When the MP4-12C was launched in early 2011, expectations weren’t just high, they were vertiginous. And, at first sight, the 12C met them all.
Its core was a carbonfibre tub, or ‘MonoCell’, vastly strong but weighing just 75kg, which helped keep the kerb weight to a trim 1434kg. Power came from a 3.8-litre twin-turbo flat-plane-crank V8, delivering a fierce 592bhp at 7000rpm and a tidal 442lb ft of torque from 3000 to 7000rpm.
It drove the rear wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox with ‘Pre-Cog’, and the combination was electrifying. When evo attached a VBOX, it hit 60mph from standstill in 3sec dead and 100mph in a scarcely credible 6.4. It simply trounced its rivals, 458 Italia included.
It was smarter, too. The ‘ProActive’ chassis had no anti-roll bars; instead the adaptive dampers at each corner were interconnected hydraulically, side to side and front to rear, to limit roll and pitch as and when required. The resulting ride quality broke new ground for a supercar. Then there was Brake Steer, which braked the inside rear wheel in corners to reduce understeer (no limited-slip diff), an active rear spoiler/air brake, switchable programs for both powertrain and chassis…
Which one to buy?
Hearing all of the above, it might be a bit of a surprise to discover that the 12C was, in the early days, something of a work in progress. The IRIS infotainment system could handle only one function at a time. The touchpad door releases took a practiced hand (they were later replaced by buttons). The shift paddles required a surprising amount of finger effort. The engine noise being piped into the cockpit was less than inspiring…
But, over the coming months, McLaren introduced upgrades that addressed virtually all of these things – and threw in some extra power, gratis. What’s more, it gave existing owners the chance to have the upgrades retrofitted, in most cases free of charge (see Checkpoints). And in late 2012 came the excellent Spider version, which sacrificed none of the coupe’s dynamic excellence.
By spring 2014, the 12C had been superseded by the 650S. Today, a 12C looks well-priced and a decent long-term investment bet. It also remains one of the fastest and most sophisticated sports cars ever built.
Performance and specs
Engine V8, 3799cc, twin-turbo
Power 592bhp @ 7000rpm
Torque 442lb ft @ 3000-7000rpm
Transmission Seven-speed dual-clutch, rear-wheel drive, Brake Steer, ESC
0-62mph 3.0sec (tested)
Top speed 205mph (claimed)
Fuel consumption 24.2mpg (claimed)
Insurance group 50
Dimensions and weight
Kerb weight 1434kg
Our guide to the 12C is Alastair Bols, ex-McLaren Knightsbridge, now an Essex-based independent:
• The M838T engine is so far proving extremely reliable with no serious recurring issues, even with cars that have covered over 30,000 miles.
• There were early gremlins with various aspects of the car, but McLaren worked hard to eradicate them. The biggest update was at the end of 2012, when there was a free performance upgrade from 592 to 616bhp, along with upgrades to gearbox mapping, throttle mapping and the Intake Sound Generator. There really shouldn’t be any cars now that haven’t had these upgrades.
• The M838T is dry-sumped, but there’s no faff with checking the oil level – it’s displayed on the dash. Servicing isn’t cheap, averaging £1500-2000 per year.
• The other outlay you might want to consider is a warranty. A McLaren warranty is £3400 a year (the first year is included if you buy through ‘McLaren Qualified’). As an independent, Bols can provide a year’s comprehensive warranty for £2000 a year; all his cars come with a six-month warranty included.
• The Graziano twin-clutch gearbox is generally resilient, but a few cars have suffered leaking internal seals, necessitating a new ’box, so look underneath for leaks.
• Clutches don’t wear out like old automated systems. The dealerships don’t even have a measuring system for clutch wear. It’s simply not an issue.
• The hydraulic suspension system works brilliantly, and suffers very, very few faults. On a test drive you might hear a thump through the carbon tub when wheels hit potholes, but it’s a characteristic rather than a fault.
• Because of Brake Steer, the front and rear pads and discs all wear at a similar rate. Carbon brakes look great, but are very pricey. Only 10 to 15 per cent of UK cars had them. Combined with the air brake, the steel brakes do everything and more that you would want.
• Tyres should be Pirelli P Zero MC1s, specifically developed for the car and stickier than standard P Zeros but no more expensive. The car really should have them.
• The bonnet and front wings are aluminium, other panels SMC (sheet-moulded composite). Check for poor panel alignment or paint mismatching. Also check for scrapes under the chin and chipping on the side intakes.
• Inside, leather and Alcantara was the most popular trim (part leather was standard, full leather another option). All wear well.
• The original IRIS had software updates at the end of 2012, but at the same time IRIS 2 was introduced on new cars, and (crucially) this included a hardware change, offering fully functioning satnav and Bluetooth. It’s a big improvement and can be retrofitted for around £2700.
• If a car isn’t used weekly, it must be kept on a trickle charger.Owners' clubs, forums and websites
Summary and prices
Prices for early 12Cs have levelled out. ‘People are waking up to the fact that it has investment potential,’ says specialist Alastair Bols. ‘I reckon there are 250-300 coupes in the UK, and around 100 Spiders, so not a huge number. About ten per cent of those are on the market.’ Pay £100k-105k for an early car with a fairly standard spec. A 2012 coupe could be as much as £115k, or up to £125k if it’s got lots of carbonfibre extras, IRIS 2, etc. Top money for a 2013/2014 coupe is £135k-140k. Spiders start at £130k.
Words: Peter Tomalin/evo magazine