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Up to speed

autos Updated: Nov 04, 2009 19:15 IST

The all-new MP4-12C mid-engined supercar, set for a 2011 launch, is the third high-performance road car to carry the badge of the world’s most successful grand prix constructor. But it’s the first made entirely from McLaren components.

The company intends to price the car between £125,000-£175,000 (Rs 1-1.4 crore), against rivals like the forthcoming Ferrari 458, the Lamborghini Gallardo and Aston Martin DB9. McLaren managing director Antony Sheriff says the MP4-12C — codenamed P11 — will bring new standards for high specific power and low CO2 emissions to its class. Apart from having explosive performance, the 12C will be the only contender with a carbonfibre chassis.

Design and engineering
The MP4-12C is a classy car with logical proportions and a near-perfect stance, but it’s far less spectacular than some rivals. That’s the whole idea, says the former design director of Ferrari, Frank Stephenson. He says in-your-face supercar styling can be “wearing and boorish” and risks becoming dated. “Great design looks relevant years later. The McLaren F1 is a great example,” he says. However, Stephenson and his team have resisted building any F1 family resemblance into the 12C. Instead, they’ve used the McLaren badge in the radiator air scoops and headlight surrounds.

The car is lower, shorter and narrower than all of its rivals, which makes it feel agile on the road and cuts its frontal area. The front wings are shaped so their highest point is exactly above the contact patches of the front tyres, allowing the driver to place the car accurately on the road. The forward screen pillars provide aerodynamic efficiency and good visibility, and both rear and rear three-quarter vision are much better than you might expect on a car so focussed on performance. The twin exhausts run straight out through the rear body to save space and weight. Even the standard brakes — steel discs with forged alloy hubs — weigh around 8 kg less than a 12C equipped with the optional carbon-ceramic discs.

Chassis and suspension
The MP4-12C’s chassis is special — the ‘Monocell’ is a hollow one-piece affair built using a new process that’s taken five years to develop. McLaren believes the Monocell process could revolutionise car design by finding its way into more mainstream cars. A 12C chassis can now be built in just four hours at less than a tenth of the cost of the McLaren F1’s chassis in 1993. It weighs just 80 kg but provides most of the car’s class-beating rigidity.

The 12C has electro-hydraulic rack and pinion steering and a double wishbone/coil spring suspension at both ends. To that, McLaren adds something it pioneered in its F1 cars: brake steer, which applies the inside rear brake as the car corners to aid turning. The new McLaren also has a unique rear deck-mounted airbrake that can deploy much faster than usual to improve stability under braking.

However, the big suspension story is the 12C’s pioneering use of electronic interconnection of all four adjustable dampers. This has allowed the engineers to ditch conventional mechanical anti-roll bars and create “a unique relationship between ride and handling”. When the car’s various wheel and motion sensors detect cornering, they increase cross-car damper rates to keep it nearly flat. But when it is travelling in a straight line they adopt more supple rates to provide something close to an executive saloon’s ride quality.

Engine
It’s a British-built, 90-degree V8 of 3.8 litres, rigid and compact in design with double variable valve timing, and is force fed by twin turbochargers. Power is a class-beating 600 bhp and the rev limit is 8500 rpm, yet the motor also produces around 61 kgm of torque. The gearbox is a seven-speed Graziano twin-clutch, twin-pedal affair.

Interiors
The cabin feels snug, but there’s a surprising amount of space for small objects. There are no wheel-mounted switches — they are all grouped on stalks, or logically on the centre console — and the instrument pod consists of a solitary round tacho dial with a digital readout for speed and wings on either side that provide lesser information. Serious drivers will like this cabin. The seats are firm and comfortable, and
the dihedral doors slope up and away from the kerb as they open.

The 12C’s creators are determined to make this car capable of everyday use.