Racing royalty creates a new supercar benchmark.
By Bill Heald
It’s hard to believe, but automotive technology has been changing so rapidly that, these days, even the cheapest econoboxes have more sophisticated electronics (traction control, engine management, etc.) than the exotic cars from just a couple of decades ago. One thing hasn’t changed, though: Formula 1 racing is still where the latest engineering breakthroughs are created and proven, and these costly, cutting-edge, rolling research rockets are where high-performance is expressed in its most advanced form. In this environment, engineering rules the day, and victory in this class owes as much to the power of the technology as it does to the phenomenal skills of the drivers.
If only you could buy a Formula 1 car for the road, right? How cool would it be to translate all that futuristic engineering to your own
personal ride, wrapped in a wicked hot body that looks like it’s blasting through a chicane in Monaco, even when parked?
Naturally, we wouldn’t tempt you with all this if that vision had not come to pass. McLaren, one of the most prestigious names in motor sports, is not only launching a new supercar, but a whole new retail auto company as well. McLaren was started by New Zealander Bruce McLaren in 1966, and the British racing company has become one of the most successful legacies in Formula 1 racing, as well as a name synonymous with high-performance.
The flagship of this new global car company is the street-legal MP4-12C (with a GT3 racing version also available for track-only competition). The 12C is a revelation in that McLaren can literally build the car the way it wants without being limited by what may be available from outside suppliers. This is a group that invents as it goes with its own proprietary engineering, and in the case of the 12C, this starts with the McLaren-designed 3.8-liter Twin Turbo V-8.
“We wanted low weight, low rev-range tractability, potent mid-range performance, and extensive high-rev reach,” explains Powertrain Function Group manager Richard Farquhar. “All that, and a level of refinement and efficiency from a V-8 that perhaps you might not expect.”
The engine uses a dry-sump lubrication system, along with the latest anti-friction advancements, to achieve 592 horsepower. The mid-engine placement is low in the chassis to help optimize handling, and response is tuned to deliver smooth, accessible power throughout the rev range to give the driver supreme control. The transmission is likewise carefully optimized through McLaren’s years of experience in getting thrust to the road as efficiently as possible, and uses a dual-clutch design called a Seamless Shift Gearbox. Normal, Sport, and Track settings (along with Winter, Launch Control, and Automatic modes) help the driver use the fingertip-rocker controls behind the steering wheel to imitate the immediacy of full-on Formula 1 shifting.
Obviously, the drivetrain is spectacular, but the true genius of McLaren’s engineering is in the company’s carbon MonoCell chassis—as unique to a production car as it is strong and light. It can handle all that power and keep you in control, even on the most challenging roads. The primary, one-piece molded carbon-fiber chassis element weighs a mere 165 pounds, and serves as the anchoring point for McLaren’s Proactive Chassis Control with adaptive damping. The double-wishbone suspension aims to deliver not just razor-sharp handling but a luxury car-style ride. These things have typically been mutually exclusive when it came to true, track-ready supercars, but McLaren has strived to raise the bar in every aspect of this masterpiece. Vehicle Dynamic manager Paul Burnam puts it best: “It is not enough just to be fast. The 12C has to innovate in every area.” Given the peerless design and engineering talent the folks at McLaren have thrown into this project, they not only are rewriting the book on how exotic hardware performs, they may well have put a new kind of world champion in their stable.
|Body style||Mid-engine, two door coupe|
|Engine||3.8-liter Twin TurboV-8|
|Transmission||Seven-speed Seemless Shift Gearbox|
|Front tires||235/35 R-19 Pirelli P Zero|
|Rear tires||305/30 R-20 Pirelli P Zero|
|Dry weight||2,945 pounds|
|Top speed||205 mph|
|Fuel capacity||19 gallons|
|EPA mpg||15 city/22 highway|