1,000 miles in the McLaren MP4-12C: Day One


Since the very first viewings and tech workshops in early 2010 of the McLaren MP4-12C, I've been working my contacts in Woking, England for a cross-country drive in the innovative supercar. We're still talking about a possible New York to Los Angeles run, but while waiting on that, I was recently offered a 1,000-mile-plus dash from McLaren headquarters outside of London south to Monaco, traversing all of France to experience all types of pavement – and all types of weather, as it turned out – over three days. This would be the first official long distance drive organized by McLaren for the car. Not surprisingly, I accepted.

When first talked about in concrete terms to the outside world in 2009, the McLaren MP4-12C was billed not just as a lightweight, 592-horsepower holy terror performance car, but as a comfortable premium motoring experience more than capable of a London-to-Monaco run. I doubted this right from the start, but then my initial prototype drives got me thinking that maybe the claim was genuine. The macho 12C tears it up at the track as well as any exotic, but perhaps it can be used as a pleasant cross-country cruiser, too.

So far, every MP4-12C test has taken the car out for tough comparisons against the usual suspects. These tests have been fairly brief and always with the obligation to be constantly driving as if one were re-inventing lateral acceleration. I've luckily driven the car a few times now, too, but only a very silly small bit of that was allowed on civilian roads. All the rest was set on tracks that had been fairly licked clean.

So, it's time to get real. Even at the risk of getting real boring.

Visualizzazione ingrandita della mappa

The first leg of this trip took me from Woking southwest of London, through the Eurotunnel under the English Channel on the Eurostar train, and on to an overnight stay just west of the town of Reims in the heart of champagne country. (The bubbles go right to my nose, tee-hee.)

After a thorough visit to the newly christened $65-million McLaren Production Centre [see video], Day One of our magical McLaren mega-tour included pretty dull roads for the most part. But having weathered it, now I found myself and my Volcano Red $245,000-as-tested 12C poised for two long additional days of far more exciting drives. That "elite" Volcano Red paint, by the way? $5,140 tacked on top.

What was best tested on this first section, however, was the cruising capabilities of the 12C over British motorway and French autoroute, frequently with American-style expansion strips trying to dog me with their incessant rhythm for 100-mile long stretches.

McLaren's boast of the car's ability to tackle the mundane with true comfort and relative peace is true. I just set the powertrain dial to Sport and the ProActive Chassis Control dial to Normal pretty much all day long, unless I felt like playing around with the knobs. I'm not saying all this positive stuff just because McLaren handed me one of their cars and generously hosted things; the everyday usability of owning a 12C is real – certainly better than with any other similarly intentioned car at the very least.

As I set off in England there was – what are the chances? – major amounts of rain, too, and the 12C showed how its interesting chassis dynamics (based in part on outlawed Formula 1 technology from the 1990s) make it damned near unflappable in such poor conditions that typically keep supercars huddled in the garage.

Watch the video we built for Day One of all this; it tells the story pretty well. And stay tuned for days two and three – things get very interesting.

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