Sunday, 9 November 2014

McLaren MP4-12C Spider is taken out for one last hurrah…

McLaren MP4-12C Spider
Engine: 3799cc, 8-cylinder V engine, 32v, DOHC, VVT, twin turbo, 616bhp @ 7500rpm, 600Nm @ 3000-7000rpm 
Transmission: 7-speed Seamless Shift dual-clutch Gearbox (SSG), rear-wheel drive
Performance3.3secs 0-100kph, 9.2secs 0-200kph, 329kph, 11.7l/100km, 279g/km CO2

McLaren has ceased production of the 12C. But before it gets driven into the sunset, we see what the fuss is all about

Days like these are always special. Just the notion of driving cars that cost well over a million always bring with it a level of pre-charged adrenaline. The car of the day is the McLaren MP4-12C Spider, not the latest and brightest of McLarens but it deserves a cave-wall drawing for future generations to wow over. Prior to this, the only other production car McLaren has pushed out of Woking is the venerable McLaren F1; road car and not the Formula One car, obviously.

Very soon, you won’t be able to buy the 12C new. McLaren has ceased production of the 12C and the test car is just one of the very few that remains unsold in Malaysia. The sale-torch has been passed on to the 650S, which was launched a few moons ago. So, with its rarity now at an all-time high, needless to say, I was quite beside myself when I was given the chance to take it out for a drive.

And what a drive it will be. In my head, I conducted a series of assaults on the twisted B-roads with equally courageous explorations of the accelerator pedal; braking only when I absolutely had to. Yes, the drive will be nothing short of epic even if I will only have the keys for less than half a day. Except…

The big day starts with me sitting shotgun in the 12C Spider for reasons I do not wish to elaborate for it is frivolous and not worthy of mention. It is just one more thing dumped into an bursting mailbox of really bad juju that seem to always find me in August. Every year, the same month, my stars go out of alignment. I won’t elaborate further. I am well-irritated, kicking myself repeatedly, while envying my chaperone for the day whom is behind the wheel – you didn’t think McLaren would release the 12C to me without supervision, did you? Soon, I tell myself, my rear will get snugged in the hot seat.

Thomp-thomp! The wheels of the 12C just crashed in and leapt out of what could possibly be a deep pothole. But before the horrible sound emanating in the cabin can sufficiently die out – fhwomp! – the supercar gloriously sails across a large speed bump. This time, the ensuing sound is a horrible crunch and I am convinced that something had just come loose; just as how a budget compact car would sound. Since this car isn’t a budget compact, I wonder if some pampering is needed to ride on these roads.

Turns out, no pampering is needed. In spite of the horrific noise, I feel almost nothing. The chassis is barely bothered by the poor excuse of a well-tarred road. The noise, as I am told, is amplified because of the hollowed out aluminium extrusions and castings that is bolted to the all carbon MonoCell and composite body panels. The sound waves bounces around inside and makes the noise more dramatic than it really is. The ProActive Chassis Control would have dissipated the impact forces into the atmosphere, making the ride luxuriously supple. I can already imagine the McLaren being used for the daily commute – it is that comfortable. The chassis’ talents are not just limited to the supple ride, mind you. There’s so much more layers to peel off.

Finally, I cross the threshold of the MonoCell and slip into my destined seat for the rest of the day. Doors closed and I feel like I am in a capsule cockpit that won’t look out of place in a science fiction movie. I take in the scenery. It’s like a savannah; acres of flat leather-wrapped land punctuated by three turbine-inspired air conditioning vents and a mound of perforated leather that drapes the large RPM dial flanked by two small coloured LCD screens. Important information like how much fuel you have left and how far you’ve travelled is televised here.

Even the centre stack only houses a large, vertically mounted touch-screen LCD, fancily named IRIS. Below that are switches that dial in the different powertrain and suspension modes, and the all-important button to bring the new settings to life. Normal, Sport and Track – or N, S, T – are my only choices. Simple, yet enough to tell me what I would be getting myself into.

I ease the 12C onto the highway; sailing over all manner of road conditions. Quickly, I decide that it is futile to see anything meaningful out of the rear windscreen other than the two buttresses that take up about 75 per cent of the tiny rear window. Rearward viewing is solely dependent on the large and very far out wing mirrors. Yet, it is through that remaining 25 per cent of the rear window that I spy drivers whipping out their phone-cameras for a quick shot of the 12C. 

I do understand the need for picture taking because: 1. the 12C is rare, and 2. the McLaren does cut a rather sharp shape, better with the hard top stowed away but I’m not going to get sunburnt on account of style. The thin front splitters, wide bonnet, narrow and low A-pillars that sling to the rear in one swift line, and the striking side intake pods all conjure elements of a reptile’s head. 

However, while the design is provocative, it isn’t as evocative as I’d thought it would be. There are no breathtaking elements that lead to a climatic visual drama apart from the said intake pods and high exhaust pipes. Italian supercars cut the eye better. McLaren not only admits the plain design but also boasts that what you see is shaped by the wind and governed by engineering; no add-ons simply for the sake of styling. I wonder if there is an elegant mathematical formula that explains the 12C’s shape. Or some quantum physics theory that explains how this car can seemingly bend time and space.

Perhaps there is a specific science applied that gives the tyres its own gravity well because the grip is phenomenal. Hitting speeds of over 200kph simply heightens the stability of the 12C and you’ll run out of straight road before reaching the Vmax of 329kph. 

The engine behind me is a potent twin turbo-charged 3799cc V8 engine that hits maximum horsepower at 7500rpm and has a wide maximum torque range between 3000 and 7000rpm. By then, 616bhp and 600Nm of torque would have been translated to teary-eyed excitement and wide-eyed terror. 3.3 seconds to get to 100kph, or 3.1 seconds with the Corsa tyres fitted. More than capable, then, of conquering the task of scaling up everyone’s favourite mountain pass.

Time to make real what I imagined earlier. Expeditions of the right foot on the throttle let speed gather in a very controlled and calculative manner, and sensitive to a fault. You could be gentle and let it accumulate momentum or be heavy-footed and smack the throttle down with full force. Either way, the engine doesn’t bark whenever you kick down a cog nor howl whenever you accelerate. Also, the rear won’t break traction just for smokes; it is all prim and proper, and very polite. 

But go fast is what the 12C Spider excels at. Going from double to triple digits takes less time than blinking your eyes, although you don’t want to. A corner charges into view and I hit the brakes, hard. Coming down from speeds close to 200kph is a white-knuckle experience; a peek at the rear view mirror shows the air brake is fully deployed. The rear wing is now angled vertically to create a parachute effect as well as harvest massive downforce to stabilise the rear under braking. The brakes must be glowing red hot by now. 

I am told that the way the rear wing works is part of the Technology Upgrade. Current 12C owners with active manufacturer’s warranty can opt to upgrade free of charge. But it is just not under hard braking, the Active Aero now works with increased frequency whenever it senses the car needs more stability. If this sounds familiar, this technology is pulled directly from Formula One.

Back on the throttle and up the technical sections of the road. Just as quick, the rear wing drops letting air flow through uninterrupted. Once more, speed is being amassed just as quick as the fast approaching dark omen of a rain cloud.

As if on cue, water starts splattering on the windscreen; the universe decides that August should bring me more grief. The weather turned sour before becoming very wet. The roads are now polluted with dihydrogen monoxide although that did not deter the 12C Spider one bit. But should I slow down? Maybe not.

Confidence surges through the steering, the front cars slow down, and I switch lanes at an instant and gun the engine. Somewhere at the back of my neck, tiny hairs stand. This is good; very good indeed.

In this wetness, it is fear and amazement all wrapped into one explosive emotion. To be honest, I am afraid, yet there is a huge part of me that wants to explore the edges of this massive wet grip. Instincts take over and I work with the car to track a series of corners at speeds that I normally don’t find myself in, much less in the wet. I do wish the conditions are dryer.

I get what the McLaren is all about. Woking didn’t set out to create Britain’s version of the Ferrari or Lamborghini. There isn’t logic, or money, in copying an Italian. Instead, the 12C brings its own interpretation on what a supercar should be and in that sense, the 12C has managed to carve out its own notch in the history books in a very British, very special way.

The weather didn’t let up and instead envelope the road with a heavy blanket of fog. No chance to take photographs at this point in time, a reschedule must take place. In any case, it is time to dive back in… yes; the day is turning out just as planned.

- Source: Astro Publication

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