Each year I write a list of the things I wish to achieve. One of the goals this year was to drive a sports car in anger around a track. I sort of achieved this. I got to drive the Ferrari 458′s big rival – the McLaren MP4-12C.
The McLaren MP4-12C is the first total in-house job by McLaren Automotive, the road-going arm of the McLaren Formula 1 team.
Disclaimer: Daytona group are possibly the nicest exotic car dealers on Earth. Even though I will likely never be able to afford one, they helped me out and let me have a go in their McLaren.
Looking at the McLaren you would initially think “why would anyone buy this over the legendary Ferrari 458?” Well, for a few reasons: Ferrari owners are dull and boring. Ferrari are better known in F1, but McLaren have a higher success rate - they’ve won one out of every four races they’ve entered; and finally the MP4-12C is
cheaper I mean less expensive than the Ferrari.
The McLaren vs Ferrari fight opens with the McLaren on the back foot. Approaching it, nothing jumps out at you. The test unit is a stealthy silver. There’s nothing wrong with the looks, but there is no passion or flair.
The one area on the outside where the McLaren flies high above the Ferrari is the doors. Yes, the doors. The McLaren has albatross doors – the same style that we saw on the Mecredes-McLaren SLR. They may not be practical but they do shriek “I’m rich and hot!”
The McLaren MP4-12C has one of the most practical and aesthetically pleasing interiors. The seats are deep racing bucket seats. As you climb into the car, the seats cling to your body. The steering wheel is a squared off Formula 1 style wheel, with the controls within the spokes.
The climate control system is a dual-zone system, with the control system in each door. It may sound bizarre, but it’s just the right location. Having the temperature controls in the door handles means the centre console can be thinner and better designed. This gives more space inside for people and all manner of things.
The paper figures suggest the McLaren will do 0-100km/h in 3.30s. The Yamaha R6 I used to own did the same sprint in 2,70s. The difference? The McLaren MP4-12C weighs around 8-times more than the bike.
Set the car in manual, pull the left hand paddle and the gearbox drops down one gear. Put your foot down and you are shoved into the seat, watching your speed climb at a rate that beggars belief.
The model I drove had the optional carbon ceramic brakes. Driving on the M1, you’re not going to feel a difference. The brakes are sharp, but not alarmingly so.
Brake hard a few times to warm the brakes up, however, and suddenly you feel the difference.
The brakes have a gradiated pressure to them. While pushing hard, the brakes never felt like they were fading – even considering the high milage on my test unit.
The downside? They added R200 000 to the purchase price.
The McLaren MP4-12C has 4 wheels like any other car. What seperates it is the way the wheels are attached to the car. Most cars use a central roll bar and anti-roll bars to stablise the car and help suspend the wheels from the body.
In the McLaren, each wheel is individually suspended from the body, meaning that it rides like a large saloon rather than a low-slung sports car. Drive hard and the computer firms up the suspension, making the car feel more race-like and less saloon.
Keeping in the mode above, the handling is sharp. Think go-kart sharp. In the First Lady’s Jeep, the steering wheel is more of a suggestion box, with no real choice on the direction of travel. In the McLaren one has to simply think of where you want the car to go and the car turns.
Drive the car hard, yank the wheel and the nose darts into the corner, perfectly following the line you have drawn in your mind. The story goes that the car’s advanced system is even more impressive in the wet, but sadly I didn’t have a chance to test this. (Hint hint McLaren )
The Ferrari 458 comes with a 7-speed manual ’box, operated via paddles behind the steering wheel. It operates like a normal manual, with the acutal changes automated. The McLaren comes equipped with a 7-speed sequential manual gearbox.
A sequential gearbox is the kind you find in a motorcycle – you have to go from 3rd to 4th and then 5th. You cannot skip 4th gear when changing up. Understand?
The gearbox is also a double clutch system. It puts gears 1,3,5 and 7 on clutch 1 and 2,4,6 and Reverse on clutch 2. Pull the paddle to change and clutch 1 slips out and clutch 2 slips in seamlessly.
The changes are so fast they’re inconcievable! Blip the engine with the left hand paddle, pull again to downshift and the only clue you’ve changed gear is the sudden pressure into your seat.
Trying to park was somewhat harder. The gearbox has 2 speeds: Properly moving or completely stationary. There is no way to ease the car into the parking bay. The problem is even worse in reverse, as this is a super car, so you cannot see out. I discovered how scary it is suddenly taking off at speed, going backwards with no visibility.
My favourite part of the McLaren MP4-12C is the centre console. There are no major or amazing toys and gadgets, but the centre control is a sort of iPad. It’s a touch screen system used to control the audio, traction control, lap computer and satNav.
I cannot find any technical information on the system, but it feels very similar to an Apple iOS style system, with a distinct “Lewis Hamilton” feel to it. The UI is blue and white, with the buttons responding instantly to touch instructions on the clearly labelled categories.
The McLaren MP4-12C has an audio system with full MP3 and iPod connectivity. I spotted just 2 speakers and 2 tweaters. I have no clue how well it works, as the stereo system was the last thing on my mind.
The 3,8l twin-turbo V8 does provide an incredible soundtrack to drive along to. It’s not so loud that you cannot have a conversation, but you are certainly aware of the power of the vehicle you’re driving.
Let’s be serious about life – the McLaren MP4-12C costs R3 200 000. No matter how fast or how cool this car is, it’s not good value. It’s a car that you buy with your heart, not your head.
The asking price is better value than a Ferrari 458 and a lot cheaper than a Lamborghini Aventador. You get more equipment as standard, but a Porsche 911 Turbo is R1 000 000 less and does as much.
The McLaren MP4-12C was one of the most incredible drives I’ve ever had. At R3 200 000 it is expensive, but it will be exclusive. It’s quick - superbike quick - but comes with the convenience of a roof and airconditioning.
Would I buy one? I have no idea. I’ve been for a ride in the Ferrari 458 and it’s a harder, crazier car. The McLaren is far more sublte. I imagine it would be easier to drive to work in, and the Ferrari is more of a toy.
Test car courtesy of McLaren SA/Daytona Group