McLaren Mp4-12cSeptember 10, 2009
The Mac is back.
In a mild throwback to the legendary heritage of the McLaren F1, Ron Dennis and the McLaren Group have released the MP4-12C to the world with the aim for this brand new creation to be on sale by as early as 2011.
Looking somewhat like a mix of its direct competitors; a Ferrari, a Lamborghini and an Audi, this new design is said to be a complete clean sheet design, with no left over DNA from the supposed predecessor, the McLaren F1. This also brings to light the supposed fact there has been no involvement from Mercedes Benz in its development; something that does initially come across as unlikely when one considers the long standing marriage between Mercedes Benz and McLaren in Formula 1. You would consider their involvement a formality but we are being told that is not the case.
It’s a curious design but undeniably attractive and unique. Proportionally it is noticeably similar to the outgoing F1 and with its spec sheet bulging with healthy numbers, it fits in nicely with the aforementioned manufacturers; no doubt offering some tantalizing scope into the battles that are to come between them.
Engine wise, the 12C’s M838-T; a mid-mounted, 3.8 liter twin turbo V8, packs a super-sized 600 ponies and 600Nm of twist. While no performance figures have been released, with a theoretical kerb weight of around 1100 kgm’s and the 600BHP, the 12C is reportedly able to rocket to 100kph in a little over 3 seconds, with a 1/4 mile time in the low 11’s. Top speed is reported to be somewhere in the vicinity of 320kph.
The 12C has saved weight in a number of crucial areas, not least of those being the centrally located “Carbon MonoCell”; a one piece carbon fiber structure that makes up the 12C’s passenger compartment. Weighing exactly the same as I do, the 79 kilogram structure is the central point to which all the other structures are fixed, including the engine, suspension and body panels.
The interior of the MP4-12C is orthodox and utilitarian, adorned with what appear to be more gadgets and luxuries than the McLaren F1 it replaces. Most noticeably, the central driving position; a key point to the appeal of and balance to the McLaren F1, has been binned, with McLaren themselves stating that although the seating arrangement has been reduced from 3 to 2, the weight balance of the car has not been compromised, with the seats themselves being placed very close together, equalizing weight loads.
The Central position of the F1 was always uncompromising and cumbersome, especially with 3 passengers but seriously, would anyone with enough hi octane flowing through their veins want anything else other than the above seating arrangement?
Even though McLaren decided to relocate the position of the driver, they also moved everything else across so that the driver remains central to all the controls. There appears to be very little for the sole passenger to do now apart from hang on to the Jesus bar; provided Mac had the foresight to install one.
The current trend towards large, luminous, centrally placed tachometers continues inside the 12C, with the 9000RPM gauge dominating the drivers vision. Inset within this is a hard to notice, yellow speedometer. It goes to show how much more important revs have become in relation to speed with current machinery.
On either side of this are two readouts for gear selection system and currently selected gear. Below these are various digital readouts for engine and drive-train vitals. It is clear there will be a choice between shift modes for the 12C much like many of its Semi Automatic competitors. In a nod towards Mercedes Benz, the MP4-12C employs a large, iPhone-esque LCD readout within the center console, something that operates as the interface for the cars various system set ups and similar to BMW’s iDrive or MB’s COMAND system. The McLaren F1 was never afforded nor designed with these luxuries in mind but then again, these two cars were obviously not meant to be compared.
Moving away from the interior, the 12C has been engineered with some outstanding mechanical features, one of which will indeed continue to revolutionize the way we view the transition toward fully automated gearboxes. The 12C employs what McLaren like to call an SSG gearbox ( Seamless Shift Gearbox )
The SSG system employs a wet, twin clutch assembly, similar in design to the more familiar DSG system. Utilizing seven gears and operated through familiar column mounted paddles, the SSG has one very distinct and ingenious addition to the way it shifts. In what McLaren have dubbed,”Pre Cog”, the SSG box can be “pre loaded” with a selected gear prior to it downshifting for a bend. In essence, and much like a traditional DSLR camera’s shutter button, the SSG box can be “half pushed” before actually changing gear, thereby allowing the driver to choose a premeditated gear before the corner is reached.
This ingenious system will allow a skilled enough driver to select the gear before the corner is reached and theoretically, make laps smoother and thus faster. Whether or not this system is indeed as good as it looks on paper will be for the watch keepers to decide but it certainly looks like a revolutionary idea.
The good news about this SSG system is that it proves to take the DSG system that is currently familiar with the modern world and make it even better, faster and more refined. The bad news being that the argument for the traditional manual gearbox has been dealt another hefty blow. The 12C doesn’t come with a manual option either. This speaks volumes.
When manufacturers start to produce their premium cars without even the option of a manual transmission, you can be assured that over time, the change is likely to also take root in their more conventional and everyday lineups. I’m not saying it is the death of the manual box; just take note of the irreversible shift here. It’s significant.
Somewhat disappointingly, the MP4-12C does not appear to be the brain frying, stomach churning, terror inducing vehicular colossus that the McLaren F1 was, instead, appearing much more familiar and accessible and altogether less daunting to own and drive. It doesn’t grip me with desire and make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.
It doesn’t even have any gold leaf in the engine bay!
The “super-car” as we know it, is officially “21st Century” soft and the 12C is ample proof. This is not the car I want to put on the bedroom wall and fantasize over nor does it put hair on my chest just by looking at it. It doesn’t inject the same amount of visual adrenaline, regardless of what the lap times tell me. It’s not car porn by any means, is it?
That is not to say that the 12C will not be devastatingly quick. It most certainly will be and for $280,000, it comes across as a relative bargain. I am sure the Horse, the Bull and the Rings all have some serious things to consider when taking on this slippery, pre-cogged adversary.
Still…this doesn’t evoke in me the same emotions the legendary F40, the Porsche 959 and the McLaren F1 do. Was it meant to? I don’t think it was designed for that purpose. To me, it looks to be the much tamer and more accommodating car and that is definitely progress.
I wait expectantly for its debut on the roads and circuits because this car is sure to shame and humble many of its competitors, including the ones it will be directly pitted against.
Think Ferrari 458 and Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4.
R // O