First Drive: 2012 McLaren MP4-12C

Paul Barshon Patrick Gosling

Speaking of extreme, the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve circuit in Portugal is Satan's own assortment of just under three miles of hills; blind, fadeaway corners; and a long, screaming straight where I saw only 180 mph because I was feeling kinda slow. But it's the bumpy pavement that makes for a track so punishing that Formula 1 stopped testing here. (The track's CEO, Paulo Pinheiro, told us that a resurface is imminent and that the F1 teams will be back.)

The McLaren posse that hosted us-including McLaren Automotive's managing director, Antony Sheriff, and senior members of the car's engineering team who drove the cars to Portugal from England in rapid convoy -- didn't mind. Indeed, they said they relished the opportunity to put their chassis to the stiffest test.

We soon saw their point. The 12C's acceleration and braking figures make impressive reading, but getting cars to go fast and stop quickly is the easy part. For a car to work as a practical daily-driving proposition, extraordinary dynamics must ally with a pleasant, comfortable ride, sensible ergonomics, and a measure of social responsibility. These are the new targets for supercar makers, and as our day unfolded, it transpired that McLaren has them nailed.

More relevant now than ever, this car delivers best-in-class fuel economy, according to its maker. The dry-sump, flat-plane-crankshaft V-8 will rev to 8500 rpm and make wonderful noises, but despite being among the world's quickest supercars, the lightweight (as low as 2873 pounds dry) MP4-12C is also the most efficient. McLaren is hopeful that it will earn relatively superlative fuel-economy numbers and avoid a gas-guzzler tax once it is tested by the EPA before the first cars reach customers in the United States in late August.

Gobs of power with a social conscience is a neat parlor trick, but what's even better is the best ride this side of a luxury sedan, a surprising feature closely related to McLaren's having leveraged everything it ever learned in F1 racing to make the 12C sing. Unburdened by old production facilities, ideas, and ingrained ways of doing things yet blessed with the company's massive wind tunnels, computer facilities, and nearly five decades of uninterrupted experience in chassis design, it's "all of the technology with none of the baggage," as Sheriff described it. With McLaren making many of the ancillary bits-its own HVAC controls, for instance, to save space-and thousands of hours of endurance testing, this is the antithesis of a kit car.

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So is this another super car not to be owned by the height advantaged?

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