2. McLaren MP4-12C
A great first effort lessened by lack of consistency, not absolute ability.
Over the last few months, I have driven five different MP4s. Although they were all preproduction cars, none was quite like the other. The worst specimen of the five was our yellow track car, which retired with a faulty suspension that was taking in air. The best was the car available at the first venue in Portimao, Portugal, closely followed by the triple-checked vehicle that McLaren rushed to Wales for the second day of this test. General dislikes? Not many, but a few critical remarks. Even the cars fitted with carbon-ceramic brakes (four out of five) had a tendency to e-x-t-e-n-d the stopping distance under very hard ABS-assisted braking. It may be the software, the tires, or a surface-related phenomenon, but it can grow you an extra gray hair or two. Another question mark concerns the Formula 1-derived brake-steer feature, which briefly grabs the inner rear wheel under hard cornering to tighten the line. It certainly does that, but on winding, bumpy country roads attacked with a knife between your teeth, a momentary stability-threatening tug at either rear wheel suggests that certain conditions can outfox the system for fractions of a second. Still on the debit side, we should also mention that stability control cannot be switched off completely, that the performance and handling control knobs are not as simple to use as Ferrari's manettino, and that the effort required to paddleshift gears can be too high for a busy solitary finger. Also, the 592-hp twin-turbo V-8 simply does not sound special enough given its sensational power delivery. On paper, the mid-engine coupe from Woking has what it takes to challenge or even beat the Ferrari. But when you drive the two cars back-to-back, the McLaren, over time and distance, loses an inch of ground here and there. At 2.5 turns lock-to-lock, its steering isn't quite as quick as that of the 458 Italia (2.0 turns) and is also a bit on the light side. The brakes do a sterling job squashing energy at high speeds, but the final 60-mph-to-0 bracket is not their forte. The chassis is beautifully set up for slow second-gear kinks and for courage-testing sweepers, the ride deserves a "cloud nine" gold medal, the handling is communicative yet never impatient and inspiring but never rough-edged. I would love to spend more time in an MP4 that is up to scratch, because I suspect that deep within this conservatively dressed work of art lies a true Ferrari-beater.
On the track: Forget Rockingham. In Portimao, the McLaren lived up to everybody's expectations. Surprisingly easy to drive fast, quite tactile in its actions and responses, and totally involving yet never overly demanding.
On the road: Fantastic. Had it not been painted arrest-me bright orange, we would have probably broken all existing land speed records between Swansea and Llandudno. Not quite as spicy as the Italia but very tasty nonetheless.
Base price $231,400
Engine 32-valve DOHC twin-turbo V-8
Displacement 3.8 liters (232 cu in)
Power 592 hp @ 7000 rpm
Torque 443 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm
Transmission 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
Steering Electrohydraulically assisted
Suspension, front Control arms, coil springs
Suspension, rear Control arms, coil springs
Brakes Vented carbon-ceramic discs, ABS
Tires Pirelli PZero
Tire size f, r 235/35YR-19, 305/30YR-20
L x W x H 177.5 x 75.1 x 47.2 in
Wheelbase 105.1 in
Track F/R 62.3/65.2 in
Weight 3161 lb
Weight dist. 43/57%
Fuel mileage 15/22 mpg (est.)
0-62 mph 3.3 sec
Top speed 205 mph
Top speed in lap