Up: Beautiful, civilized, comfortable, fast, spells “spyder” the correct way.
Down: Next question.
Neutral: It’s honestly hard to imagine how much better a supercar can get.
McLaren and I have had sort of a “will he won’t he” relationship over the years. Since I first witnessed the MP4-12C destroy the Ferrari 458 on Top Gear in 2011, McLaren has taken the mantle as my favorite supercar producer. It was so powerful and so precise and, most importantly, it was an underdog taking on Ferrari! As time went by and my not-quite-yet-achieved quest to own one still being pursued, I have ridden in three (two 12Cs and one 675LT), been around at least 10 (including a P1), and traveled all over the Midwest (and London) to photograph them. However, I still had never been given the chance to drive one. It seemed that we enjoyed being around each other but somehow one of us just couldn’t pull the trigger. So by this point, who was teasing who?
My morning started very similar to that of the Ford GT review which seemed fitting because I was headed to that exact same garage. I woke up around 6:30 am on a Sunday in mid-June and made sure all of my camera equipment was in order and my batteries were charged. While reviewing the locations I had scouted for photos, I also browsed the internet for McLaren pictures and videos to get ideas for the best angles. Luckily, most supercars look fantastic from every direction so they essentially do my job for me. Still, I wanted this to be my best work and as 7:00 am approached, I packed up my gear, took one last sip of coffee, and headed out the door.
During my drive I did some reflecting from the past three years since I was given the opportunity to drive the Ford GT. Since then I’ve become the head of Cars & Coffee of Siouxland, redesigned both the C&C and Short Shift websites, greatly improved on my automotive photography skills, and continued to build relationships in the Sioux Empire automotive community. It never ceases to amaze me how far hard work and being friendly can get a person. In my case, life rewarded me with an exclusive review of Sioux Falls’ only McLaren and I couldn’t have been more excited.
As I pulled up to the familiar garage doors I was invited in by my host. When I walked through the entry I was also greeted by my old friend, the Ford GT, and many other cars in the collection which I also hope to shoot and review someday. But no McLaren. Oh yes, if you want to find even more cars here, you need to visit the garage below the garage. At the bottom of the staircase the 12C was basking in overhead lighting just waiting to be let loose.
Now I might often unfairly compare this 2013 McLaren 12C to the 2006 Ford GT, but that’s the only other mid-engined supercar I’ve ever driven so you’ll just have to deal with it. Right off the bat, the hood-trunk is much larger in the 12C. I could see fitting as many as two duffel bags or one set of golf clubs which would already make this car a more livable daily than the GT. I’ll also note that it’s easier to get in since the doors open up and don’t have part of the roof attached to them. I know the GT’s doors are cool, but I bumped my head twice!
After I was seated in the passenger seat, my chauffeur began to explain that McLaren has integrated a start-up routine for their cars that have sat for a few days. I’ve had the fortune of being in multiple McLarens and I was still surprised to learn something new about them. When he pressed the start button, the V8 growled to life (which is the loudest I’ve ever heard on a stock production car) and went up and down through the rev range before telling us it was OK to drive. The owner said he even had to ask their McLaren dealer if this routine was normal because, in all honesty, it almost sounds like the car is broken.
Over the next couple of hours I was escorted around so I could take photos and learn the ins-and-outs of this particular 12C. There wasn’t much I didn’t already know due to the internet, but experiencing it is so much different. Of course you can read that it has a twin-turbo 3.8 liter V8 that produces over 600 horsepower, but until you feel a foot-to-the-floor pull onto an on-ramp those numbers mean nothing. The same goes for the exhaust. You can read about the radius of the pipes and the lightness of the materials, but once the small rear window is rolled down (an incredible feature) all you can think about is sound, not statistics. It’s smart to remember that the McLaren 12C, and all supercars alike, are as much ingenuity as they are engineering.
We also chatted about what’s special about this particular 12C. In short, it is very well optioned. The most notable items are the Carbon Fiber Pack, Stealth Pack, and the carbon ceramic brakes; the latter of which are $16,000 alone! The interior had black leather with a red underlay and red stitching throughout. The Carbon Fiber Pack included bare carbon fiber on the steering wheel, steering wheel logo, center console, various trim bits and the entire exposed wheel wells. The Stealth Pack gave it the black air-brake mechanism and black exhaust finish. It even comes with a “stealth” logo badge on the front but the owner replaced it with a rectangular one as a throwback to the original F1. We even both agreed that despite being the first mass produced McLaren model, it still has the most timeless appearance of the current lineup and remains our favorite thus far.
When the photographs were taken and my memory card was full, it was time to cash in on my long awaited ticket to drive a McLaren. With our roles now switched and me in the driver’s seat, I almost forgot that this was still a car. On paper I knew that I needed to hit the push-to-start button to fire the 12C up, pull the parking brake tab to deactivate it, and press “D” to go into drive, but once I was in control I didn’t want anything to be my fault. From putting on my seat belt to adjusting the mirrors, I made sure all of my actions were deliberate. Once I went through the motions, I fired up the well optioned $340,000 titan and felt the shivers go down my spine.
The first two things I recommend to do the next time you’re driving a McLaren 12C Spider are you turn the radio off and you put the top down. If it’s raining, lower the rear window instead. The best way to describe the sound this engine makes is that it has the grumble of an American muscle car paired with the constant flutter of spooling turbos. It’s intoxicating. It’s also completely tame when you want it to be. When I started driving down the road I didn’t notice any more road noise or bumps than in my Fiat 500 from earlier that morning. The sound wasn’t overwhelming either as we maintained a normal conversation with the top down without ever having to shout, “What?”
So the 12C drives just like any other grocery-getter when you want it to, but what happens when you don’t want it to? Does it turn into a complete monster that you need to wrestle? Well, when I put my foot down, the McLaren shot off like a scalded cat without so much as a single tire squeak. And since you can get to 50 mph in first gear and 100 mph in third gear, it wasn’t much time until I would have definitely had my license taken away. Zero to 60 in under 3 seconds can be imagined by anyone who has driven any sports car, but the fact that this car is capable of cruising at 150 mph as easily as a Camry cruises at 35 mph is baffling. The 12C is definitely a monster… just one that wears a 3-piece suit and a tophat.
But speed is nothing without handling. And luckily it turns out that an early morning while most people are in church is the perfect time for unpopulated curvy roads. As I accelerated through turns the 12C barely yawned at my attempts to push it. This is largely due to the ingenious engineering at McLaren headquarters because every single wheel on the 12C has its own computer and each are completely independent of one another. For example, if the driver side tire hits a bump or some loose rocks, the other three won’t even know and will remain firmly planted on the ground. The chassis is also made mostly out of carbon fiber composite which means the car is rigid and can absorb a lot of pain. That type of precision allows an average driver like me to get away with some pretty above-average driving.
Now my last few takeaways are for those, like me, who are driving a McLaren 12C Spider for the first time. The brakes are stiff. A slight tap when they’re cold will halt the car enough to upset your passenger so you’ll have to develop a feel for them. The next is that the revs stay pretty high. In a normal car the automatic transmission adjusts for this but, since this is a supercar that wants to go fast, I found that lifting my foot off of the accelerator would jerk the car if I was still in a lower gear. And finally, roll down the rear window. During the end of my test drive I pulled over to put the top up but also remembered to roll the rear window down. This resonates all of that glorious engine sound into the cabin and makes you feel more connected with the car.
After one last mind-numbing pull in the 12C it was sadly time to return it home. As I slowed down to enter the garage, we were greeted by the owner’s son who was eagerly awaiting his turn for a ride. Their plan was to go pick up some late morning coffee which started me thinking on what these supercars were really all about. Of course they bring happiness to those who own them, but what does that mean if it sits in a garage and is not shared with others? Think of the last time you saw a Ferrari driving down the street and you rushed to get your phone out, or when you were at a car show and the owner let you sit in their Lamborghini, or even that time when you were young and your friend’s dad took you out for a spin in his Corvette. All of these instances either turned you into a car person or reinforced why the owners were car people in the first place. Hell, even sometimes, if you work hard enough, they might even let you drive your dream car around on a gorgeous Sunday morning.