McLaren MP4-12C pictures and hands-on

You’ve got £7,000 burning a hole in your pocket and you need a car – what do you do? While most people would be thinking about a capable supermini or second-hand BMW M3, this McLaren MP4-12C could also be yours. For a week.

This is the latest offering from Hertz - yes the same hire car company you may have used to borrow a VW Golf on your last ski trip - and at £1,362 a day, it is not the kind of thing you’ll go off and leave in the hotel car park.

Sadly we don’t have the kind of spare change that could buy 60 iPod Classics, and the puppets on those loan adverts scare us. But Hertz has offered to lend us its £170,000 flagship car, having spent a considerable amount of time poring over our driving licence. The MP4-12C stands out, but not in the same way as the Ferrari 458, its fiercest rival, despite the McLaren Orange paintwork - no, it's not Hertz yellow, sadly. It’s subtler, less rakishly futuristic - dare we say, showing British reserve - than the Maranello car.

"The McLaren supercar gives people the chance to experience Formula One technology on the road - obviously all within the speed limits," Neil Cunningham, general manager of Hertz UK, reminds us. "Part of this unique rental experience is the 'meet and greet' delivery and collection service, and it all makes it a very attractive alternative to actually purchasing for around £200,000 and looking after it."

The 12C is keen to show off its tech before you start the engine, presenting an iPod-esque touch sensor on the door that you swipe your finger across. Clever, yes – but it takes some getting used to, and not the kind of thing you want to faff with outside Monaco Casino.

The cockpit detailing is exquisite though, the finish second to none, as we climb under its clever dihedral doors, over the large sill and into the NASA-spec seat fabric. Around me is the 12C’s revolutionary carbon fibre MonoCell - a unique one-piece moulded chassis that weighs just 75kgs. Controls line the doors and, once closed, the entire cockpit wraps itself deeply around you, enhancing the slight trepidation that comes with borrowing a car worth about the same amount as a flat.

Trundling out of Hertz’s Heathrow HQ on to the northern perimeter road, clicking through the seven-speed Graziano dual-clutch gearbox - the beautiful levers are a highlight of the cabin - and everything starts to feel calm. Throttle response is not as sharp as we expected and it wafts almost serenely, accompanied by a low burble from the 3.8-litre flat crank V8.

What’s unsettling us now, or rather not, is the ride. It soaks up bumps beautifully, much like a luxury saloon, with none of the crash and thump of supercars gone by. This is down to what McLaren calls the ProActive Chassis Control system, essentially adaptive damping linked to double wishbones with coil springs. The dampers are interconnected hydraulically and linked to a gas-filled accumulator, allowing for different responses depending on road conditions. The system also features driver-adjustable roll control, banishing the need for mechanical anti-roll bars altogether, keeping the car balanced in corners but supple in a straight line.

But enough of that - what’s it like when you access the 592bhp available with the right pedal? Well, terrifying is the first word that springs to mind. As it’s still being run-in we're told to keep proceedings under 5,000rpm, but pressing the throttle down half way in third or fourth at 30mph, only a madman would keep looking at the dials. Few cars have the ability to catch your eyes out, the acceleration momentarily blurring your vision Millennium Falcon-style as your organs are crushed into the seat.

With a 0-60mph of 3.1sec and 0-100mph in 6.7sec, this car is on a par with the legendary McLaren F1 and will show a clean set of heels to everything bar a Bugatti Veyron. The first time we really unleash the power - which is accompanied by an OTT Fast and the Furious turbo woos - it is ferocious enough to leave our hands sweating and heart thumping. It will brake from 60mph to 0 in 30.5m too, something that catches other drivers out if you spot a red light too late.

On our short, busy test route, with rain starting to splatter the windscreen, there is not much opportunity to try the handling. In "sport" mode the car is otherworldly poised, the steering direct and an astonishing amount of grip is on offer. Stick it in auto mode and "normal", something Hertz says most people will do as they cruise through Chelsea, and it can be driven like any other car. This for some people may be an issue, preferring the more savage-edged 458 instead.

So if you have a few thousand pounds kicking about, is hiring a car like this actually worth it? For some people it will make sense as a no-strings supercar experience or a one-off dip into high performance motoring. Unfortunately for both it comes with the unsavoury experience of having to give it back in the end.

Would you even tell us if you could afford to rent one of these?