McLaren MP4-12C Spider pictures and hands-on

The McLaren MP4-12C is a car that, despite being a complete and utter technical marvel, has lacked some of the special stuff that makes a supercar truly super. Traditionally the car fantasies of every 8-year-old have started with the letter F and ended with the word erarri. The thing is, 8-year-olds aren't allowed to drive.

Stick one behind the wheel of an MP4-12C and let them experience first gear on full throttle and those Ferrari 458 posters will rapidly be burned in the back garden.

So aggressive and violent in fact is the 12C's acceleration, that it makes the sheer complacency and comfort of the ride when you're not driving hard even the more difficult to understand. You can sit someone next to you in the MP4-12C and waft about, listening to the subtle hum of the V8 and enjoying the smooth shift of the dual-clutch gearbox.

Then you put you foot down, the whole thing explodes, the turbos spool up and make a whoosh like a jet fighter, you feel like the car is about to take off and before you know it, you stamp on the carbon ceramic brakes and take all the speed back off again, ready to waft once more.

It is this that makes the MP4-12C so utterly brilliant. It is, no word of a lie, a supercar you could drive each day. The visibility is good, the ride impeccable and the interior more than spacious enough for two. Little touches, like the slight notch of each front wheel arch in your wind screen, mean you can place the car on the road incredibly easily. Never does the MP4-12C feel big or unwieldy, yet the steering and controls have all the weight and feedback even the most professional of drivers could ever want.

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We haven't even got to the best bit yet either. Driving the MP4-12C Spider with the roof down means you can properly enjoy the sound of its engine. McLaren has done some work adding a slightly more aggressive engine note to the Spider and newer versions of the 12C - and it shows. This is a supercar that makes supercar sounds.

The folding roof closes and opens at up to 19mph and, once opened, will let you drive the car all the way up to 198mph if you feel so inclined. Alternatively, close it up and you can hit 204mph. Fast enough for any road or track. The MP4-12C also benefits from a 25hp horsepower upgrade, pushing things up to 616hp. Trust us, it's lots.

Even with the folding roof, the MP4-12C's handling isn't affected. The clever carbon Monocell, which you sit in, has such torsional stiffness that the car stays just as flat in the corners. Naturally, McLaren's super high-tech active suspension also helps, but more on that later. 

Just a word on the interior. Sadly only a select few will ever get to sit inside a car like the MP4-12C, which is a shame, because to us build quality such as this deserves to be celebrated. It isn't anywhere near as outlandish as a Ferrari or Lamborghini, but has an Apple-like stripped back feel, which is simple as well as incredibly functional.

The scissor doors lift up, so it's easy to get into the carbon Monocell. The seat is near perfect, being highly adjustable and offering and absolutely brilliant driving position. We were shocked at just how manageable the visibility on offer is. Normally in supercars, driving on public roads is like trying to direct a 200mph tank through a periscope. With the MP4-12C, we would feel confident parallel parking it, or risking a speed bump.

The satnav screen - which is mounted in a portrait position to try to save space - has a bespoke UI that is really rather special to look at. All set in white and black, it adds to the futuristic feel of the car. Couple this with exposed bits of carbon fibre and you have an interior which, while initially being slightly uninspiring, impresses the moment you inspect it closer. The devil is very much in the detail here.

Now to the drive train. McLaren has gone for a clever pick-and-mix approach that separates the feel from the engine and handling, allowing you to choose each. Fancy driving with a sporty throttle response but smooth handling? No problem. How about making things nimble and firm but taking a bit of an edge off the engine? All you need do is turn the two dials. Again, in its simplicity lies its brilliance.

McLaren expects the majority of orders for the MP4-12C to be in Spider form. At this price range, the extra £19,000 for the drop top roof is virtually nothing. You can spec the car up to an incredible level. In fact, average spend on MP4-12C options is around £30,000. 

The Spider just looks that little bit more special. The two triangular headrests, sitting behind that sloping glass roof, are impressive. The model we tested also had all black exhausts, rather than chrome, an option box we would definitely tick. Naturally being able to ride around with the roof down is a bonus as well.

It isn't windy, but should you want to put the roof up, the 12C Spider is almost identical to the other version in terms of road noise. You can open a glass window at the back of the Spider's cabin if you fancy, just so you can get the full blast of the V8 engine.

Really, McLaren has a stonking car on its hands with the MP4-12C Spider. There is a sense of class and refinement there which we just haven't seen with any other supercar. It's just so liveable, comfy and smooth, yet utterly unhinged when you want it to be, that there really isn't another supercar that compares. Okay, so not every person on the street will point at it and gawp, that is the preserve of the Ferrari 458 driver. But to the initiated and those in the know, it carries ten times the sense of cool. 

Time to get saving. Yours for £195,000.

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