Great artists take their time. Michelangelo spent four years carving the David, and another four painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Modern carmakers, despite the technology and resources available to them, generally take even longer to sculpt their own works. The Lexus LF-A, for example, took ten years.
But if time invested determines the quality of the art, only one car firm can claim Renaissance status: McLaren.
We all remember McLaren from the posters of their 1992 road-legal race car, the F1, that used to adorn our bedroom walls between the Lamborghini Countach and the Jaguar XJ220. It was hailed in its day as the finest driving machine in the world. It had one front seat, right in the middle of the cab, for proper weight distribution and an F1-simulating experience. It could go 243 mph. In short, it was a masterpiece.
And it was the fastest production car in the world.
Today, the McLaren F1 remains the fastest naturally-aspirated production car, but it’s still the last car McLaren fully designed. They helped with the gorgeous Mercedes SLR in 2003, but haven’t crafted another work of their own- until now.
Enter the MP4-12C, McLaren’s first in-house project in 19 years. It has a 592 hp-spitting V8 with 443 lb ft of torque. And since it weighs only 3,000 pounds, it has a 0-60 time of 3.3 seconds. I think I sometimes sneeze more slowly. The top speed is 205, which is, of course, nowhere near the record, now held by Bugatti’s 267 mph Veyron Super Sport. But it is still very fast–almost hyper-car range.
Since McLaren obviously isn’t gunning for the top spot, it leaves them open to keep things affordable. The Veyron SS costs $2.5 million. The new McLaren: almost exactly 10% of that.
This doesn’t mean it’s just an engine painted with carbon fiber. It comes with three modes of traction control, and McLaren has designed a system called “Brake Steer,” which precisely applies the rear brake on whatever wheel is on the inside of the curve you’re negotiating. It’s technology that was banned in Formula 1 more than ten years ago.
Just because the MP4-12C will never be the fastest car in the world doesn’t mean it won’t be a masterpiece. McLaren has been shyly revealing the MP4-12C to the press before its supposed release later this year, and UK’s Car Magazine got to review it last week. Journalist Chris Chilton calmly decreed, “Quite simply, this is the most complete supercar the world has ever seen.” Then it showed up on Sunday night’s episode of Top Gear for an in-studio appearance. I’m expecting to see it reviewed soon, but Richard Hammond’s initial reaction was characteristic. Although he was sure it would be brilliant, he couldn’t get past the tame, simplistic styling. He thought it was too serious. Chris Chilton agreed, saying that it wasn’t particularly “dramatic.”
It certainly is a serious supercar. But I disagree with Hammond and Chilton. In the first place, this isn’t 1992. Minimalism has conquered the design world, and just because a car isn’t bristling with stealth wings and pulse rifles doesn’t mean it can’t be stunning. Secondly, McLaren is British. Noble, Koenigsegg, and the other supercar people from Northern Europe have a slightly different approach to styling than those from, say, Italy or Argentina. There’s a philosophy here that hearkens back to the days of cars like the F1 or the aforementioned Jaguar XJ220. It speaks of a certain simplicity, almost coaxing its opponents into a false sense of security–before swallowing them whole.
Since this is MacLaren’s first car in two decades, it is constantly being compared to its predecessor. But the car itself is a statement enough that those days are gone, and that McLaren wants the MP4-12C to stand on its own. It has two seats, both up front. It has a modern twin turbo. More than six people in the world can afford it (the F1 retailed for $970,000 in 1998). Call me a ten-year-old with a bedroom wall full of posters, but I think the new McLaren is a brilliant work of art.
First Performance Video
Images provided courtesy of McLaren Automotive