Being a child of the 1970s, I grew up on a healthy doses of science fiction with films and TV shows like Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Transformers, The Jetsons, Robotech and Blade Runner, each helping to form my geeky ideas about futurism. This was further imprinted into my adolescent mind by cyberpunk authors like William Gibson, Bruce Sterling and Neal Stephenson and the explosion of Japanese Manga in the west with films like Akira, Ghost in the Shell and Appleseed. The Force was my religion, Electro my soundtrack and Pixels my artform.
I was primed for a future of floating cities, meals-in-a-pill, teleportation, digital matter and most importantly: Space Ships. Hell, if Darth Vader or the odd Cylon Warrior made the occasional appearance I wouldn’t have complained.
So what happened to the future? It seems like somewhere along the line, our lives have definitely not been transformed to resemble an episode of Star Trek, and I for one am slightly disappointed.
While I am still somewhat impressed with my iPhone, I have to say, that much of the science fiction future we were promised has rather failed to materialize.
Until now that is.
I have just experienced the future.
I’m talking about a major paradigm shift. It will challenge almost every preconceived notion you have about the automotive man/machine interface.
Presenting, the McLaren MP4-12C, a ground-up refresh on what we consider to be a performance car. It has restored my faith in the notion that technology itself can transform and inspire.
But before I dive any deeper into my review of this engineering marvel, I want to tell you about a new series of stories that the Speedhunters team is just starting to develop called, “Dream Drives.”
The Speedhunters team has driven on many an iconic road since the inception of the project in 2008.
We’ve also driven many exciting cars in this time too.
But rarely have we put these two items together and produced high-end photo shoots which showcase all the world’s amazing drive experiences.
So with this article, we are kicking off this new series by marrying an exclusive machine: the McLaren MP4-12C, with the magnificent Pacific Coast Highway.
We start the drive at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Long Beach, California…
… cruise up past Santa Monica and Malibu…
… before finishing off our drive at Point Mugu, about 75 miles from our original start point.
We’ll also go behind the scenes of our feature photo shoot with our new Features Editor, Sean Klingelhoefer. Let’s get started!
Our story with the MP4-12C began a couple of weeks back, a few days before the kick-off of the Formula D Long Beach event. Sean Klingelhoefer and I jumped into my appliance-car-rental-transportation-device and headed down to McLaren’s Newport Beach showroom.
Looking around the dealership, you’re aware of just how proud McLaren is of their Formula One racing heritage. This is not your average car company.
Five decades in F1 has slowly formed the DNA of the company into the engineering tour-de-force it is today. McLaren is more than a car company, to me, it feels like a philosophy. A convergence of pure engineering, design and aesthetics which has created some of the world’s fastest, most technologically advanced machines.
And now, McLaren is expanding their horizons from F1 to road cars with a major play into the performance car market.
Between the road and the track, the ethos of engineering remains the same, as does the commitment to excellence and the attention to detail. If Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton get to drive the world’s most advanced race cars, then a few more exclusive customers can get their hands on one of the world’s most developed road-going machines.
I get the feeling that McLaren sees no difference in approach between these two disciplines.
As if to illustrate the point, this MP4-1, 1981 Formula One race car sits on display on the dealership floor. This was the world’s first Carbon Fiber chassis race car… ever. Race car construction has not been the same since.
Sitting beside the MP4-1 is a bare MP4-12C chassis mockup. It illustrates, very nicely, the carbon fiber Monocell construction which lies at the center of the each MP4-12C. It weighs only 75kgs, which is incredible if you consider that it relieves the bodywork of any structural function and has zero flex under load. Let me repeat that: Zero Flex.
All components then bolt directly to the Monocell…
… including front and rear deformable aluminium sub-frames.
Without geeking-out too much, the one area which has me really hot-under-the-collar is the Proactive Chassis Control system or PCC for short. Like much of the car, it’s a major shift in thinking, as this new suspension system offers both exceptional ride AND incredible handling. It does away with the premise that a well-handling car has to have terrible ride, or a car with good ride has to have soft, mushy suspension and maximum body roll.
Consider this: the McLaren MP4-12C has no anti-sway bars. Instead, it links together the four dampers to an adaptive, variable system which responds in real time to all four suspension inputs. This allows the car to handle the heaving and pitching conditions you’ll find on a bumpy, LA Freeway independently of the body roll forces which happen during performance cornering. The system itself detects what the body and wheels are doing and responds accordingly via a pressurized hydraulic system.
It’s genius stuff and results in a car that redefines what car enthusiasts should expect from car ride and handling. No longer should spine-jarring rock solid suspension be required for performance cars. Paradigm shift.
Here’s a shot of McLaren’s M838T 3.8 Liter twin turbo v8 engine. Unlike McLaren’s first road car, which used a BMW sourced V12 engine, this is a bespoke design and has been packaged to be as efficient, light and compact as possible. It tips the scales at a featherweight 198kgs, if you can believe that. A dry sump set-up means it sits as low as possible in the chassis, ensuring a low center of gravity.
Interestingly, the intake plenum is connected to the cockpit with variable valve, which controls the type and quality of the engine sound reaching the driver depending on what mode the car is set in. Put the car in Sport mode, and you’ll be treated to a spine-tingling symphony of engine note, but select the Normal setting, and the sound will recede further into the background.
It’s a philosophy you’ll see throughout the car, as I get the feeling that McLaren want you to enjoy it in any condition, whether it’s tooling around a city center, or hitting your local track day. It’s like the ultimate piece of clothing, always perfectly functional, but able to fulfill a whole myriad of tasks: from the formal to the athletic.
Finally, I want to show you a snap of the car’s seven-speed, seamless shift gearbox. This is straight Formula One tech applied to a road car.
Compact packaging keeps the weight centered as close to the middle of the car as possible, to keep the chassis dynamics responsive. In race car talk, this is called “Low Polar Moment.” As with the rest of the car’s components, weight has been kept to a minimum. Are you sensing a theme here?
Before McLaren would hand me the keys to the MP4-12C, I had to do an orientation session with one of their brand representatives. An appointment was booked with Pietro Frigerio from McLaren Newport Beach, who kindly took the time to explain all the technology and engineering which goes in to the MP4-12C. He also showed us McLaren’s colour and trim swatch system, which I thought was extremely cool.
Basically you can piece together the colours for your car – exterior, interior trim, interior details, stitching – and match them up to an interior fabric of your choice.
The combinations are endless. I think I’d choose white to go with my iPod styled existence.
Next up, it was time for my cockpit orientation… with so many functions on offer, this took a while. I’m a fairly quick learner when it comes to interfaces though, so I was confident I could handle the car with no problems.
The next day a press car was dropped off and put into position in the Formula D paddock.
The response to the McLaren was predictably immediate.
A constant hive of photo-taking surrounded the car…
… I hung back with my 400mm camera lens and watched the proceedings.
Of course there was drifting to shoot.
But as the Formula D finals came to a climax, my thoughts were only on that orange super-car sitting in the Long Beach paddock.
Soon I would be starting it up and taking it around the corner to my hotel.
We had an early start in the morning for the PCH dream drive, so I would be the caretaker of the car for the evening.
Sliding into the car, I took stock of the high-rez display screens. Spaceship? Yes.
It felt like a machine from 100 years in the future.
One thing that always strikes me about high-end cars is their tactile quality. Every surface your hands touch has been crafted from the best materials on offer.
McLaren is very clear that the MP4-12C was designed from a completely clean sheet of paper. And at the center of this design is the human body.
This is particularly evident as soon as you attempt to operate the car. I instantly felt in the center, all controls within easy reach. Supercars are normally fairly intimidating machines to drive, but not so with the McLaren. It invites you in, and instantly makes you feel like the King. McLaren uses the slogan “Focused Driver Zone” to describe the cockpit – I couldn’t agree more.
For those of you who think that Supercars should be temperamental, ill-mannered machines, think again.
I also need to quickly mention the interface design of the portrait-oriented touch interface screen.
It appears that McLaren has deliberately decided to make the driver feel like the MP4-12C has more in common with the Starship Enterprise than your average auto appliance. This interface is straight out of a science fiction film. It feels high tech, stark and deliberately digital. I’m sure there must be a hidden code to make the whole machine glow like a Tron light-cycle.
And that was that… I parked up at the Hyatt…
… but not wanting to leave the keys with the valet (yes the responsibility of having a press car like this makes you paranoid), I opted to put the car in the overnight garage… Double parked of course.
I’ll be back soon to detail out the actual drive up the PCH and the resulting Speedhunters photoshoot.