McLaren 12C Races to the Top

The latest debate among supercar aficionados is whether the new McLaren 12C is indeed the most serious challenge ever to the long-standing dominance of Ferrari. McLaren has more than 50 years of history and hundreds of world-championship wins at top circuits—from the Indianapolis 500 to the 24 Hours of Le Mans and international Formula 1 races—but this is the first “pure McLaren” the company has offered.

When I arrived at the New Jersey Motorsports Park, the McLaren was sitting in a pit lane under a blazing morning sun. Monster dual side air intakes, a deeply raked windscreen, and a sweeping front hood with top flush-mounted shark-eye headlights give this rear-drive, mid-engine McLaren a downright menacing look. The car has a Formula 1–style one-piece carbon-fiber tub at the heart of its lightweight chassis, providing the tight interior with deceptive depth.

Settling into the cockpit’s leather and sports fabric–accented driver’s seat via wide-opening dihedral doors and gliding forward a bit and then up, I was immediately placed in ideal driving position, thanks to McLaren’s race-engineered ergonomics. For an aggressive track-bred predator, the 12C offers an uncommonly gentle ride. Pressing the big silver ignition button on the slim center console fires up the 616-horsepower, 3.8-liter twin-turbocharged V-8 with a thunderous growl.

For an aggressive track-bred predator, the 12C offers an uncommonly gentle ride.

Fortunately, in the 12C there’s an app for that. A unique Programmable Intake Sound Generator lets the driver choose the amount of engine noise heard in the cabin, from screaming loud for those high-speed straightaways to a sexy rumble. The seven-speed dual-clutch auto-manual transmission engages first gear with a nudge at the click of the rocker-style paddle shifter. From there on, the action is faultless.

Heading down the front straightaway of the 2.25-mile Thunderbolt Raceway, I’m amazed at how blithely the McLaren slides up to 150 mph, and how serenely it glides through rough turns without a hint of pitch or roll. Even in the track’s challenging uphill blind exit corner, I have total faith in the 12C to find the roadway I have no way of seeing. At high speed, feeling a little understeer as I aim for the apex of a turn, I boldly jam the accelerator, letting the electronics kick in for the follow-through. Heading into a fast, sweeping turn, the car supplies the confidence to power through flat-out, with rousing results. Even in Turn 9, a decreasing- radius right-hander nicknamed the Jersey Devil, the vehicle’s responsiveness makes up for my driving skills.

With a base price of $239,400, the McLaren 12C exhilarates by testing its driver, while always being there with supreme engineering to ensure that the job gets done with finesse.