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Fast & Fashionable: McLarens MP4-12C

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There has always been an alternative to Ferrari’s super sportscars, that marketplace where prices easily travel north of $200,000. Among production rivals, Lamborghini offers a generous dosage of Italian flair, perhaps too much for some tastes. And Aston Martin turns the excitement meter down a level with its sense of British aplomb. Neither automaker sports Formula One racing credentials.

 

Along comes McLaren, a company steeped in Formula One racing, building a production sportscar that lines up toe-to-toe with Ferrari’s lauded 458 Italia in every measure from price to performance and pizzazz. The one obvious area where the engineering-centric McLaren veers sharply from its Italian rival is its geeky model designation. MP4 (chassis) 12 (performance index) C (carbon fiber) hardly rolls of the tongue.

 

What’s In A Name

 

After spending a bit of quality time in the new McLaren, I decided that the nerdy naming is its only shortcoming. Everything else, as the Brits might say, is brilliant. Racecar builders know a thing or two about lightweight construction, slippery shapes, and power, and those attributes are apparent in the MP4-12C. McLaren eschews conventional construction techniques for its road car, and instead employs its racecar MonoCell carbon fiber chassis for light weight and rigidity. Even with all the comfort and convenience features like climate control and leather seating, the curb weight is a lithe 3,000 pounds. Carbon fiber trim in the cockpit and under the hood are nice options to highlight the racing heritage. And with nearly 600 horses under your right foot, the acceleration is breathtaking. From a dead stop to 60 takes just over three seconds and the power stays on tap through triple-digit speeds. And the sound.

 

What’s In A Sound

 

Pushing the McLaren’s start button rewards the driver, and anyone in the immediate zip code, with a sound like a caged animal that wants release. If you blip the throttle, bystanders may think they’re in a Formula One paddock. Underway, the interior is nearly serene in normal driving conditions, so you could take a reasonable journey without fatigue. But pin its ears back and the turbo V8 will howl. I tested this theory through a tunnel with no traffic, leaping to 8,000 rpm. It’s spectacular. And when you need to curb that enthusiasm, an airbrake springs from the bodywork to assist the giant disc brakes.

 

The MP4-12C is fun on many levels. It’s rare, gorgeous, quick on its feet, and civilized — attributes that aren’t always a given in this supercar category. When I arrived at a VIP parking area for a concours, I was followed by a red Ferrari 458. All eyes were on the McLaren.   BRIAN DOUGLAS

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