McLaren Automotive used the recent Paris Motor Show to unveil the long-awaited successor to the seminal McLaren F1. The new car, called P1, one was only released as a design study and hard technical details are impossible to come by, but insiders suggest a power figure or around 700kW and a top speed of 385km/h. Given the 467kW F1 hit 386km/h that top speed figure might be conservative.
From 1998 until 2005, the McLaren F1 was the world’s fastest car – one of the longest reigns in WFC history. And even when it lost its title, it was by just 2km/h and to a heavily modified Porsche 911 from a German tuner company called 9FF. Of course, the Bugatti Veyron arrived in September 2005 and raised the bar to 407km/h and a subsequent variant of the Veyron pushed the envelope out to 431km/h. But most car enthusiasts and motoring journalists still rate the McLaren F1 as the greater car.
All of which makes today very exciting. I have a 7am rendezvous with a McLaren MP4-12C; now that the P1 is on its way, this is the entry into the McLaren range which will eventually include a car one wrung down.
Starting with the blankest of blank pieces of paper, McLaren Automobile set about creating a car that could live up to the F1’s legendary status. The project cost $1.3 billion and was led by McLaren boss Ron Dennis. So serious was Dennis about creating “the best-handling supercar in history”, he ended his 40 year association with the McLaren F1 team to oversee the development of the MP4. The MP4 features a carbon fibre body structure that weighs just 75kg and it’s powered by a brand new 3.8-litre, twin turbocharged V8 hammering out 441kW (and the power is up to 460kW for the 2013 model year).
But absorbing the spec sheet will not prepare you for the ferocity of the McLaren’s acceleration. For the record, the rear-wheel drive MP4 finds amazing traction to hit 100km/h from rest in 3.1 seconds. While that’s heroically fast, a $170,000 all-wheel drive Nissan GT-R will beat it by a tenth or two. But beyond 100km/h the McLaren is untouchable by all except the 882kW quad-turbo Bugatti Veyron Supersport. One sixty is gone in 6.4 seconds and 200km/h in 8.9. For perspective, an HSV GTS takes about 19 seconds to hit 200. Yep, the MP4 is 10 seconds faster to 200km/h than a GTS. Or look at it another way, the McLaren takes just 5.8 seconds to get from 100-200km/h. Most fast cars take that long to get to 100. From 0-300km/h, the McLaren takes just 26 seconds. A Ferrari 458 Italia takes 30 seconds. It’s four seconds quicker to 300km/h than another very fast car. Ballistic just about covers it.
But these are just numbers. Behind the wheel, the MP4 is stupid fast. I’ve driven lots of very fast cars, but the McLaren makes me laugh and swear like a speed virgin. One hundred becomes 200, 200 blurs into 250 and then, as 81 metres of road disappears under the orange snout every second, the digital speed readout begins with a three. This is fast! McLaren claims a top speed of 330km/h but company insiders suggest that’s conservative by at least 15km/h. Given the ferocious acceleration the McLaren shows to 300km/h, I’ve got no doubt that 350km/h is on the cards.
But the new McLaren isn’t just a straight-line monster. The claim that it’s the best-handling supercar ever flicks back into my consciousness as a 35km/h advisory cornering sign whips past the side window in a blur. The MP4 turns in like lightning and you can feed in that monster power early and hard. It just will not run out of grip. Only after I’ve driven the MP4 as hard as I dare do I notice I’ve accidently switched off the electronic stability control. I’ve been driving without a safety net in a 441kW supercar and at no point did I feel like the car was getting away from me. No car is uncrashable, but you’d have to be a complete muppet to stick in one of these.
Hitting the brakes from huge speeds is often the biggest test a car will face but the McLaren has a high-tech ace to play. Under hard braking the rear spoiler flips up to form an air-brake. The first time it happens, the orange wall that blanks out all rear vision takes me by surprise. Stupidly, I think the boot has popped open.
Is this the same car that five hours earlier easily coped with brutal stop-start peak hour and cocooned me against the bumps and lumps of a scarred urban road? I’ve never driven a car that plays the Jekyll and Hyde roles of commuter and supercar like the McLaren. It’s easier to drive than Toyota Corolla but it accelerates faster than a V8 Supercar. It might not be the world’s fastest car like its dad was, but the McLaren MP4-12C might just be the most accomplished car on sale in Australia.
Price: $493 000
Engine: 3.8-litre V8, twin turbocharged
Gearbox: 7-speed dual-clutch
Power: 441kW @ 7000rpm
Torque: 600Nm @ 3000-7000rpm
0-100km/h: 3.1 seconds
Top speed: 330km/h (claimed)
• SUBSCRIBE to WHEELS magazine
• Like us on FACEBOOK
Wheels drive the Subaru BRZ
Wheels magazine: Audi S6/S7 first drive
Wheels magazine: Honda Civic