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The McLaren MP4-12C: Brilliant or Brand-Buster?

January 3, 2012 by Matt

McLaren MP4-12C MP412C Supercar Silver

Let’s consider the average enthusiast impression of the McLaren brand before the arrival of their MP4-12C exotic sports car, a perception inevitably built on their one and only offering until that point: The F1 super-exotic. Even though it was eclipsed as the top road car speed record holder by the Bugatti Veyron, the McLaren F1 still held a unique place in the car buff’s estimation, mainly by virtue of the fact that it reached its mid-200 mph top speed in a very different way than the later Veyron. Where the Bugatti is a brute force, quad-turbocharged, AWD, 4000 lb monster, the F1 was a light, pure, naturally-aspirated bantamweight, ostensibly more focused on delivering the ultimate driving experience rather than serving as a kind of mechanical placeholder for automotive superlatives. The F1 was the result of the first absolutely zero-compromise mission to deliver the ultimate road car, and while the Veyron may pay lip service to that pursuit, it’ll never be the first, and as such gets a bit swallowed up by history, so to speak. That isn’t to diminish the achievement of the Bugatti in the slightest, just to point out that the F1’s star wasn’t completely (or even mostly) eclipsed by its replacement atop the the leaderboard.

McLaren F1 F-1 Orange Red

And for a long time, the gestalt of the F1 personified the McLaren road car brand. It was the one great film that defined a one-time director, and lost little of its capital even after the Veyron’s arrival, owing to the cars’ differences as noted above. That said, car buffs were understandably a little skeptical when the development of a sort-of sequel was announced in the MP4-12C. What kind of car would it be? Would it attempt to leapfrog the Veyron and reclaim the “world’s fastest road car” mantle for McLaren? Or would it set its sights lower and aim for more “pedestrian” supercars? The automaker chose the latter course, placing the MP4-12C in competition with rivals like the Ferrari 458 Italia and Porsche 911 Turbo GT2. In its day, the F1 reigned supreme over those companies’ offerings, and elevated the McLaren brand with it; we stood in awe of what the automaker had accomplished. In light of that, what does the MP4-12C do for the image of McLaren as a purveyor of world-beating iron? Does it lower the prestige of the name to have a car that can be beaten quite credibly in certain categories by less patrician road-eaters? Or is a smart move on McLaren’s part, expanding their customer base to provide more development resources for another assault on the Veyron? What do you think?

Filed under: McLaren

4 Comments

  1. John D says:

    What is this?? You’re supposed to tell me what to think, not make me sit down and try to hash out a respectable opinion on my own! If that’s what I wanted I wouldn’t need you and your musings! I come here to hear your educated articulations, blindly accept or blatantly discard them, and move on with my life. Ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom. Now look what you’ve done. Thrown a monkey wrench into my whole day. Disrupted my groove. Left me hanging. I come here for answers, not questions! There’s enough uncertainty and confusion in life without you adding to it! So until you return me to the regularly scheduled program and pander to my lazy quest for automotive insight, I will bid you good day. No more of this ‘riddle me this, riddle me that’ nonsense. Sheesh.

    ;)

    • Matt says:

      I didn’t realize I was such a Pied Piper of sorts insofar as people’s automotive opinions were concerned. :) I’ll try not to abuse my position of power and influence, haha.

  2. John D says:

    Ok…I give in. Now that I got that off my chest, here we go:

    As an iconic figure, it’s a bad move…but probably a good business decision. And I respect that. It looks good, goes like stink, and is still (according to many reviews that I’ve read) at the top of the supercar hierarchy. So kudos to them. They’ve deigned to descend from their mountain and mix it up with the ‘common’ supercar crowd…and emerge with flying colors. They’re still top of the heap with this one, but with the illusion of attainability. The F1 has become such a heroic figure that any car they made afterward would automatically be at a disadvantage. Overcoming such an iconic predecessor would have been all but impossible, so I applaud their decision to take a completely new direction and make a car that will stand on it’s own two feet instead of competing with it’s legendary sibling as such a comparison would result in McLaren getting a black eye no matter the outcome.

    • Matt says:

      I tend to agree. There was no way for them to make a direct assault on the Veyron right out of the starting blocks, and anyway, such a car’s attributes would inevitably be completely overshadowed by endless comparisons to the F1. So they did the right thing in going a bit “downmarket,” if you can call it that.

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