The grass seems greener. The sun brighter. Sounds crisper. Flowers smell flowery-er. I'm a man transformed. And it's all because I drove the McLaren 12C. It's on a different level than any other car I've driven, and anyone who says it's boring is an idiot with no idea what they're talking about.
(Full Disclosure: McLaren wanted me to drive the 12C Spider so bad that they invited me to a track day at Monticello Motor Club where I got to sample the car. I drove up there after work on a Tuesday and they put us up at a nearby Best Western. My room had a jacuzzi in it. I didn't use it.)
We've already reviewed the 12C at length in both coupe and convertible forms, and both sit right at the top of the Jalopnik review leaderboard. I went to drive the car because I've heard a lot from other publications and TV talking heads (Read: Top Gear) that the car is technically amazing, but also a bit boring. Could it be true that a 616 horsepower supercar is boring? I had to know.
It's been said that it doesn't have the emotional connection with the driver that is achieved with a Ferrari 458 or a Lamborghini Gallardo. It is too computerized, it feels like you aren't part of the equation.
That is Grade A Wyoming-Grade Bullshit. The 12C is one of the most involved and rewarding driving experiences I've ever had. People also need to stop quoting Jeremy Clarkson and Top Gear like he's the Pope.
I drove both iterations of the 12C, and anyone who says they can tell a difference between how the coupe and spider drive is lying. The spider was developed at the same time as the coupe, and loses basically no structural rigidity. It only gains 80 pounds from the roof mechanism.
In fact, I got into a car without looking at the roof (tops were up on all cars on track), ran some laps, and found out about two hours later that the car was a coupe when someone mentioned it. Seriously. With the top up I didn't notice at all.
My day was comprised solely of track driving, and the very first thing I noticed was the amazing ride quality of the 12C.
Monticello has this one corner. It is a painfully long, painfully late apex, painfully off-camber uphill left hand sweeper. It's a tricky one. In every car I've driven there, you have to be very wide on entry, since there is this bump on the track that will totally unsettle the car for the corner. Hitting it wrong can screw up the entry, which then makes you miss the apex and screws you for the short straight at the exit. It's key to get this one right.
In the 12C, that bump just doesn't exist. I don't mean it magically makes the track smooth like Mickey Mouse did in Fantasia, but the crazy hydraulic suspension reacts to the change in the track so quickly that you don't have to enter super wide. That allows you to attack corner entry in the 12C more than pretty much any other car.
The car's ability to get rid of that bump in the track doesn't make you less involved in the driving experience. If anything, it's the opposite. The ability to compensate for an imperfection let's you take a faster line into the corner, lets you run slightly tighter line to the apex, which then lets you get back on the power earlier and exit the corner faster. The car lets you do this, but it's up to you to take advantage.
And once you're in the corner, this thing sticks. Most of my driving was done with the chassis in normal or sport mode, with a brief foray into track. Compared to track mode, the car feels like a big Mercedes in normal mode. There is noticeable body roll and it is slower to dart to the apex. That's not to say it handles like a big Cadillac. In this case, slower means it's like Usain Bolt's second fastest 100 meter sprint.
And speaking of sprints, the launch off the line is biblically quick. Press the launch button, left foot on the brake, and stomp on the throttle, and the car holds revs and builds boost (Side note: This sounds incredible and I encouraged McLaren to make a ringtone out of the sound. I'd download it). When you release the brake, you take off through space and time with a force that astronauts and not many other people experience.
The only complaint I have is that under heavy braking the car was slightly squirrely. ABS cuts in fairly early and the car can be a little nervous on corner entry when coming down from high speed. Maybe it had something to do with the tremendously cool air brake?
A lot of what people say is true: The car does a lot of work for you. Electronics correct corner inputs and brake wheels in order to make the car rotate. The suspension constantly adjusts. The gearbox can do a better job in automatic than you can in manual. But the car doesn't immediately make a driver into a hero. I like to think I'm fairly capable on a track, but I'm far from being a pro.
There was a pro driver and fellow journalist at the track in one of the cars, and he roundly trounced me. I've driven with/against him before, and in some cars we are fairly close in speeds. The 12C is not one of those cars.
The decent (me) go quick, but it can make the pros (him) unbelievably fast. It's a car with so much to offer the driver, that someone average, or even someone above average, won't be able to reach its limits or extract the full potential from the car. When I hit a corner perfectly in the car, the experience was like winning an award. When I missed an apex, the 12C didn't forgive me for it and compensate for my mistake. It punished me for the rest of the rhythm section for making a hash of that last corner. It didn't beat me, but it had the same impact as your father telling you he's "disappointed in you."
And to those who say the styling isn't evocative, that it doesn't sound great, that it makes you think you're driving a computer, that it doesn't make you feel like you're in something special, you're either speaking out of your ass or are so jaded that there is nothing left in the world to impress you.
McLaren engineers told me that people constantly complain about not having a manual gearbox in cars, but people who originally looked at 12Cs complained that the paddle shift, which they made have a mechanical feel, was "too heavy" in the first cars. So they had to make it lighter. That's the world we live in today.
As far as I'm concerned, the 12C is the best car I've ever driven. It is the best riding, best handling, best stopping, and nicest built car I've ever been near. It's gorgeous, the engineering is spellbinding, and everything about it is just brilliant. The want is very strong. I'd sell my parents to get one (sorry Mom and Dad).
If you aren't impressed by the McLaren after driving it, then you aren't a human or you really need to reconsider your entire life.
Photos Courtesy McLaren