McLaren MP4-12C Spider: First drive review
Supercar styling and performance in an efficient, easy-to-drive package.
It's a bit of a conundrum, or perhaps a paradox: Say the words "Ferrari" or "Lamborghini" to the average American, and you get acknowledgment of some sort — a smile, a knowing nod, a few words about exotic cars and the money needed to afford them. Say the word "McLaren" to most Americans and you'll be able to hear crickets chirping two counties away. It's amazing that a company with 50 years of rich history in motorsport — one of the winningest team in Formula One, for that matter — can have so little recognition in one of its target markets.
Perhaps that's because the 12C is only the second production car to come from McLaren (with the exception of the SLR, a joint effort between McLaren and Mercedes). And with only 622 coupes sold in America in the past year, odds of seeing one of these sexy sports cars on a U.S. road are pretty low.
McLaren may not have the name recognition of Ferrari or Lamborghini, but that's no reflection on the product. The MP4-12C is a true supercar — and so much more. As a proper exotic, its top speed exceeds 200 mph and 60 mph arrives in mere seconds; but unlike a typical supercar, the 12C Spider is as easy to drive as a Honda Accord. (And that's the one and only time the MP4-12C Spider will be mentioned in the same sentence with an Accord.)
Reviews: Find expert and user reviews
After coming to market with the 12C coupe in 2011, McLaren introduced the Spider at the 2012 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. During that presentation, former McLaren Automotive Managing Director Antony Sheriff said, "You haven't lived until you've felt the wind in your hair at 204 mph."
The Spider was developed alongside the coupe, so aside from the additional 88 pounds for the convertible top mechanism, the cars have similar performance characteristics. Both the coupe and the 12C Spider employ a carbon-fiber monocell, which is a one-piece molded chassis that weighs just 165 pounds. Even with the top lowered, there's no need for extra reinforcement to give the Spider the rigidity and strength expected for this level of sports car. This unique chassis also acts as a safety cell, similar to its function in a Formula One race car.
The power hardtop retracts in just 17 seconds and operates at speeds up to 20 mph. The glass rear window lowers independently from the top, which in addition to ventilation provides an excellent conduit for listening to a fantastic exhaust note.
Under the hood
Like the coupe, the 12C Spider is powered by a twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter V8 engine that produces 616 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque. Equally impressive are the fuel economy numbers — the 12C is rated at 24.2 mpg city and highway combined.
The only transmission offered is a 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox that can shift automatically or via paddles on the steering column. The dual-clutch design works well with the turbo — shifts are so quick the boost never has a chance to drop, eliminating any turbo lag.
Three modes are available — Normal, Sport and Track — each providing progressively faster shifts as well as changing the shift points for automatic mode.
After arriving at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA, for our media laps, we initially left the gearbox in automatic and began learning the circuit. We soon realized that automatic is slow to downshift — even with the car set to Track mode — but shifting manually was very quick and crisp. We'd leave automatic mode for driving through town.
Must-See on MSN
Never heard of McLaren? What planet is this guy from?
Lets see...for years the highest rated show on the planet was a little show called Top Gear. What did they cover??? Oh yah, cars, cars, cars. This author must be a casual observer who begrudgingly accepted the assignment to "drive one of those supercar things". What a waste, the privilege to drive this car and produce this article should have gone to someone who understands the providence and passion of these or any other car.