Vital Stats

Twin-Turbo 3.8L V8
616 HP / 443 LB-FT
7-Speed DCT
0-60 Time:
2.9 Seconds (est.)
Top Speed:
204 MPH
Rear-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
3,270 LBS
6.9 CU-FT
Base Price:
Our First Drive of the McLaren MP4-12C Spider was nearly one year ago, when the automaker invited us to Malaga, Spain, for its introduction. While we had plenty of seat time during our initial orientation, nothing tops wringing out an exotic in your own backyard when you can focus on the vehicle and not worry about learning the apexes on a foreign track. Last week, McLaren Automotive asked us if we wanted to spend some time with its new Spider on domestic soil. We couldn't turn that down, especially when learned the venue was the 13-turn infield circuit at Southern California's Auto Club Speedway.

As a refresher, McLaren engineered the MP4-12C in coupe form with an open roof car in mind. That means the carbon-fiber tub needed no extra strengthening for Spider duty, a role that fits a power-operated two-piece folding carbon-fiber roof overhead (it raises and lowers in just 17 seconds, at speeds of up to 20 miles per hour) and features new buttresses reinforced with steel for rollover protection. The weight penalty is but a mere 88 pounds, meaning Spider performance is nearly identical to the coupe.

Track Notes
  • Despite my familiarity with the track, McLaren dropped a factory co-pilot in the vehicle with me. While I normally prefer to drive with an empty seat to my side, it was informative listening to his take on the Spider's various drive modes and settings as I put the exotic through its paces. Involuntarily, I was first out on a cold and slightly damp track (I'm driving the black car with a closed-face helmet), certainly not an ideal situation in a 616-horsepower, rear-wheel drive two-seater, but my worries were unwarranted as the racing line dried quickly allowing me to push the 12C Spider to its limit.
  • The Active Dynamics Panel, between the passengers, presents the driver with two console-mounted three-position dials allow the suspension and powertrain to be configured independently of each other, in three different modes: Normal, Sport and Track. Switching between the settings brings drastic changes that transform the McLaren from a comfortable GT to a purebred racer (think Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde). While I tried all of the combinations, and used the Normal mode on a street run later in the day, I preferred everything in its sharpest Track setting for the circuit.
  • The Spider is fitted with a standard seven-speed, automated dual-clutch SSG gearbox. When on a racing circuit, I typically put this type of transmission in track mode and let the on-board computers do the shifting. I wasn't overly impressed with how the McLaren was shifting on its own (it appeared to be caught off-guard at times), so I switched over to manual mode. Most sports cars have a single paddle on each side of the wheel tasked with gear changes. The MP4-12C uses a rocker that passes through the back of the steering wheel. Think of it like a seesaw, which allows one hand to shift the gearbox (with a satisfying mechanical 'click') both up and down by pulling or pressing on the paddles. The design works brilliantly, with shifts that are nearly instantaneous in both directions. Once I gave it a try, I never went back to any automatic mode.
  • The McLaren accelerates out of the corners at a dizzying rate that substantiates its sub-three second 0-60 sprint (some sports cars, like the Nissan GT-R, don't feel seat-of-the pants as quick at speed as their test numbers) and allows it to run neck-to-neck with the Ferrari 458 Italia. I was concerned with that much power going through just two contact patches, so I was needlessly cautious on the throttle during the first few corner exits. The Spider puts its power down brilliantly, and brief moments of oversteer coming out of the twisty sections were easy to control with a touch of steering input.
  • Carbon-ceramic brakes are optional, but all of the test cars at the track were wearing the standard ventilated and cross-drilled iron rotors hidden inside the optional lightweight 10-spoke forged alloys, that provided formidable stopping power under the track conditions. The MP4-12C uses its (defeatable) four-mode ESC system to close the caliper on the inside wheel while braking into a corner to provide brake steer, thus allowing later brake applications and earlier power delivery on exit. Its effect was unnoticed from the driver's seat, but it unquestionably improved stability and helped to eliminate understeer in the tight sections.
  • There was little to fault the McLaren with dynamically or mechanically, but I did have a few nitpicks. First, I would have preferred more aggressively bolstered seats to hold my torso in place during the drive (or install six-point harnesses). Second, the wide door sills combined with the trick dihedral doors made ingress/egress a learned procedure. Lastly, I would choose the optional Pirelli PZero Corsa tires as my primary fitment because the stock PZero rubber, although grippy, was the weak link after 20 minutes of lapping.
  • Overall, the MP4-12C Spider was one of the most enjoyable and capable street cars that I have ever driven on a racing circuit. Acceleration, braking and handling were all first-rate, and it seemed effortlessly up to the challenge of being driven hard – a real natural. While many sports car owners with track aspirations avoid the roofless models of their favorite exotics as they are compromised in weight and performance, McLaren's new retractable hardtop Spider doesn't seem to concede in any measurable category. In fact, its arrival almost makes its couple sibling outmoded.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 1 Year Ago
      If it were the coupes I'd take the Ferrari, but with the spiders I'd rather have the McLaren. It really does seem just as good as the coupe.
      • 1 Year Ago
      I feel like this is the sports enthusiast gentlemen's choice when it comes to supercars. It's not too look at me, but at the same times garners lusty looks. I would take this over a Lambo/Ferrari any day (although a Gran Turismo Stradale is my ultimate desire- I know apples to oranges compared to this car).
      • 1 Year Ago
      What a sweet ride.... Nothing really to complain about there.
        • 1 Year Ago
          • 1 Year Ago
          • 1 Year Ago
          I didn't get it either. Perhaps it was out of context, or an inside joke with yourself. Either way, it's a pretty terrible comment.
      • 1 Year Ago
      As much as everyone waxes poetically over the 458, I just can't make myself like it as much as I like the McLaren. Give me one is Spyder form is that gorgeous bright blue with the wheels of the black car pictured, and I'd be set.
      • 1 Year Ago
      I've always been just the most mild bit underwhelmed by this cars styling but it looks absolutely menacing in black. Wow.
      Jonathan Wayne
      • 1 Year Ago
      I like the McLaren and the McLaren's price until I hear the Ferrari start up. My God that thing sounds amazing, nothing sounds as good as a Ferrari. They may treat people like crap, but their engines sound better, their paint is phenomenal, their interiors amazing, that leather so good and of course they have the name.
      • 1 Year Ago
      *bloop* ....another turd in the toilet bowl lol
      • 1 Year Ago
      The 12C doesn't sound as good as the 458, not even close.
        • 1 Year Ago
        • 1 Year Ago
        Maybe not, but its still sounds great.
      • 1 Year Ago
      DCT is the current transmission for performance cars. WHen will Corvette catch up to the rest of the world? I prefer the 458 Itlaia looks, but would take the McLaren for the forced induction.
      • 1 Year Ago
      I just can,t warm up to this car. Each time I see a 458 I go wow! but the McLaren is just nice but uninspired. Dynamically there is no way in hell I could approach the limits on these two cars.
      • 1 Year Ago
      The Ferrari has more drama, but the McLaren has superior engineering. I'd take the McLaren. Although to be honest I'd probably never spend that much on a car even if I had it. Not unless I was going to open a car gallery where kids can visit and learn about these things. Then I'd buy at least 5 and not feel like a douche :-)
        • 1 Year Ago
        Superior engineering? On every test the 458 destroys the McLaren. Not one tester prefered the McLaren.
      • 1 Year Ago
      god.. autoblog posters are tools
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