McLaren 12C MSO special: Review

Think you know about the McLaren 12C? The supposedly cold and clinical Woking foil to Maranello's more straightforward and easy to understand 458 Italia, the 12C didn't have the easiest of arrivals into the world.

Or you could stick with the more restrained look
Or you could stick with the more restrained look
But 3,000 of the things have been built so far on the McLaren Technology Centre's immaculate production line, well received MY13 upgrades including an engine tickle to boost the twin-turbo V8 to 625hp and a host of other detail improvements have been added to both new and (at no cost) existing 12Cs and the car is maturing nicely.

Well, it was until it got shipped down the road to McLaren Special Operations, gained a coat of 'Papaya Spark' paint, over £100K's worth of carbon and titanium fripperies and was sent out into the world to prove McLaren can do lairy as well as it can clinical.

Look at me
Maybe it's the increased familiarity of the 12C since we last had one in. Or maybe it's just the searing hue of said special paintwork. But if previous reaction to the McLaren was intrigue, curiosity and 'nice ... what is it?' the 12C is now a bona fide and recognised local hero.

£11K for 'scream if you want to go faster' pack
£11K for 'scream if you want to go faster' pack
And all it took was a coat of bright orange paint!

If the classy Volcano Red of the last 12C in PH's custody was as close to subtle as you can get in a £200K supercar this one is a proper event car. Drive along a busy high street and a Mexican wave of points, stares and fumbled smartphone snapping follows in your wake. On the motorway seemingly every adjacent car contains a grinning occupant giving a hearty thumbs up and those dihedral doors draw gasps of amazement whenever you pull up.

Which is the least you'd hope for, given the price of some of the additions. There's a full breakdown below, some seemingly deliberately provocative and the very definition of 'silly money'. Over two grand for carbon extensions to the shifter paddles? £495 for a titanium oil filler cap? Daft, yes. And you could say the same of many of the bits on the list too. But these are the kind of fetishised detail supercars do so well and the point of McLaren Special Operations is to offer everything from contrast stitching to a custom-bodied one-off like the X1.

Too straight-laced you say? Not any more
Too straight-laced you say? Not any more
'We're not the style police'
"It's not necessarily to our tastes," admits our MSO contact of the additions to this car while saying it does demonstrate just a small part of what can be done. One client, owner of two F1s and with a P1 on the way, has had five 12C 'High Sports' built to his own specification with additional aero including extended diffusers and other mods. His mates liked them so much he's having another five, with similar bits for his P1 too. Others, like the X1 owner, insist on their cars being true one-offs.

Now, the changes to this car don't change the driving experience as such, though it does make driving it more of an experience. If that makes sense.

The 12C remains an eminently usable supercar with great visibility and an accessible demeanour at everyday speeds. There's a Lotusness to the feel at the wheel that, hopefully, comes as a compliment to both parties - like a very well appointed and very (very) fast Exige it has the immediacy of a traditional lightweight British sports car with the punch and pedigree to mix it with the supercar elite.

Vented front wings do cool things with spray
Vented front wings do cool things with spray
Digitally enhanced
Trickle along without hitting the Active button and the 12C amazes with its relative comfort, the slurred auto shifts and undemanding nature. Only the constant attention distracts from what is a pretty relaxing drive.

This is a modern-age supercar with digitally enhanced controls but McLaren has done a good job of creating a sense of weight in the steering - more effective than the 458's fast-geared and overly light wheel - and with the new and improved Intake Sound Generator introduced on the MY13 car there's more aural drama too. It can't match the 458's naturally aspirated wail. But the whooshes and gurgles mean the turbocharged power delivery is now a feature, not support act and makes sense of the way the power builds from tractable through a building sense of anticipation to truly explosive top end. The kind that will have your passengers screaming expletives. 625hp is not shy and nor would you want the experience of deploying it to be anything but thrilling.

MSO's favourite colour? Papaya Spark, clearly
MSO's favourite colour? Papaya Spark, clearly
The easily configurable driving modes make it fun too, the Active 'hot key' instantly switching between chilled out cruising and uncorked supercar madness depending on whether you've just arrived at a 30 limit or are leaving it. On UK roads comfort chassis and Sport drivetrain seems a nice combination, though the increased compliance can (OK, did...) see that expensive nose make contact with the road surface through harsh compressions. Read it and weep? We did when we saw the price of that particular component...

Flaming war
Moving swiftly on, Chris Harris proved, conclusively, that the McLaren can do flamboyant in the right circumstances. But the company mindset pervades and the car encourages you to be neat, tidy and precise with hooligans probably better catered for by the 458's more simplistic approach. Also demonstrated by Mr H.

But it'd be boring if they were the same, right? Anyway, McLaren is on a rather different agenda to Ferrari and the 12C is the beginning and core of a whole new family of supercars, not the continuation of a long line complying to a well-tested formula.

12 has gotten a lot louder aurally and visually
12 has gotten a lot louder aurally and visually
As such the conservative base from which it started and a programme of incremental upgrades - take the second-gen Android enhanced IRIS infotainment on new cars and a £1,400 upgrade to existing ones as an example - indicates plenty of headroom in the base package for more exciting evolutions.

Whether that includes spending close to £10K on colour coded interior fittings or having your £11K roll hoop trimmed in orange Alcantara for another three grand is up to you.

: 3,799cc V8 twin-turbo
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch (SSG), rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 625@7,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 442@3,000rpm
0-62mph: 3.1 sec
Top speed: 207mph
Weight: 1,336kg (dry), 1,434kg (DIN)
MPG: 24.2mpg (NEDC combined)
CO2: 279g/km
Price: £176,000 (£288,168 as tested, see below for details)

MSO additions in detail:
MSO Papaya Spark paint - £5,999
MSO carbon front bumper - £13,507
Louvred front wings - £6,615
MSO carbon bonnet - £7,732
Carbon engine cover vents - £5,455
Carbon vented rear deck - £3,130
MSO Track Pack (seats, harnesses, roll hoop) - £11,686
Contrast stitching - £1,091
Alcantara trim for roll hoop - £2,894
Carbon wiper system cover - £4,818
'Contrast colour theme' - £8,324
MSO branded door sills - £1,223
MSO painted wheels - £3,194
Extended carbon shift paddles - £2,137
Interior switch packs/wheel trim in body colour - £6,878
Vent bezels and cluster in body colour - £2,820
Titanium oil and water filler caps - £495 each
Carbon air brake - £4,309
Carbon rear bumper vents - £4,645
Carbon sill tops - £6,713

Total options - £112,168



P.H. O'meter

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Comments (93) Join the discussion on the forum

  • GolfSupplierAU 10 Oct 2013

    Will certainly appeal to trackday enthusiasts (who are minted), but some of those options are ridiculously expensive - £2,894 for Alcantara trim for the (optional) roll hoop!?

  • suffolk009 10 Oct 2013

    I'm in the minority, but I always liked the slight (relative to the 458) understatedness of the standard 12C.

  • AdamPT 10 Oct 2013

    Great car, p*sstake options list. Didn't realise Alcantara was 'performance enhancing'

  • threespires 10 Oct 2013

    I like that.

  • Spyder5 10 Oct 2013

    Looks like there is a massive lack of imagination at "MSO", even the name "McLaren Special Operations" sounds like something a dull suit came up with.

    Give me some Italian flair anytime

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