My name is Kaj, I am the newest ambassador in the v-bulgaria team. Using my experience in the automotive world, I will share my sports car experiences with the readers of v-bulgaria. My first story on the front page covers a day at the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking, United Kingdom and my drive in the MP4-12C.
A few months back I got the opportunity to visit the McLaren factory and being one of the first to drive their all new $ 230,000 McLaren MP4-12C, called the P11 during testing. But why the name P11?
In 1999 McLaren and Mercedes-Benz signed a contract to build supercars together, they codenamed it P7. Eventually the Mercedes McLaren SLR was born. A supercar with a completely opposite purpose than its “rivals”. A 620bhp V8 supercharger just behind the front-axle, a five-speed automatic plus all the luxury you can imagine in the middle and a big boot in the back. A fast and comfortable supercar for every day use.
After this successful project there were some projects that never made it out of the factory. Three cars, codenamed the P8, P9 and P10 were cancelled because of high production costs. Eventually McLaren Automotive decided to continue on their own with P11. A project quickly renamed to MP4 (McLaren Project 4) -12 (refers to McLarens internal vehicle performance index) C (refers to the usage of Carbon MonoCell).
After 23 factory visits I have to say I’ve never seen such a cool and clean workspace. Everything is focused on hand-building a car with the highest quality. Production numbers are low (around three a day), but you can see everything is set-up so that, when production numbers go up, they can build up to 4,000 cars a year. For comparison: Where an SLR costs 1,000 hours to achieve perfection it takes just ten percent to do the same with the MP4-12C. This is because of the modular construction.
It starts with a carbon fiber tub, weighing just 80kg, to accommodate the interior. Some aluminum sub frames are added to the front and back of the tub to hold all of the components, such as the hydraulic suspension. On the back sub frame lies a 3.8 liter twin turbo V8, putting out an outrageous 600bhp and weighing just 150kg. That is a lot of fun in a car weighing a total of just 1,300kg. After interior, wheels and badging the car is done and will be released after final approval. Only 1,000 cars will roll out of the factory this year.
Combine 12:30, 20 degrees Celsius, sun in the sky and you have my scenery for the drive. It had rained that morning, so the track was damp. The perfect set-up to get to know a car! Time to play I thought. I open the door, using the “door-popper”, because there are no door handles to save weight. Immediately you notice the beautiful inner-wheel arch made from shiny carbon fiber. You get in the comfortable leather/alcantara seats. You adjust the seat to your wishes, adjust the steering wheel and soak up the interior. The experience sitting in the McLaren for the first time is unlike any of it’s competitors. It feels spacious, simple and focused on driving. Steering wheel and pedals are all inline with the driver.
The only thing you immediately notice is the illuminated “start-stop button” and the big “setting-buttons” directly below. You put your foot on the brake and press the start-button… The engine comes alive, the screen on the centre console goes on and all other buttons illuminate.
I first put the car in “safe-mode”, setting-buttons on “normal”. I press “D” on the gear-console and drive away. Immediately you notice how light and smooth everything feels. Bumps get absorbed, steering is light and nothing really happens when you put your foot a bit further on the throttle. It’s a comfortable everyday car. Nothing special, the 458 Italia has such a setting too. The only thing is, that the McLaren is só much more quiet inside. You try the manual gear changes, fast and smooth, very comfortable.
After a few laps I put the car into “track-mode”. Same as with the 458 in “race-mode”, the suspension is harder, throttle is quicker, sound is better and steering is sharper than in the other modes. In this setting you can drive lap times you thought weren’t possible! It’s só quick. You also notice the car is lighter than a 458, because it brakes better and you can go through corners faster. Only thing is I didn’t have enough self-confidence to do that, the McLaren is a bit trickier. On the straights no problem, just put your foot down, change gear and brake as late and hard as you can. It feels a bit like a Nissan GT-R, only it’s faster and more fun to drive.
The McLaren also has a “sport-mode”. It’s between “normal” and “track”. You can choose to drive it in automatic and manual. When you choose automatic it shifts down and up exactly like you want. You can control it with you throttle and brake. The more throttle the higher the revs. The harder you brake, the faster it down-changes gear. It’s one of the best automatic gearboxes out there.
In manual it’s another story. In all modes you can choose the gear, but if the revs go too high it automatically changes up… Also it doesn’t always change down when you want to. Very annoying for example when you drive it on a track.
I’ve driven the 458 again this last weekend for three days to compare both for this article. I also read other stories, and I do agree with almost all of them. The McLaren is good at everything that you can do with a car, but something crucial is missing. Like other drivers, I don’t know what it is, but it’s something the 458 does have. I think they have a potential “best supercar”, but a few things have to be changed to make it there.