Finally, I get a go in the McLaren

McLaren MP4-12C steering wheelWell sort of. As mentioned in a previous post, I’ve recently managed to lose my last 10 years worth of no claims discount, so it was a passenger ride only 🙁

Still no matter, the experience was still viceral to say the least.

Getting in was a tad problematic. There’s no door handle. You pass your fingers over part of the bodywork and the door unlatches. Needless to say it took me 3 attempts to get the bleedin’ door open. Anyway, once esconced I was very comfortable.

Door handle? What door handle?

Then we headed out, and the suspension was tested straight away, as the car park is at the end of a cobbled street. Now, I’ve driven all sorts down that street, but honestly nothing as comfy as the MP4-12C, so it’s true what they say about their new suspension.

We took it easy through traffic and then turned on to a dual carriage way. My friend mooched through first gear and then gave it the full beans in second, whereupon the car leapt forward and we were on top of other traffic in no time. A quick dab on the brakes and we came back down to their speed very quickly. The brakes are simply awesome, although it did feel like it was on the edge of going a bit squirrelly under braking. Mclaren readily admit this is why the rear spoiler tilts up to become an air brake which also keeps the rear planted under heavy braking.

A little while later we got a bit of clear road and accelerated from 50 to over 130 mph, then round a long sweeper. Now I’ve been down this bit of road before in a Noble M12 GTO, and that time it took all of the road to touch 120 before the bend, and with no real downforce that’s as fast as we went. In the Mclaren we went round it another 15 mph faster and continued to accelerate.

All the while I was having kittens in the passenger seat and repeatedly thanking God for the significant downforce that was keeping us on the tarmac. Well it was either that or the work of the Holy Spirit because the rest of the laws of physics had gone off somewhere else for a brief holiday.

Now let me tell you I’m no stranger to fast cars. As mentioned, I’ve driven a Noble M12 GTO – great car, great handling and a bit of a legend in it’s own time. It’s no slouch, but felt totally dwarfed by the Mclaren’s performance. I’ve also had the pleasure of various machines round various tracks, such as Oulton Park, cornering at well over 1G in a car weighing 600 kgs with semi slick tyres, or power sliding a Lamborghini Gallardo in third.

At Oulton I also experienced a Nissan GTR being driven properly in anger, and was stunned by how fast that was, especially for a car of that size. I did enjoy that, but the Mclaren in comparison was so quick it was actually deeply unsettling and quite unpleasant. It was also relentless. The gear changes were so smooth they were barely noticeable, (it wasn’t in track mode or anything), only the engine revs giving the game away, but the forward force just didn’t seem to diminish at all after each change.

Cars of this nature are driven almost by thought, being close to an extension of the drivers body. Pressing the loud pedal just makes the car attain whatever speed you want almost instantaneously, whilst you wait for your vision to recalibrate itself. It’s a bit like those shots in films when the background moves with a change in field depth, or when the Millenium Falcon goes into hyperspace. It almost makes you blink.

On the way back we passed 130 mph again in about the time and space my 3.0 V6 would have hit 60, and although I was ready this time, the violence of the acceleration was still just as shocking. It was at this point that I was reminded of a couple of comparison reviews with the Ferrari 458 where several journalists said the McLaren lacked soul. This is total BS.

It’s not just about the speed, although that is a big part of driving a car like this, and I’m sure the Ferrari is very exciting too, but funnily enough, the electronics don’t get in the way of the joy like you think they would. They enable you to use more of the fantastic performance than you’d think possible without killing yourself, and without noticing their help at any stage either. To be honest, I don’t think the capabilities of this car need any further enhancement, with an overly noisy engine, or twitchy steering. The brakes wipe off speed as fast as you like and the engine does the same in reverse, and as for the cornering, it certainly feels other worldly.

The red thingy is the “hand” brake

Some journalists have said it’s a bit disconnected when cornering, but I think it’s more to do with the fact that it really shouldn’t be that smooth, and that level and that grippy. There’s no fighting the wheel when cornering at speed, which is why it doesn’t feel natural. Especially the way it just doesn’t lean at all – that feels weird, but not necessarily bad. Perhaps they’ll revise the steering at some future update, but I hope they don’t. It’s a different experience. So, if you’re lucky enough to own a machine like this, then I have to say, you’re very lucky indeed.

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