First Look: 2011 McLaren MP4-12C Supercar

At a press conference at its ultra-modern facility in Woking, England, McLaren Automotive took the wraps off its MP4-12C supercar -- actually, it was Vodafone/Mercedes/McLaren F1 team drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button who did the honors. The two have already test-driven prototypes [see video below], and put in orders for their personal cars. Being an F1 driver has its perks.

The MP4-12C will be the first McLaren-branded road car since the legendary F1 (produced from 1993 to 1998); more recently, the company produced the Mercedes-McLaren SLR. The production car's appearance is essentially unchanged from the prototype we saw last fall -- in fact, it's even the same color: what McLaren executive chairman Ron Dennis refers to as "our traditional launch prototype color of orange."

Home-grown mechanicals
The mid-engine 2-seater will use a compact, twin-turbo V-8 that McLaren designed together with Ricardo; it will be built by Ricardo in England. At 3.8 liters, the engine revs to 8500 rpm and spins out 600 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque. A 90-degree V angle and dry-sump lubrication allow for a low engine height and thus make for a lower center of gravity in the car. The only transmission offering will be a 7-speed dual clutch automatic. The rear-wheel-drive car uses a system McLaren calls Brake Steer, which brakes the inside rear wheel to aid turn-in. A system dubbed Proactive Chassis Control allows the control-arm, coil-sprung suspension to function without anti-roll bars; the adaptive dampers with three firmness settings are connected hydraulically. Ceramic rotors are optional; there's also an airbrake, as seen on the F1 and the Mercedes-McLaren SLR, that automatically extends under hard braking. The airbrake also can be deployed by the driver to create additional downforce.

Obsessing about weight
McLaren engineers speak almost obsessively about minimizing weight. Given the MP4-12C's estimated curb weight of 3000 pounds (more than 200 pounds lighter than a Ferrari 458 Italia or a Lexus LF-A), it appears that this obsession has paid off. The car's single-piece carbon-fiber central chassis tub certainly gave the engineers a head start; it's supplemented by aluminum extrusions at the front and rear. The body panels are aluminum and plastic. The MP4-12C's relatively compact dimensions also help it stay trim: at 177.5 inches long, 75.1 inches wide, and 47.2 inches tall, it's a bit smaller than most competitors, although it sits astride a relatively generous 105.1-inch wheelbase. McLaren engineers also point to less obvious weight-saving measures: radiators located alongside the engine (rather than up front) to lessen the amount of tubing and coolant required; exhaust pipes that exit straight out the back, allowing them to be shorter and therefore lighter; the single windshield wiper, which saves the weight of the second wiper mechanism; a lithium-ion battery; and aluminum rather than copper wiring.

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