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McLaren MP4-12C (2011): the first official P11 story

Tue, 08 Sep 2009

By Tim Pollard

First Official Pictures

08 September 2009 23:59

The two-seater MP4-12C doesn’t go on sale until early 2011, when it'll wade into what McLaren Automotive calls the ‘core sports car market’ spanning from £125,000-£175,000. Expect a pricetag around £160,000, pitching it a notch above Ferrari’s new 458 Italia.

Why so expensive? Blame the extensive – and expensive – use of carbonfibre, a technology McLaren first introduced to roadcarkind in 1993’s F1. McLaren calls the skeleton of the MP4-12C the Carbon MonoCell, an unusually light one-piece structure where most supercars normally use assembled composite architectures. Although pricey, it's developed using a much quicker, cheaper production method than the McMerc SLR's tub, and it's clothed in aluminium and SMC plastic body panels.

The tub pictured in our gallery weighs a featherweight 80kg; it’s a thing of beauty and, stand beside it like we did at an exclusive preview, you really can lift it up with one hand. Makes you realise why McLaren has never made a car with a metal chassis.

No kerbweight has yet been issued, but it'll be in the 1.3-tonne ballpark, helped by conventional brakes whose forged aluminium hubs save 8kg and – incredibly – weigh less than ceramic stoppers. That's turning received wisdom on its head for you...

It’s a 3.8-litre 90-degree V8 mounted amidships and producing ‘around 600bhp and 443lb ft’. ‘It delivers the highest horsepower to CO2 ratio of any car on the market today with an internal combustion engines – and that includes petrol and diesel hybrids,’ boasts Antony Sheriff, MD of McLaren Automotive. Expect a CO2 output somewhere just south of 300g/km.

Contrary to earlier speculation, this is McLaren’s own V8, dubbed M838T and breathed on by twin turbos and driving the rear wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox (no manual is available). The V8 has a dry sump and a flat-plane crank like a race engine, to lower the centre of gravity and allow a higher rev limit of 8500rpm.

Every single component of the MP4-12C is unique, vows McLaren. Not a single switch or part is pilfered from a rival’s parts bin.

McLaren claims that 80% of the MP4-12C's torque is available below 2000rpm, so it'll be damned quick. Actual performance figures aren’t available yet, but we hear the 0-60mph time will be in the three-point-something-second bracket and it seems a dead cert that the MP4-12C will top 200mph with some ease.

Are there active electro nannies at play? A few. Brake Steer uses the stability control to dial out understeer by braking the inside rear wheel, but McLaren claims there are remarkably few microchips at play; instead, they prefer an aerodynamically sound body to help keep the MP4-12C planted. There are no protruding spoilers or air dams, the underfloor is flat and those kiwi tick air vents on the flanks are 100% functional. (Check out the tick motif repeated on the LED day running lights).

There's also a new gadget on the twin-clutch Seamless Shift Gearbox (SSG – another bloody acronym like DSG!). It has two wet clutches and something called Pre-Cog. Rather than guessing which ratio you'll pick next like most dual-clutch 'boxes, you half press or pull the paddle to warn the car, like on an auto-focus camera. That ratio is then selected and – bang – you're into the desired cog almost instantly.

Ah yes. The MP4 bit is the chassis designation of all McLaren Formula 1 cars since 1981 – harking back to the merger from Ron Dennis’s Project 4 organisation. The twelve refers to McLaren’s internal benchmarking system for rating its own cars and rivals, ranking power, weight, efficiency and so forth. The C apparently refers to carbon, although we wonder if it shouldn’t stand for coupé as there will be a roadster MP4-12 too.

We're glad to report that CAR's scoop of summer 2007 was spot-on – a few details have changed, but our P11 exclusive was indeed the foundation for the MP4-12C. It's a shape that owes plenty to the F1, including the cool scissor doors. It's a good looking car, simple but not shocking in the way Lamborghinis are. A touch Lotus Esprit-alike? Perhaps. But we'll admit CAR is more wild about the Macca's tech spec than its attire.

At the rear, the MP4-12C's rump is dominated by the V8's cooling needs; the diffuser aids rear downforce, twin exhausts exit high and central and most of the back end is left open to extract hot air, while the rear lamps are cleverly hidden in the top two horizontal black bars. An air brake pops up at speed to improve stopping ability. Cleverly, it's raised by passing air flow once triggered, rather than relying on heavy mechanicals.

By Tim Pollard