Posted Dec 9th 2011 11:57AM
We can officially consider this drive of the McLaren MP4-12C our second go at it. In brief, Mother Nature conspired with UK tradition and made our second crack at this British super coupe pretty much a total wash. It didn't matter how many times the McLaren folks reminded us just how "perfect" and "dry" the previous two days had been; we were swimming and freezing, but the proceedings forced us to switch quickly from crybaby into lemonade-from-lemons mode.
One big attraction was conducting our drive on a circuit laid out on the World War II-era Canadian Air Force field at Dunsfold Park, better known as the Top Gear test track – The Stig's stomping grounds.
Given all of our potential excitement threatening to poop out on us, we cajoled McLaren's crew into handing over every bit of photo and video from the day in order to mash together something for your viewing enjoyment, and we insisted on the eminently photogenic McLaren Orange car (known in Bruce's day as Papaya Orange) with the lightweight package.
Still, it was McLaren's 592-horsepower Great Orange Hope, it was the 2.8-kilometre Dunsfold Park figure-eight circuit, and we managed to get everything as loosey-goosey as was safely possible in the standing water.
Despite the Ark-worthy weather, we don't regret our day, as the Mac was still good fun on the wide-open tarmac. All of the standing water and the glaring reflection of breaks in the (cruelly far away from us) clouds made it nearly impossible to see the several points where the circuit was demarcated with little more than painted-on red and white rumble strips.
Our MP4-12C for this (smaller-than-planned) story came, as mentioned, with the lightweight package that includes the biting carbon-ceramic brake discs, carbon fibre shell seats, carbon fibre front splitter and rear diffuser, lithium-ion racing battery as standard and lighter wheels. This brought curb weight down to around 1,400 kilos (3,085 pounds) from the usual 1,433 kilos (3,160 lbs).
Whereas the conditions gave us little sense of the benefits of the stabilizer-bar-free ProActive Chassis Control setup that everyone's been talking about, the MP4-12C proved remarkable in the mega-wet. It would have been a slightly different story had the car been wearing the optional Pirelli P Zero Corsa treads, but our car was wisely outfitted with standard P Zeros (235/35 19-inch front and 305/30 20-inch rear).
On one of those perfect dry days we weren't benefiting from, the Mac at its quickest can almost certainly hit 60 mph from a standstill in 2.9 seconds with some regularity. We weren't doing those numbers today, but we did play with the various ProActive chassis/stability control modes and powertrain modes while dicing between second, third and fourth gears of the Seamless Shift Gearbox using the McLaren's unique pre-cogging paddles.
In those slippery moments (both naturally occurring and induced) requiring quick recovery via throttle and steering, the McLaren is, to its credit, our supercar of choice versus the Ferrari 458 Italia, at least in the ridiculous wetness. The coupe proved to be clinically smooth and sweat-free through the track's potentially dramatic bits while peeling away a minimum of speed. It got to the point where we were inducing a whole lot of silly mistakes just to see how it recovered. The recovery was always complete and quick, losing little of our line through the circuit. Would a Porsche 911 Turbo, GT2, or Lamborghini LPWhatever be better in these conditions? It'd be a great comparo.
McLaren has delivered 180 examples of the MP4-12C throughout the UK and mainland Europe, with 100 of those being customer cars and the rest demo units. To the company's credit, there's a sort of real-world testing loop happening with these cars: McLaren has been getting massive owner feedback that has resulted in several software tweaks that have been implemented since our prototype drive in Portugal six months back.
These tweaks include making some warning lights that are less sensitive to react to fluid temperatures, an ECU that is quicker to boot up and shut down so as to spare battery energy, and a more infinitesimally precise fuel gauge. All delivered cars have been upgraded to reflect all of these advancements, and officials say that its early-adopter clients very much dig being this involved. McLaren just wants these things to be perfect by the time the wider waiting world of paying clients gets their units. North American MP4-12Cs start arriving in garages this January, while dealer demo cars with all tweaks tweaked began arriving in November.
An important last tweak to mention. The only criticism regarding the bi-turbo 3.8-litre V8 engine has been its less-than-thrilling exhaust sound. Across the board, journalists and early owners simply wanted more audible passion bursting forth from the 12C, especially when on the circuit. In Track mode now, the valves of the dual exhaust stay fairly wide open from zero rpm instead of waiting until 4,000 rpm to yell a bit. Inside the cabin, we totally felt the difference and the sensations are fantastic now. If you haven't yet, watch the Short Cut video to hear what we mean. Outside the car, those two turbos are still muffling their song a bit.
But fast and glorious she is, this MP4-12C. Even in the wet.