In more private moments, those among the braver employees of McLaren Automotive will concede that the MP4-12C supercar was not quite the finished item when sales began a year or so ago.
The navigation system didn’t work, the engine and gearbox didn’t enjoy the kind of close, personal relationship essential to the creation of a truly responsive powertrain and the car was more difficult to drive both very fast and very slowly than was ideal. In that year McLaren has worked feverishly to resolve the car’s issues as well as preparing a Spider version. The importance of its retractable roof is hard to underestimate: over the lifetime of the car McLaren reckons it’ll outsell the coupe around the world.
I’ll write at length about the roof in a forthcoming issue of the magazine, but for now I just want to dwell for a moment on the changes common to all McLarens built from now on.
First, its name has changed. Without any fanfare, McLaren has quietly dropped the ‘MP4’ component of its nomenclature so it’s now just the McLaren 12C, severing the link to the world of Formula 1 but creating a title that doesn’t sound like a part number. Next the engine has received a 25bhp boost to 616bhp. This been done by simply extending rather than actually lifting the power curve, so there’s no more power at any given engine speed, the turbos just keep boosting that little bit longer. But so too has the transmission been completely remapped to make changes both smoother and quicker.
These changes seem slight but they’re not, not least because I’m sure they work in conjunction with many other modifications McLaren is less eager to talk about lest existing customers conclude they bought a car rather sooner than they should. Should evidence be needed, the fact McLaren is offering to update every car sold so far to this new, 2013 specification free of charge would seem to provide it.
No matter. When I first drove the then MP4-12C, it wasn’t quite the car I’d hoped it might be. Flashingly fast for sure, but tricky on the limit and not as responsive or intuitive as I wanted it to be. The result was a machine that for all its colossal pace left the driver feeling somewhat removed from the process, a pretty significant failing for a car such as this.
No longer. It’s a pretty well-worked cliché but there’s no better way of describing the 2013 12C as feeling like the car it should have been from the start. It’s like all those components that seemed hitherto slightly out of alignment have all been snapped smartly into line, making the car feel like a cohesive whole rather than a collection of components. Suddenly its magic has been released. Until now a Ferrari 458 was a clearly superior product but I reckon this 2013 model would run it so close that choosing which is preferable would be down to individual tastes: perhaps the Ferrari for recreational motoring, the McLaren as the all-purpose, do everything weapon.
It also made me wonder what sense there was in making a road car even faster than this, as McLaren will with its forthcoming hybrid P1 supercar. Not once in two days on the road did I find myself thinking the performance was anything less than stupendous. Not once did it lose its ability to make me laugh or my passenger shriek. This is a car that’ll reach 124mph from rest in 9sec. I’m old enough to remember when that was pretty respectable time for a car to take to reach 60mph.
I will of course reserve judgement until I drive the P1. In the meantime I’m just glad the 12C has finally been given the wherewithal to realise its always considerable potential.