McLaren MP4-12C

It scorches to 62mph in 3.3 seconds – but it's its sweet nature that beats those Italian fireworks

Patriotism isn't a fashionable attribute.

I'm not given to it myself, thinking it better that judgements are made on objective merit, but a frisson of national pride is allowable if the object is deserving. It's the icing on the cake.

If, for example, Ferrari's wonderful 458 is better as a machine for driving entertainment and aesthetic appreciation than the new McLaren MP4-12C that is the subject of this test, then we should not be afraid to say so. But if it is not, then the McLaren's superiority can be enjoyed all the more for the fact that it is British-designed and British-made.

This McLaren-versus-Ferrari comparison is the hottest discussion of the moment among those of a petrolhead tendency. The two organisations have been locked in Formula One battle for many years, with national stereotypes – Ferrari the hot-blooded Italians with Machiavellian tendencies, McLaren the clean, clinical, order-obsessed managers of machines and men – often getting in the way of sensible analysis.

So it is intriguing that McLaren has introduced a road car to rival a Ferrari. In these cars are all the same attributes that mark the racing teams. The Ferrari is notable for its aluminium chassis and body construction and a V8 engine of such voice that it seems almost to be a living thing; it has no turbochargers, which partly explains its vocals and its responsiveness.

The wonderful and hugely costly McLaren F1 of a decade and a half ago, the company's only other proper road car, with just 106 built, had a similarly explosive engine demeanour. But this time the approach is different. The MP4-12C, which will soon be made in its thousands and costs £168,500, uses a pair of turbochargers for its 3.8-litre V8 engine.

At 600bhp, the McLaren's output is extraordinary. Even better, its torque, or pulling power, stays high from 3,000rpm right up to 7,000. The mid-mounted engine's efforts are directed to the rear wheels via a seven-speed, double-clutch sequential gearbox, an Italian Graziano unit. The engine, though, is a British creation by McLaren itself and prolific engineering consultant Ricardo. The McLaren will scorch to 62mph in a startling 3.3 seconds, to twice that speed in 9.1 and on to 205mph. A stop from 62mph needs just 100ft. Yet the MP4-12C is not ferociously thirsty: it scored 24.2mpg on the official "combined" test cycle.

There is drama to a McLaren drive even before you thread your way into the driving seat. You wipe your hand rearwards under the door's top ledge and the door is released to swing upwards, forwards and outwards. Once inside, you have a panoramic forward view and a surprising sense of airiness behind. The driving position is perfect.

The engine fires with a deep but quite muted grumble; two rotary knobs select Normal, Sport and Track modes separately for suspension and engine/ transmission, and in Track the engine note suddenly becomes guttural, sharp-edged, almost explosive, especially when you hit the high revs. The aural explosion matches the physical one: the McLaren is almost savage in its acceleration, but sweetness itself if you are able only to amble in traffic.

This sweetness applies also to the amazing way it mops up bumps in Normal. Even in Track the suspension seldom jars even while it endows the MP4-12C with extraordinary grip and the sort of easy, friendly balance that makes anyone feel a driving hero. You can play with the two mode knobs in myriad combinations, all enacting subtly different facets of a personality that starts off a little hidden but soon emerges as one of deep completeness. This is what ultimately makes the McLaren a better long-term companion than the Ferrari, fabulous producer of emotive fireworks as the Italian car is.

"Ask a little boy now what he'll want when he's grown up, and he won't say a McLaren," says marketing director Greg Levine, "but in a few years' time he will. That's my dream." It's set fair to come true, I would say.

The Rivals

Ferrari 458 Italia: £173,132, 570bhp, 307g/km

Benchmark supercar thrills from the second you start the engine, and is deliciously responsive in every way. Relaxation is not an option, however.

Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG: £168,345, 570bhp, 308g/km

Front-mounted 6.2-litre V8 engine, gullwing doors like the classic 300SL of the 1950s, savage soundtrack, huge entertainment but slow gearshift.

Porsche 911 Turbo S: £125,865, 530bhp, 275g/km

The "sensible" choice, expensive for a 911 but not next to these rivals. Hugely rapid, and four-wheel drive counteracts pendulous effect of rear engine.

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

    £60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

    Law Costs

    Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

    Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

    £28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

    C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

    Day In a Page

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
    She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

    Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

    The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
    American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

    Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

    James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
    Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

    Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

    Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution