Suspension guru Rhoddy Harvey-Bailey once explained to me that antiroll bars are only there to correct mistakes inherent in a suspension design. I recalled his words very clearly as McLaren Automotive’s MD, Antony Sherrif, explained the philosophy behind the suspension design of the new MP4-12C.
The MP4-12C eschews the use of antiroll bars because they limit suspension movement as well as axle articulation, thus degrading the ride quality. Instead, McLaren employs an active ride system using hydraulic pressure in its computer-controlled, Tenneco-made active damping system to resist roll. The interconnection of these dampers, front and rear and side-to-side, to control roll as well as dive and squat is a simple and elegant solution that takes advantage of the speed of current microprocessors to effectively sidestep an age-old mechanical problem. A further advantage is that it can be programmed for various modes of operation, with the choice of Comfort, Sport and Track modes at the driver’s fingertips.
Eager to show that their new car can really walk-the-walk, McLaren invited me to drive the MP4-12C on public roads around Dunsfold in Surrey, followed by a maximum attack session on the runways of the nearby airfield where the British Aerospace Harrier VTOL fighter-bomber was once made. It’s also the location of the famed Top Gear test track.
The MP4-12C uses micro switches embedded under the horizontal surface of the lead-in strake of its carbon-fiber doors. Run your hand under the area where you would expect a handle to be and the butterfly door springs ajar. The angle of the door opening mimics that of the legendary McLaren F1 from two decades ago.
The MP4-12C eschews any such visual showmanship with its straightforward, partially analog instrument pack. The most important display in any driver’s car is the rev counter, and it is central to the McLaren’s instrument layout.
Starting the engine is as simple as pressing the Start button on the console. The twin-turbocharged V8 fires with a healthy growl and settles down to a relatively deep, but quiet, grumbling idle. Forced aspiration muffles the flat-plane crank V8’s voice considerably, and the loud racecar-like bark that some consider part and parcel of the Ferrari and Lamborghini ethos is conspicuous for its absence.
Where every other manufacturer uses independent left and right paddle shifters, McLaren has chosen a single-piece, F1-style, centrally pivoting paddle to operate its Graziano-made seven-speed dual-clutch SSG (Seamless Shift Gearbox) transmission. Thus, when you upshift by pulling the right paddle towards you, you’ll see the corresponding left side of the paddle move away from you.
In practical terms, this makes no difference to its operation. What does make a difference is the mechanical click and the greater and more positive effort required to select a gear compared to the low-effort micro switches triggered by the paddles of rival systems. McLaren claims this more deliberate movement makes for a more authentic driving experience; this is how the shifters work on their F1 racer.
The 3.8-liter power unit, designed from scratch, is both powerful and torque-rich, with 592 hp at 7000 rpm and 443 lb-ft of torque between 3000 and 7000 rpm. Performance is also aided by the McLaren’s relatively low weight. Tipping the scales at under 3,200 pounds, thanks to its carbon-fiber tub and aluminum and SMC plastic body panels, it is 112 pounds lighter than its chief rival, the Ferrari 458 Italia.
McLaren claims 3.3 seconds for the 62-mph run. Top speed is 330 km/h, or 205 mph, making it the fastest car in this class.
Mere numbers cannot describe how fast this car feels when you plant your right foot. The twin-turbo V8 produces sensational thrust—strong, smooth and relentless, and although peak power occurs at 7000 rpm, it revs smoothly to over 8000, with the cutout set at 8500.