1,000 miles in the McLaren MP4-12C: Day Three
DAY THREE – THE SNOW BEFORE THE SWEET REWARD
So, yeah, on Day Two there were plenty of opportunities to try all chassis setups and I explored them all. So doing, I spotted those couple of things that could use work in the future. But I honestly have to say I was falling ever more under the spell of this car.
Almost immediately out of the night's stay in Annecy, the roads started climbing. This time of year is generally considered by most to be the warm season, but it quickly became cold and, toward the crest of Aravis Pass at near 5,000 feet, it was snowing.
Naturally, this was a text book opportunity for testing the Winter settings of both the Handling and Powertrain knobs on the McLaren console, and they succeeded in sucking the potential drama right out of the slippery proceedings. The eased-up feel of the ProActive chassis control together with the meted out progression of the throttle map soon urged me to carry much more speed through this whole white affair than I had thought possible as I was foolishly driving up into it.
And the turbochargers loved that cool air. It was just the right coolness, too, not at all frigidly cold. It was here that the Graziano seven-speed, being used in full-auto mode, revealed its weakest chink in the armor. The lightweight dry-clutch wonder box just does not cotton to low revs and ginger driving. It's perfectly usable on these rare occasions, yes, but not happy.
The best way to get to many of the legendary coastal mountain roads heading south into the fancy-pants towns of the French Mediterranean coast is to duck due east into northwestern Italy. We did so via the 7.25-mile long tunnel through 15,782-foot-tall Mont Blanc. It was about 60 degrees out at the start of the tunnel in France. By the time I and the 12C arrived at the heart of the mountain, the air temperature indicated on the console display had reached 83 degrees. So I rolled down the windows until the exit in Italy.
Visualizzazione ingrandita della mappa
The object in Italy was to smoke along the autostrada, skirt past Turin, and get back over to the southernmost French peaks in the Alpes-Martimes region. The rest of the drive on this final day was a euphoric blur.
From Borgo San Dalmazzo just south of Cuneo until emerging from the mountains on D2566 on the A8 autoroute, life was damned good. So good and Gendarme-free that I turned around at what would have been the start of a post-party cool-down drive into Monaco and went back up the mountain just so I could drive back down again. It only made sense. The McLaren people were afraid I'd disappeared forever with their car. I got a few calls on the cell phone telling me things like, "You might think about getting down to Monaco before dark, Matt." Sorry, can't hear you; signal's breaking up.
This sort of near abusive sports car driving road with so many unimaginable curve combinations is exactly why Europeans felt they had to invent the sports car. And there is a British super sports manner of engineering cars exactly for this. The Lotus Evora has it and the McLaren 12C has it. The recent Toyobarus and certain Mini trims have it in good portion. But that a car quite like the MP4-12C has this built in is what makes it thoroughly unique.
A 458 Italia will do these roads in its way and I feel the McLaren is slightly better suited still. A Porsche GT3 RS would give us a run for the money for certain, but it'd be a close one. After this particularly sweaty and exhilaratingly long thrashing, I have to say I'd need to use the McLaren here if a sports car of this exotic type was on my must-own list. There were so many points on this long, long stretch – and I'd driven it all before in the other cars I've mentioned – where it dawned on me so clearly what McLaren has made in the 12C.
No, it might not make such a satisfying naturally aspirated noise like the Ferrari, and it might feel less asphalt-sucking than the GT3 range. Maybe it scrapes its chin entirely too much in exactly these sorts of drive situations at which it thrives, or perhaps the other two cars would pull away from me slightly if we were re-doing the less contorted roads of Day Two. But on this Day Three route under any conditions, the Macca reigns. Even the "seamless shift" gearbox is finally seamlessly shifting while the revs stay high all afternoon.
I was hoping they'd surprise me after I rolled into Monaco, telling me, "Now, you need to drive it back to Woking." No such luck. Sardi's to the Portofino Inn awaits, I guess.
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