Just over a year ago, I spent an afternoon at the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking. A few of us were shown the new MP4-12C, the temporary production line where it was being built and other areas of the building. Like you, I'd read a thousand descriptions on this technology edifice, but nothing really prepares you for just how James Bond the place actually is.
MP4-12C. It was a day I will never forget. I thought, and I still think, that I drove the future of the sports car that day.
But the past year has been tough for McLaren. It has lost pretty much every group test or twin test containing a Ferrari 458, the market for super-sportscars in Europe has slowed dramatically and there have been some teething troubles.
Has the media treated the MP4-12C too harshly? Maybe. The odd technical gremlin isn't such a problem. Even the biggest names have bad days, but perhaps what has undone the McLaren more than even the punchy rhetoric is the sheer expectation of a new supercar made by McLaren. Did the prospect of the values that built the Technology Centre being transposed onto a street car propagate unrealistic expectations?
I think they did. Flip those group test results on their head and you're left with a brand new car, from a company with zero experience in this sector, that ran the best car Ferrari has ever made very close. That is a mighty impressive result.
To live with, this is a great car. I had no mechanical or electrical issue with it in five days. It offers a broader spectrum of competence than anything else in the marketplace, and in doing so questions the very conventions of supercar-ness. It is quieter and more comfortable at a motorway cruise than any Porsche 997, the ride comfort has to be experienced to be believed - that alone gives it a huge advantage on UK roads.
The trouble with the MP4-12C, and 458 for that matter, is that they are technology showcases. To say that the McLaren doesn't involve the driver is a little disingenuous, anything so pant-damagingly fast requires the driver to be awake. Where it struggles is at lower speeds. It's a pleasant car to pootle in, but it doesn't jiggle or fizz. It's too good for that.
This isn't a 458, and I like that. The world doesn't need another 458 because the one we already have is exceptional. The MP4-12C is a subtly different car: one that many of the lucky people in the market for such a machine would find more usable and more interesting. People responded very well to the McLaren too: it isn't conventionally beautiful, but in black, on those rims, I thought it looked very special.
Enjoy the vid.