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High tech hero

By Ghaith Madadha - Dec 10,2012 - Last updated at Dec 10,2012

AMMAN — Recently voted the Middle East Motor Awards’ Car of the Year for 2012, the McLaren MP4-12C isn’t short of critical claim or accolades.

The third road car ever built by British Formula 1 constructer McLaren since its establishment in 1963, the MP4-12C is a spectacular piece of machinery, and is the first of a new generation intended to take the British brand into the regular business of being a road car manufacturer.

McLaren’s first obsessively lightweight 1993 F1 effort became arguably the finest and the fastest road car of its era — it is still the world’s fastest naturally aspirated road car. Their second car, the 2003 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren was sensationally quick but a less focused cross between hyper car and GT.

Set to be joined by a hyper car flagship P1 model rumoured to develop 976bhp, the MP4-12C may be perhaps slightly less exotic than its limited production predecessors, but is a much more technologically advanced, quicker and accessible super-sports car intended to sell in the thousands rather than hundreds. With the almost universally loved Ferrari 458 Italia squarely in its sights, the MP4-12C is a sensationally swift super-car that boasts high tech and lightweight carbon fibre construction, aluminium bodywork, advanced and innovative suspension systems, a hugely willing and prodigious in house developed 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8, scalpel sharp handling and meticulously honed aerodynamic characteristics.

Race-gleaned and revvy

Developed entirely in house rather than with outsourced components as is often the case with niche sports cars, the MP4-12C is aimed at making McLaren an established super-car maker.

Designed for a larger and more cost efficient production run, the MP4-12C features a stiff and lightweight aluminium sub-frame and carbon-fibre passenger cell frame, which takes just four hours to build compared to the 3000 hours it took to build the F1’s frame in the 1990s.

Weighing 1434kg, the high tech MP4-12C is lighter than competitors and incorporates race-gleaned technologies, including lightweight adaptive hydraulic suspension that stiffens and softens as required, and delivers a smoother ride and negates the use of traditional dampers and anti-roll bars.

Powered by an in-house developed all-aluminium twin-turbo V8, the McLaren MP4-12C is a scandalously swift instrument of speed that develops 592bhp at its 8500rpm redline and muscular force-fed 443lb/ft torque throughout a broad 3000-7000rpm rev range. A thoroughbred performance engine, the MP4-12C’s V8 benefits from dry sump lubrication that allows for a low mounting and low centre of gravity, and ensures that oil circulation is maintained even through spectacularly fast and composed high g-force cornering.

With almost no perceptible turbo lag at low speed, the MP4-12C’s long revving engine’s twin turbos spin up swiftly and develop 80 per cent of its torque rating by just 2000rpm. A free- and high-revving engine despite its forced induction, the MP4-12C’s advanced engine feels almost as quick, responsive and seamless as the best naturally aspirated engines.

Unrelenting torrent

Eager to rev hard and long, the MP4-12C unrelentingly spins to its 8500rpm redline, with a brawny wave of torque underwriting its vicious and swiftly progressive torrent of power.

With addictive, warbling and wailing acoustics when pushed hard, the MP4-12C is delivers immediate responsiveness to throttle inputs and savage on-the-move reflexes even in high gears and from cruising speeds.

From its mid-range sweet spot, the MP4-12C accumulates speed at an astonishingly brutal rate with its ample torque pushing its effortlessly through wind resistance and its searing high rev power build up providing scintillating acceleration.

With its tall rev limit and huge power one is tempted to shift gears by around 6000rpm, but pushed through to 8500rpm the MP4-12C becomes explosively intense and can achieve very high speeds even in middle gears.

Though it feels raring to go at idle, the MP4-12C’s engine and gearbox are smooth and civilised for city driving, but when used in anger, the McLaren’s headline figures a phenomenally brisk. Able to knock out the 0-100km/h sprint in 3.3-seconds and 0-200km/h in 9.1-seconds — reduced to 3.1- and 8.9-seconds with optional Corsa tyres — the MP4-12C also returns reasonable combined 11.7l/100km fuel efficiency and 279g/km carbon dioxide emissions. Fitted with a 7-speed dual clutch gearbox, the MP4-12C seamlessly and assertively pops off gear changes in both manual and auto modes, while one can choose from three independently adjustable gearbox and throttle response levels. While the 2013 model year MP4-12C’s power will be hiked to 616bhp, McLaren are offering the same upgrade free of charge to existing customers.

Darty dynamics

A strikingly handsome and slinky design, the McLaren MP4-12C’s flowing lines are designed with aerodynamic efficiency and downforce first and foremost, which becomes clearly apparent at high speed where its studied air flow and downforce generated as its rear spoiler tilts by 32 degrees can be palpably felt to pin it firmly down into the tarmac.

With bare carbon-fibre front splitter and rear diffuser, the MP4-12C’s athletic body features numerous front and huge twin gill side air intakes, as well as vents around its mid-engine bay, while styling touches include slatted rear lights and dramatic dihedral opening doors the swing to the side and upwards.

Wonderfully ergonomic and driver-oriented, the MP4-12C’s well-kitted carbon-fibre, leather and suede appointed interior features ample head space for taller drivers and superbly supportive and comfortable body-hugging sports seats.

Though slightly tricky to negotiate its up-swinging doors, once inside the MP4-12C’s cabin one is treated to comfortable, supportive, ergonomic interior with an ideal, upright and alert driving position that benefits from an off-set and wider driver’s side, slim centre console and superb front visibility. With its great visibility and a direct, short ratio steering, one places the MP4-12C with pinpoint accuracy, whether in town or on fast corners.

Closer to a darty sports car in its handling, dynamics and driver-involvement than an overwrought hyper-car, the MP4-12C delivers excellent steering and chassis feedback that complements its sublime balance, eager turn-in and flat body control. Fitted with huge four-piston ventilated disc brakes to match its ferocious pace, the MP4-12C’s rear spoiler also deploys as an air brake to help shave off high speeds.

Supple yet stiff

With almost telepathically accurate and involving steering and chassis, the MP4-12C’s eager and responsive mid-engine balance and sublime handling are complemented by high traction and grip levels that cope confidently with its vicious and vast power reserves. Sinking the throttle to the firewall from standstill with the electronic traction and stability controls disengaged, the MP4-12C’s tail will slither somewhat as its driven rear wheels and wide 305/30R20 rear footwear struggle to dig into the hot tarmac and transform all 592-thoroughbred horses into forward motion.

However, through hard cornering, the MP4-12C doesn’t surprise with any sudden over-steer, but instead remains flat and digs its heels in, ever-ready to blast out of a corner and on to a straight. With high grip and precise throttle control, the MP4-12C’s electronic nanny rarely intervened when switched on during the test drive.

Featuring three incremental suspension stiffness levels, the MP4-12C’s innovative adaptive hydraulic anti-roll and damping system saves weight and offers the best of both worlds in ride comfort and cornering stiffness, without resorting to heavy adaptive solutions for traditional anti-roll bars.

Controlled by intuitive and seamless sensors and electronics, the MP4-12C’s hydraulic suspension system ensures an unnatural sense of fluidity and comfort for a super car as it allows better individual wheel travel and suppleness.

However, when called upon to corner hard, the MP4-12C’s hydraulic dampers tighten and replicate the actions of stiff anti-roll bars to deliver utterly flat, taut, composed and poised body control.

The MP4-12C also avoids highly expensive and track-oriented ceramic compound brakes, and uses powerful cast iron and aluminium discs with more nuanced pedal feel.

Technical specifications

Engine: 3.8-litre, mid-mounted, dry sump, twin turbo V8-cylinders

Valve-train: 32-valve, DOHC, variable timing

Bore x stroke: 93 x 69.9mm

Compression: 8.7:1

Gearbox: 7-speed automated sequential dual clutch, RWD

Power, BHP (PS) [kW]: 592 (600) [441] @ 7000rpm

Specific power: 155.8bhp/litre

Power-to-weight: 413bhp/tonne

Torque, lb/ft (Nm): 443 (600) @ 3000-7000rpm

Specific torque: 158Nm/litre

Rev limit: 8500rpm

0-100km/h: 3.3-seconds (3.1s, Corsa tyres)

0-200km/h: 9.1-seconds (8.9s, Corsa tyres)

Quarter mile: 10.9-seconds @ 216km/h

Standing km: 19.6 @ 272km/h

Top speed: 330km/h

Fuel consumption, combined: 11.7l/100km

Carbon dioxide emissions, combined: 279g/km

Structure: Carbon fibre monocell, aluminium front & rear frames

Steering: Power rack and pinion

Suspension, F/R: Coil springs, control arms/multi-link

Damping: Hydraulic roll control & adaptive damping

Brakes, F/R: 4-piston callipers, ventilated discs, 370/350mm

Tyres, F/R: 235/35R19/305/30R20

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