There are all sorts of extraordinary things about the extraordinary new McLaren MP4-12C that will, even after a day of driving it, leave you dizzy with a mild sense of disbelief. But the thing that really gets you, what blows you away completely and makes you wonder if the world hasn't gone ever so slightly insane, is its performance.
Not just in a straight line (although in a straight line this car is devastatingly rapid) but anywhere: around corners, under brakes, changing gear, on rough roads or on perfectly smooth race circuits. Wherever you drive it, the 12C is mind-alteringly fast – to a point where a Ferrari 458 Italia, the car with which it is so clearly intended to compete (the McLaren's UK list price of £168,500 [$272k] is actually slightly less than the 458, if you're counting), would not see which way it had gone. On any road, in any kind of conditions.
And, in the end – even though this is, in fact, just the beginning – the 12C's stratospheric level of performance actually defines precisely what McLaren Automotive, the car company, is all about. Not least because it occurs on every level throughout the company.
The more you learn about the newest supercar maker, in fact, the fresher and more vibrant it seems. And the culmination, of course, is the MP4-12C itself, which may be the first of many new road cars that McLaren will produce over the coming years, but which also happens to be a quite astonishingly accomplished machine in its own right.
To understand how and why it's as good an effort, you must scroll back to the beginning of 2007. That's when the project began, and when the likes of Ron Dennis sat down with a small team of people in Woking, England, and decided that a mid-engined sports car to rival the best of the best was indeed to be the way forward.
Interestingly, McLaren didn't then embark on a traditional recruitment campaign by poaching designers and engineers from other manufacturers. Instead, it harnessed ideas in a much more radical way, encouraging “thinkers” from all walks of life – many of whom were not employed in the regular car industry – to become involved with the project.
McLaren's amiable chief test driver, Chris Goodwin, describes the atmosphere at the time as being “genuinely exciting and genuinely eccentric. There was even a touch of the Spitfire mentality in the way the thing came together at the beginning.”
It's important to remember (possibly because it's curiously easy to overlook) that the MP4-12C is truly a British car. Its twin-turbo 3.8-liter V8 engine was developed jointly by Worthing, UK-based Ricardo Engineering and McLaren itself. The carbon fiber tub and the entire suspension system (also radically different in its design) were developed in-house. Only the 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox (courtesy of Italian company Graziano), the enormous Brembo brakes and the custom Pirelli tires were externally sourced. Yet, in each case, McLaren worked in conjunction with the manufacturer to develop a custom arrangement for the car.
It's hard to know where to start when describing what makes the 12C so very special, both technically beneath its handsome body shell, and dynamically out in the real world. In its tail, nestling unusually low to the ground and well in front of the rear axle line, sits a twin-turbo V8 that produces 592hp at 7000rpm and 442lb-ft from 3000-7000rpm. This is mated to a 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox that features what McLaren describes as a “pre-cog” selection system which, in practice, enables shifts to occur faster and more seamlessly than one could possibly imagine, up or down the 'box.
There's no manual option as such, although the paddle-shifter's gear-change speeds and the throttle map settings can be tailored to suit an individual's needs courtesy of a rotating switch at the base of the center console. The suspension, which is also fully adjustable from within the cockpit, is perhaps the 12C's most potent trump card, and is certainly one of its more intriguing features, there being no conventional anti-roll bars and an open differential at the back.