when it sent tectonic shocks across the industry with the unveiling of its F1: the world’s fastest production car for over a decade. With a $1 million pricetag, the F1 was not made of this Earth — a nearly flawless vehicle so precisely engineered that to this day it is still considered one of the greatest machines of all time. With a price-be-damned philosophy from the outset, the F1 incorporated a litany of Formula One technology never before seen on a production car (carbon fiber monocoque tub, extensive use of kevlar, central driving position, etc.). Tesla CEO, and the Lead Rocket Engineer of his other company SpaceX, Elon Musk once called it “an engineering marvel.”

But the F1 ceased production in 1998, after making only 106 cars. So it is a watershed moment when McLaren Automotive announced it was building its next supercar, the tragically named MP4-12C. The assumption being that one of Formula One’s most exalted constructors, building the follow-up to one of the greatest machines ever conceived, would bring the goods.

But until you get behind the wheel of the MP4-12C, you have no idea just how good the goods can get. Even for someone who’s paid to write about cars, there are moments of driving the MP4-12C that offer such unparalleled levels of joy that one is struck speechless, as if hit by a sniper shot to the head. For which, truly, there are no words.

The car is simply brilliant, a symphony of such power and balance as to have one simultaneously giddy and awed, marveling at the driving experience almost as if living it vicariously through another body. It is so pure and balanced and easy to drive that even when you’re banging on the throttle at full speed and attacking corners with the cocksure bravery of a Scottish tribesman, the car does not budge. If you are a decent driver it will give you balls, a good driver it will make you great. And if you’re a great driver it will transform you into Emerson Fucking Fittipaldi.

Chasing the Sunset in a McLaren MP4-12C with Lost In A Supermarket from eGarage on Vimeo.

“If you’re a decent driver the McLaren will give you balls, a good driver it’ll make you great. And if you’re a great driver it will transform you into Emerson Fucking Fittipaldi…”

There are many reasons for this performance, but the most cogent is its revolutionary suspension system that employs hydraulically linked shocks (as opposed to springs). What these hydraulics are able to accomplish is solving the automaker’s ultimate conundrum: do you engineer for performance or comfort? In the case of the MP4-12C, the answer is yes. When the suspension dial on the fighter jet-like dashboard is on “Normal” setting, the McLaren drives with the comfort and every day luxury of a well-cushioned executive car. Twist the suspension dial to “Sport”, or lord forbid “Track”, and you engage a suspension system that will hug twisties like an anaconda.

This grip will grow your confidence, and inspire you to aggressively attack corners faster and faster. And no matter how hard you hit them, even with the full force of the twin-turbo V8’s 616 horses at your disposal, there is very little chance of you ever breaking wheel contact with the road. If that corner approaches faster than expected and you need to slam the brakes, the rear spoiler will rotate upright to create an air-brake — a racing feature found only on the McLaren. Should everything fail and you still somehow manage to hit a corner with too much velocity, its automatic trail-braking system will execute: it brakes the inside rear wheel, pulling the front end into the corner to quickly overcome understeer. The technology is so successful that it was banned by Formula One.

Perhaps the best angle of the McLaren MP4-12C, sunset captured…

“If a bikini model were ever born from an unholy Darth Vadar/Kim Kardashian union, this is what its ass would look like…”

All these systems combine to not only create a vehicle of stunning performance, but perhaps more surprisingly of shocking comfort. Unlike many other jerky hypercars that are reverse engineered road-homologized track stars, the MP4-12C is an everyday driver. It is smooth, highly enjoyable. And its interior reflects that purist philosophy: the cockpit is wrapped in leather, the dashboard clean and lined in carbon fiber. There isn’t a forest of dials, knobs and buttons cluttering up the center stack — only a vertically laid out touchscreen display, two dials to control your aforementioned suspension and powertrain settings, and buttons to select between neutral, drive and reverse. Clean, terminally simple. The instrument cluster contains a lone tachometer, shouldered on either side by easy to read displays. The steering wheel is also pleasantly absent of radio controls or buttons of any kind, reminding you that the MP4-12C has one singular purpose in mind: to drive, sans distraction.

About the only complaint you’ll hear about the MP4-12C is quite frankly its somewhat sober exterior styling. Will it fill your heart with swelling lust in the same way that a Ferrari 458 Italia, Audi R8 or Lamborghini Aventador might? Probably not, but just typing that sentence is guilt wracking —as if whispering to a mistress she’s more beautiful than your wife. It just doesn’t feel right. Sure it may lack the visual immediacy of a Pagani Huayra, but it’s so elegant in performance that that gripe becomes moot. Not to mention it still has beautiful angles, especially its rear end — a 21st Century update of the horizontally slashed Ferrari Testarossa. If a bikini model were ever born from an unholy Darth Vadar/Kim Kardashian union, this is surely what its ass would look like. Unfortunately the front end is a bit Supercar 101; squint and you just might think a Ferrari 430 is coming your way.

Of course McLaren won’t want to hear that, because truly their only competition on the racetrack is also their only competition on the roadway. The nearly exactly priced Ferrari 458 Italia, which we tested in these pages a couple years back, is really the MP4-12C’s only worthy nemesis. Both are sublime machines, boasting great performance value even with their quarter-million dollar pricetags. But while the Italia will seduce you with the smoldering ache of perfectly curved lines, McLaren’s MP4-12C will win you over with rational, unmatched engineering that will have you never wanting to stray.

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