DRIVEN: MCLAREN MP4-12C
Wonder no more... PH proudly presents our first review/road test of the awesome new McLaren
Is it a fair word to choose, considering how mind-alteringly good the MP4-12C is at just about everything it does? It depends entirely on your own personal expectations - both of what a car like the 12C should be like, and on what the word itself actually means.
One, at £168,500 it is cheaper - just - than its arch rival, the Ferrari 458 Italia.
Two, with 592bhp and 442lb ft courtesy of its 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 engine (and weighing at least 50kg less than a 458) it's also faster than its nemesis from Maranello. Quite a lot faster, truth be told.
Three, beneath its slightly beige looking yet classically styled mid-engined supercar exterior, it's one of the most technically advanced road cars the world has ever seen.
The problem with creating a car that's so obviously aimed at the very best - yet which is a first-time effort from a brand new company, remember - is that unless you succeed on every level, you run the severe danger of being accused of failure; of not delivering on the promise. Yet at the same time there can be no greater motivation in life than knowing precisely what you have to beat, and that's primarily why the 12C is what it is; and, more to the point, is as good as it is.
The result is a car with a genuinely radical (you could even describe it as clinical) suspension system that uses active dampers and hydraulics to provide its roll control. It also has an open differential, using instead a Brake Steer system to aid traction, similar to the one developed (and subsequently banned) during the Coulthard/Hakkinen years in Formula One.
On top of this it has an active air brake that deploys only when the car's matrix of sensors realises that A Very Big Stop is required. And then there's a whole host of conventionally complex technology to help the 12C along its journey to greatness; such as a seven-speed dual clutch gearbox, featuring what McLaren describes as a Pre-Cog selector mechanism that shifts ratios faster and more smoothly than any normal human could possibly believe. Plus traction control, ESC, launch control, ABD - you name it, the 12C has it.
In practice there is effectively no roll when cornering, instead the car just turns in and heads for whatever apex you to aim it at. And then sticks. McLaren claims the hydraulically controlled, actively damped 12C generates up to 25 per cent more grip mid-corner than most conventionally suspended competitors. From the way it felt so nailed through any corner, and seemingly at any speed, around the Portimao circuit in southern Portugal where the Prototype Production launch was held recently, only a true cynic would accuse the engineers of hyberbole.
But what's most amazing of all, perhaps, is how far this car moves the game on in each and every dynamic area, seemingly without compromise, and in a market that's already bursting with extremely good cars. Its straight line performance is borderline ludicrous, the twin turbo V8 producing a constant wave of torque, even from as little as 1500rpm, that fires the 12C towards the horizon with more energy than you'll find in any rival, including the 458 Italia.
The gearbox, too, is phenomenally effective in the speed and precision with which it changes gear. As with the active suspension you can pick from a range of three different performance modes (Normal, Sport and Track), each one more aggressive than the next. Yet even in Track mode the shifts are smooth, the throttle response fast but not neurotically so.
The same thing applies to the suspension. Even in Sport the 12C rides better, much better, on rough roads than any rival in its most comfortable setting. And around a circuit, in any mode but especially in Track, it will remove the trousers and thoroughly spank any obvious rival it might encounter within the first few corners.
Never before has such a vast range of capabilities been available under just one roof. Never before has such monumental performance been so readily accessible to so many. And the real killer blow is that while the 12C can be driven rapidly and enjoyed by any driver, at almost any skill level, it also has secrets up its sleeve that only the true expert will want to unleash. That's where the variable active suspension settings come into their own.
For the rest of us the MP4-12C is no more, and certainly no less, than the most capable supercar on the planet right now. Better than a 458? No, just different. And a whole lot faster. Everywhere.