Jason Barlow14 February 2011

McLaren’s new MP4-12C: first impressions

Plus F1 champ Jenson Button takes it for a track-test with TG magazine’s Jason Barlow

So the wait is over. After 18 months of technological foreplay, the McLaren MP4-12C is finally here, and we've actually driven it.

Yes, we know it has an amazing carbon fibre chassis, a 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 that pumps out almost 600bhp and rockets the car to 62mph in a whisker over three seconds and on to a top speed of 205mph while also coughing out just 279g/km of CO2. And yes, we know that Ron Dennis insists that his amazing team of boffins and geniuses can scientifically prove that this is the greatest super sports car ever made. But what's it actually like?

Very, very, very good indeed. The 12C is quite simply an astonishing piece of engineering. It's beautifully made, has a cabin that immediately and brilliantly becomes an extension of the driver, an engine and transmission that have gone from being drawings on a clean sheet of paper to challenging Ferrari's best in barely five years, a radical rethink of how a car's suspension should work, an equally radical re-imagining of how a car should handle, and the sort of amazing high-speed aero properties you'd expect of something that was honed in the same state-of-the-art simulator that Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button's McLaren F1 car was optimised in.

See more pictures of McLaren's new supercar

Speaking of which, JB was on hand at the car's first media drive at the highly demanding Portimao circuit in Portugal's Algarve region. Now Jenson likes his supercars, and has owned most of the significant players of the past 10 years, Bugatti Veyron and Porsche Carrera GT included. In other words, though he's a McLaren employee, he's also a potential customer. And he knows what he likes. And not only does he know what he likes - big performance and a healthy degree of oversteer which, trust me, not all top F1 guys approve of - he's not afraid to enjoy himself when the mood takes him. As you can see from the accompanying short film below.

It was fun, it was fast, and it rearranged my hairstyle. (NB: no lunch was eaten before this was shot.)

Jason's full story of McLaren's return to the pinnacle of road car production - plus a review by a certain Mr Jeremy Clarkson - is in next month's TopGear Magazine, out on 23 February. 

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