– Flashy exterior and interior
– Seriously powerful engine
– Astonishing ride and handling
– Very very expensive
– Entry-exit requires yoga skills
– Highway noise can be annoying
It’s hard to believe that McLaren has been around for the last couple decades now as a carmaker. Aside from the Formula 1 connection, the company is only really known for two street-legal supercars, namely the legendary McLaren F1 from the 1990s and the joint-venture Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren in the 2000s. But now they’re serious about establishing themselves as a proper contender in the uber-premium sportscar field. The first result of that drive was the McLaren MP4-12C, a car whose convoluted name soon became one to remember among car enthusiasts, not least of which due to its tremendous performance. And for 2013, there is a follow-up to the coupe in the form of a drop-top 12C Spider model.
The amazing thing about the Spider is that no compromises were made to turn the MP4-12C into a convertible. The carbon-fibre chassis tub is built in such a way that it was only a matter of adding the new body parts for the drop-top, with no additional bracing needed. As such, the Spider looks just as spectacular as the coupe, maybe more so with those “flying buttresses” on either side of the rear glass, while still managing to have a see-through glass panel on the engine cover, a folding electric hard-top and butterfly doors as well. The Spider also keeps the 12C’s trademark hidden-in-grille tail lamps, high-mounted exhaust tips and rear air-brake spoiler. It may not be as aggressive as a Lamborghini, but no one mistook it for anything other than a supercar, judging by the million-and-one people who came up to us asking to take photos with the thing.
It’s also got the trademark supercar impracticality. Due to the aforementioned carbon-fibre tub, you have to step over a foot-high door sill that is almost as wide, made harder by the doors that flip up at maybe a 45-degree angle. If you have back problems, you’d be forgiven for heading straight to the Ferrari showroom in stereotypical fashion. Interestingly, by customer demand, they’ve replaced the touch-swipe door opening mechanism with a proper button, so there’s no more awkward door-stroking in public any more.
But once you’re inside the car, you’re greeted with a surprisingly spacious cabin for two, trimmed in leather and leather upholstery all over, with a ridiculously-thin centre-console in the middle that manages to cram in a single a/c vent, a tall touchscreen computer, several buttons and even two cup-holders underneath. To accomplish this, the gear-selector is reduced to just a bunch of buttons, as is the electric parking brake. The dual-zone automatic a/c controls have been moved to the two door armrests, near the a/c side-vents. And there are four bespoke stalks behind the steering wheel for various functions, alongside the paddle-shifters.
The body-hugging seats are power-adjustable with memory now, as opposed to manually-adjusted in the 12C coupe we drove before. The seat conveniently moves all the way back so you can get out of the car. There is some storage space behind the seats, a central cubby can hold your iPod, while the boot up front can hold a small trolley-bag and groceries.
The touchscreen computer is a bit complicated to use, but there are big buttons and a large knob to make it a bit easier to use while driving, but the small screen fonts are hard to read. Aside from the premium stereo, there’s also a USB port in the centre-console cubby, LCD info screens within the gauge cluster, as well as the usual power windows, cruise control, HID headlights and several airbags, while our test car’s Bluetooth, rear parking sensors and navigation are new things that were missed in the 12C we drove last year. It’s all there now, but the multimedia screen crashed once, and only worked again when the car was restarted. We later found out that the screen could’ve been restarted by holding the “home” button for 5 seconds.
The relatively-light 1549-kilo MP4-12C is powered by a 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8, software-tweaked to make 616 hp at 7000 rpm for 2013. Interestingly, the upgrade is available free to all previous 12C owners. The 601 Nm of torque is fed to the rear wheels via a 7-speed dual-clutch automanual gearbox, the latter featuring a “pre-cog” system that can prepare the next gear by partially pulling a paddle-shifter.
We fired off a drama-free 0-100 kph run of 3.9 seconds in March weather. You’d think it’d be faster, but the electronics seem to intentionally bog down the power initially to kill any wheelspin, before unleashing all the juice a half-second later. And unlike the Nissan GT-R, it sounds phenomenal in the process. In the Spider, the rear glass can even be retracted so, even with the roof up, you can listen to the rear-mid engine till your ears bleed. And that’s just in “Normal” mode. It revs even louder in “Sport” and “Track” modes.
Those three driving modes are there separately for the suspension as well. In full-on “track” mode, the electronic nannies are turned off, the gear-shifts are faster and jerkier, the throttle is more sensitive, the steering is firmer, and the suspension becomes rock-hard.
That’s why we mostly drove with the suspension in “normal” mode all the time, switching the powertrain to “sport” once in a while, just as we did with the coupe. It handles spectacularly even in its softest setting, helped along by never-ending grip from the wide tyres on 20-inch rims, 235-width in the front and 305-width out back. There isn’t even any scuttle-shake, something that afflicts poorly-engineered convertibles such as the Chevy Camaro, since the frame does not depend on the roof for structural integrity.
All that gave us enough confidence to keep pushing around a corner until we could hear the first squeaks of understeer from the tyres, by which time we backed off before our kidneys split open in an explosion of blood and bile.
More amazingly, the hydraulic suspension is fairly comfortable on most surfaces, matching the firm BMW 6-Series for ride comfort. You can even drive over speed bumps as quickly as you would with a Toyota Camry! Of course, there is always the loud cacophony of road noise and engine growl at all speeds, so the 12C is never as peaceful as a Camry on long-distance trips. Putting the electrically-folding hard-top down makes things even noisier. It burned 18.5 litres/100 km of fuel in our test, but it can dip as low as 10 litres/100 km with a light foot at 100 kph.
All-round visibility is not as bad as in, say, any Lamborghini. The mirrors offer a decent view, although we feel rear visibility is more compromised in the Spider than in the coupe. Still, our Spider has rear parking sensors, so backing it into spaces is manageable, taking your time wrangling the firm steering. It’s not really much harder than backing up a Porsche 911.
The ground clearance is pretty good for a car like this, but there are also two aerodynamic flaps hanging low under the car that scrape on speed-bumps. However, McLaren went one step further for 2013 and added height-adjustable suspension, so you can actually raise the car at low speeds, in case you need to clear a steep ramp or hump.
It’s things like that which make the McLaren 12C Spider the most practical supercar around. The car is an impressive technological achievement. We never thought last year’s coupe can be upstaged, but the Spider has managed to do just that.
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