First Drive: 2012 McLaren MP4-12C

Paul Barshon Patrick Gosling

You could write a book about the new suspension, a conventional control-arm setup with coil springs but no antiroll bars. Instead, adaptive dampers are hydraulically interconnected and linked to a gas-filled accumulator to keep roll in check (a system McLaren calls Proactive Chassis Control, or PCC). A postmodern interpretation of Alex Moulton's hydragas suspensions from the early days of the Mini? McLaren wouldn't say no, but with drivers able to select from three possible settings, Normal, Sport, and Track, PCC makes the 12C a wondrously adaptable machine. It delivers comfort and composure around town and on rutted roads, along with less roll while cornering on the track than most will have ever experienced, minus the inevitable downside of a roll bar's permanent connectedness -- a loss of ride smoothness. Braking hard on a pocked downhill stretch at Algarve before a tight left-hander said to shred most other cars' tires, we find that the McLaren's otherworldly body control means braking is easier, speeds are higher, and rubber is spared.

Further enhancing driver confidence is so-called brake steer, which applies the inside rear brake when a turn has been entered too quickly or when a rear wheel begins spinning on its way out of a corner. As evidenced by this effective technique's increasing popularity among other automakers, it saves weight and cost compared with limited-slip or torque-vectoring differentials. A McLaren innovation for the 1997 F1 season so effective that it was quickly outlawed by sanctioning authorities, it was a practical solution just waiting for the proper McLaren road-car application.

Technologies like these allow the 12C to make the best drivers faster while flattering lesser ones, and inevitably they will one day save lives. Simply put, the McLaren's best feature is its ingenious chassis, the living embodiment of forty-plus years of winning.

As executive chairman Ron Dennis reminded us back in Woking, McLaren has won 25 percent of all the Formula 1 races held since it entered the fray in 1966. He proudly recalled the company's very first venture into road cars, the mind-blowing F1. That spare-no-expense, three-seat Saturn V rocket for the road, built from 1993 to 1998, was an instant classic. It's also one of the very few cars of recent memory so highly regarded that it soon began trading in multiples of its original asking price at sums well into the millions, a market assessment that hasn't stopped.

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

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