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RIDE CHECK - MCLAREN MP4-12C - IS DIGITAL THE NEW ANALOG?

By now most of you have read countless articles about the new McLaren MP4-12C, the brand’s first ever mass production model (if you can call 1000 units per year mass production). Also, by now, most of you have heard the debate about the cars performance characteristics. Mainly a prevailing gripe that the car is too good, too smooth, not enough aural feedback to really compete with the likes of Ferrari or Lamborghini. Well to some extent, some of those reactions are true... kind of. This is our second go in the McLaren MP4-12C, as we had the privilege to be one of the first to drive the car last year, once McLaren Newport Beach received their first demo cars. Nick Jones, a long time friend and participant of Targa Trophy events, gave us a call to come check out and drive the new MP4-12C, as he was eager for us to spread the gospel. Upon that first drive (a lengthy tour of OC), the first impressions were mixed. The cars looks, minimal interior, funky entry access, quiet engine note and extremely super smooth transmission lead us to believe we were driving more of a 997 Turbo alternative than an Italian Supercar competitor. Needless to say, we left that first test a bit indifferent towards the new McLaren. Enter some time later, as the opportunity arose again via McLaren Newport Beach for a test of the MP4-12C to really see what this car is all about with an extended time frame for us to enjoy. Normally, our tests are set for a 24hr. timeline so we can get a real feel for the machinery at hand. This time though, as demo’s at McLaren (at the time) were scarce, we had a full day to do what we needed to do for the purposes of this test. Our main agenda was to give us another shot at really getting a solid perspective on what the MP4-12C is all about. With that in mind, we set out on a full days itinerary of work and event recon with the MP4-12C, just to give ourselves the best possible vantage point of what it would be like to experience this car in a daily driver type situation. We set out on the days journey and proceeded to conduct our first order of business - some extensive freeway driving around OC. Now, we are sure this doesn’t sound special under normal circumstances, but in the MP4-12C, this was exactly the point - as we wanted to extract what mundane driving would be like in a car of the MP4-12C’s stature. This is the first area where you realize, today’s supercars or exotic cars or whatever you want to call them, are very much at home in a daily driver type setting. The McLaren, maybe more so than any supercar we have driven, has the subtle characteristics dialed in to make it extremely livable. Things such as superb interior ergonomics and an exhaust note that does not overwhelm the car, makes important things such as being able to hold a conversation on your cell phone, or comfortably cruising at 75mph, or running in stop and go traffic, absolutely no problem. As the day progressed, our next stop was at one of Orange County’s most progressive tuning shops, BBi Autosport. The crew at BBi Autosport specializes in Porsche related tuning, but also has extensive experience with all makes of exotics and specialty sports cars from Ferrari to Subaru. Probably one of the best aspects of BBi is their fabrication capabilities that has allowed them to set new boundaries in performance parts from exhausts to unique engine internal bits to cosmetic features such as wheels and body kits. The visit at BBi was for many reasons and since we were driving the McLaren, the boys at the shop were eager to take a look under the bonnet. BBi has been thinking about the McLaren recently as they are chomping at the bit to develop their own go fast bits for the MP4-12C. Right off the bat, exhaust and upgraded turbos are top of mind when it comes to some of the details that could be expanded upon on this already factory dialed in car. The guys at BBi also made very clear, they feel like the McLaren, out of the box, is already set up better than most supercars, so the urge to modify the MP4-12C will probably be reserved for those that just can’t settle for stock, even when stock is above the norm. One of the amazing features of the MP4-12C is the astonishing attention to detail and build quality for a first time production car. Fit and finish is very nice and the ergonomics of the car are way above average. From the minimalist interior/gauges, to the techno-fabric seats, and overall ease-of-use of the car, it’s clear to see McLaren is ready to compete with the big dogs of the luxury sports car segment. The biggest flaw found on our end is the completely dysfunctional entry process to open the doors of the MP4-12C. With no door handles or hidden levers to pull, the slide your hand under air duct opening procedure takes some getting used to and is ultimately just a hassle. Other than that, the McLaren delivers a true bespoke feel overall. After some lengthy discussion about the car and other projects at BBi, it was time to split and carry on with our agenda for the day. We made our way over to the Main Street area of Huntington Beach where we set off on a coastal run to check the surf and make our way back into Newport Beach. The roll through Main Street definitely produced some rubbernecking as you would expect from people when they see and hear a car like the MP4-12C. As we started our PCH run, we quickly realized the MP4-12C is on another level from the current crop of supercars. Traffic was light on PCH and the opportunity to test the cars acceleration was definitely put to the test. Off the line, the McLaren is at the top of the charts when it comes to 0-60 speed runs. Acceleration is savage and leads us to believe this is definitely one of the quickest cars on the market today (as demonstrated by many of the leading press outlets that have tested performance figures of the car). When talking overall performance, the MP4-12C elevates the game with a package that leaves the comparable competition looking for answers and reminds the driver why this car is a McLaren. With unique features such as the Veyronesque air brake (deployed above speeds of 80mph), pre-cog dual clutch transmission and no evidence of turbo lag (or turbo feel) coming from the small displacement V8, there really isn't another car on the market today that gives this dialed in of a feeling... so good, it's almost digital. Another factor inducing a digital feel is the MP4's hydraulic suspension system. This unique suspension set up inhibits body roll and gives the driver a sensation of a smaller, lighter car while inducing cornering confidence at speeds not normally associated with high horsepower supercar machinery. This ultimately is a good thing and ups the fun factor in a car where a conventional suspension set up would make for a less confidence inspiring feel. Combine this with the MP4's equally advanced stability control system, you now have a car that can truly bring the inner Hamilton out at any moment and not have to worry about stuffing the car into your local ditch. After our flogging of the MP4-12C, here is our verdict. In a world where everyone is looking for an edge, the McLaren MP4-12C delivers the tools needed to give any driver of any skill level the means to feel like a seasoned pro. This is where the lines of digital versus analog blur... because purists will have an aversion to the digital aids and gimmicks the MP4-12C delivers while weekend warriors will revel in the ability to drive a car, that on paper is too much to handle, very fast. At the end of the day, drivers of both entry and advanced skill levels will admire the performance capabilities the MP4-12C exudes, and to really get the full experience out of this car, skill is needed and respect is required or trouble can still be found. That is why, when we ask the question, is digital the new analog? In the case of the McLaren MP4-12C, yes it is... and we are perfectly fine with that.

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