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Clarkson on the MP4-12C

  1. The Ferrari 458 is fantastic. Yes, the button-festooned steering wheel is stupid and the driver is forced to choose between a speedo and a satnav, which is insane, but when you ignore the idiocy of the interior and you put your foot down, it feels like no other car. It feels better. More alive. Just absolutely, totally brilliant.

    This is why, on our television programme, James May wondered out loud how the McLaren MP4-12C could be better. Unless it runs on water and does zero to a million in one second, it just doesn’t seem possible.

    Words: Jeremy Clarkson
    Photos: Justin Leighton

    This feature was originally published in the March issue of Top Gear magazine

  2. McLaren however says that it can prove, scientifically, that in fact its car is better. It says that the maths are on its side. So are the headlines for that matter, because the MP4-12C is a tiny bit less expensive than the Ferrari, but delivers more power. A lot more.

    There are other things. The McLaren is a much nicer place to sit and a much nicer car to use. In a Ferrari 458, the indicator buttons are on the wheel, so if you are going round a corner, you push the button on the left to tell other road users that you are about to turn right. And at night, when you want to indicate, change gear and dip your lights at the same time, you need to deploy your tongue.

  3. There’s no such madness in the McLaren. The steering wheel is just a steering wheel. And what’s more, the circumference is precisely the same as the circumference of the wheel fitted to the cars driven by Messrs Hamilton and Button. Minus a fraction to take into account the thickness of their gloves.

    There’s more. Where the Ferrari is festooned with miles of shiny carbon fibre, the McLaren is all leather and hand-stitching and simple, clear, nice graphics.

  4. McLaren’s people are also at pains to explain that their car rides much more sweetly than the Ferrari. They say that because it doesn’t have anti roll bars, the suspension is truly independent. And that the computer which controls it - designed by a man I don’t want to have round for dinner - ensures that bumps are ushered into another room so you simply don’t notice them.

    They have a point. On the last left, through the tyres on the TopGear test track, it’s tempting to drop two wheels off the tarmac and into the grass. In most cars, this causes your entire skeleton to shatter as though it’s been dipped in liquid nitrogen and then hit with a hammer. But in the McLaren, I thought I’d simply misjudged the move and that all four wheels had remained on the road.

  5. That’s not really possible though, because visibility is another area where the McLaren trumps the Fezza. I’m not suggesting for a moment that the 458 is a postbox, but in the McLaren, because the windscreen is so deep and the top of the front wings are precisely over the centre of the front wheels, you are alwaysexactly where you want to be.

    Yes, yes, yes, I can hear you saying. But is it fast?

    Yes. Biblically so. In Track mode, with all the driver aids turned down to a minimum, it absolutely flies. In a straight line, and round the corners, I would say that it is faster than the 458. And with the optional ceramic brakes, and that big wing on the back, I would guess it stops faster too.

  6. Certainly, and thanks to the turbocharging, it always feels more muscular. If I may be permitted to liken the Ferrari to a kingfisher, then the MP4-12C is a gannet.

    The gearbox isn’t that brilliant, though. In the 458, you just tap the paddle and you have another gear, whereas in the McLaren the paddles are mounted on the same rocker set-up they use in the F1 cars. So, you pull the lever a bit which lets the double-clutch gearbox know whether you want to go up or down the ‘box and then you pull it a bit more to actually make the shift.

  7. This sounds clever, but in practice you have to put more effort into changing gear than you would imagine. And, since I’m fundamentally lazy, most of the time I told the gearbox which way I was thinking of going, but then let go of the paddle before we’d actually got there.

    That said, though, the traction control is terrific. Instead of ordering you to behave by dropping an anvil on the throttle cable, it asks you to come in for a cup of tea and then it sits you down and gently reminds you that you might be overdoing things a bit, old chap.

    So, by any scientific or mathematical measure, then, yes, the MP4-12C does appear to have its only real rival licked.

  8. However, while science and maths are very important in the pursuit of speed, emotion must also be considered, and here, I’m not so sure the McLaren stacks up quite so well.

    Look at it. It’s pretty, and it definitely has the air of a supercar, but where is the flair? Where’s the suggestion that a human being has been at work? It’s a bit too clinical. You get the impression it was styled by software and shaped by a simulator. It probably was.

  9. Then there’s the noise. For sure, a Ferrari never stops shouting, but the sound it makes is spine-tingling. The sound an MP4 makes, even at full volume in Track mode… isn’t.

    There’s a similar issue with the driving experience. The 458 feels more agile, more deft, more nimble. It probably isn’t, but it feels that way. In short, then, and for reasons it is impossible to explain without climbing into the pit of my stomach for a furtle, the McLaren isn’t as exciting as the 458.

    No car makes the root of my penis fizz, but if such a thing were to happen, it would be the 458 that caused more effervescence.

  10. Of course, there’s no doubt that you really could use the McLaren every day. It rides beautifully, its engine can be put into submarine mode and the interior is a far, far nicer place to be. But why would you want to use a car like this every day?

    Let me put it this way. The Ferrari is a pair of stockings. The McLaren is a pair of tights. Scientifically and mathematically and practically, the McLaren is better. And yet somehow, it isn’t.

What do you think?

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