24hrs with a McLaren P1 | Top Gear
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Sunday 4th June

24hrs with a McLaren P1

MOT sorted? OK, said McLaren, you can take the P1 home tonight. No need to ask twice

  • A few months back I did a story about taking a McLaren P1 for its MOT. For those of you to whom those initials mean nothing, know this: in the UK the MOT is a certificate of road-worthiness, and once past three years old, every car has to have an annual inspection. There are no exceptions, not even for million pound McLarens. 

    P1 OOV was one of the original development cars, and you’ll have seen it many times before. One of the cars McLaren used for media work and publicity, it’s appeared in countless articles, films and pictures, including on TG TV and our own 2014 Speed Week test.

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  • The MOT

    So, we collected the car from McLaren’s Woking HQ and took it to a back street MOT centre. The kind of place where the back lot was littered with rusting Polos and mouldy Daewoos. Getting there involved speed bumps, which was nerve-wracking for me and very irritating for everyone behind me.

    Anyway, the MOT is concerned with safety stuff – brakes, lights, seatbelts, that sort of thing. The P1 wouldn’t have stood a chance if the tests had included one about navigation stability or screen lag. Anyway, it surprised no-one when a car that came straight from McLaren’s HQ passed with flying colours, although I did find the sight of garage boss Jon Hearn inserting a yard-long crowbar into the front suspension and jiggling it about mildly alarming. 

  • Off we go

    I’d managed to strike a deal with McLaren: as long as the car passed its MOT, I could take it away for the night and bring it back the following afternoon. So, with road legality sorted and legal MOT paperwork sat proudly on the passenger seat, I was off, into a world littered with speed bumps, road furniture and careless people in small Suzukis. 

    McLaren’s only stipulation was that I couldn’t do too many miles in it, and they’d be much happier if a deluge of speeding fines didn’t follow in its wake. I assured them that 900bhp was still going to get stuck in the same traffic jams – and then busily plotted a route home that would take me around all of them. And half the counties of southern England. 

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  • Show the neighbours

    But actually what I wanted to do was get home as soon as possible so I could start enjoying the car with other people. This is a large part of what I love about cars – the affect they have on people. An interesting car is an inclusive experience, not just for its owner, but everyone they come into contact with. 

    So, McLaren P1 parked on drive, multiplying value of house, I opened the door and before I’d levered myself out, heard a screech from the road, followed by the sound of enthusiastic reversing. A neighbour, gob-smacked. His presence drew others, people got chatting, dog walkers returning from the park stopped by and within about ten minutes an impromptu meeting of the neighbourhood social committee was taking place. My wife came out with crisps and dips. 

    And yes, that is an Audi RS2 in the background. As head-snapping double acts go, they were possibly the most potent combination I’ve ever had at home.

  • Stick it in Track Mode

    Party trick time. OK, it takes about 30 seconds for the McLaren to wind itself into Track mode, giving it the ride height of a suction cup and ramming the rear wing up into turbulent air several feet above the roofline. But it’s so, so worth it. Although it did extend the evening’s neighbourhood entertainments programme by about another 30 minutes. 

    And yes, as you can see from that pic, P1 OOV has covered 19,000 miles – actually a bit more than that when I handed it back. Anyone aware of another P1 having done anything like that distance?

  • And from the outside

    And here’s what it looks like on the road in Track mode – well, in a car park actually. Can’t show you what it looks like on the move in track mode because it’s illegal on the road. Nothing to do with the 35mm suspension drop, but everything to do with the fact the wing extends beyond the rear of the car as it rises up and back. So there you go, fact fans.

  • And here is THE WING

    Don’t think I need to add many words to this do I? The shape of the back of this car is probably the most exotic and elaborate I’ve ever seen.

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  • Early morning call

    So it’s the next morning. Early. The alarm went off at 5.30 and we were out of the house by 6am – we being me and my 11 year old son Luke. We do this every so often, just get up and go for a drive when the roads are quiet. Good for a bit of father/son bonding, and a proper laugh. Neither of us had slept that well – him due to excitement, me due to the nerves associated with having a P1 parked on the drive. 

    The plan was breakfast, the destination was Wantage, about 20 miles from home. We grabbed coffee, juice and pastries from a café and hightailed it back out of town to somewhere we could just stand and ogle the P1. 

    No fast driving – we’d just cruised up, letting the P1 warm itself through and me talking Luke through the settings, and working out how the IPAS (electric boost mode) and DRS (drag reduction) work. It’s not too noisy at cold start, either – certainly not as rowdy as my Audi R8.

  • Boosted seat

    The P1 has fixed, moulded bucket seats. They’re wonderful – provided you’re fully grown. For those that can’t see over the dash, this is the solution: pinch a couple of cushions off the sofa at home and hope their absence isn’t noticed.

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  • See if a small boy can lift the door

    The McLaren’s doors are not light – either that or 19,000 miles and three years of door openings has knackered the gas struts. Moving the door the first few inches is the challenge here – once past that point the strut does take over and do the heavy lifting for you. 

    If you’re big it’s reasonably easy – you lift the door pull and push out with your forearm and elbow to start things moving, shoulder muscles assisting. But if you’re small, leverage is trickier, and you have to get your whole body involved. 

    Still, good excuse for an extended look at the carbon and aero work and built into the door itself. We pored over every inch of the P1, in fact. It’s a fascinating car to just gawp at – so intricately shaped and styled.

  • Prat around with a GoPro

    Breakfast eaten and details marveled at, we went driving. It’s what the P1 is all about, after all. We set a GoPro up on timelapse and pulled a few faces, but ignoring our phizzogs what this shot does show is just how light and airy the P1’s cabin is with the glass roof panels and a windscreen that extends back further than you expect. It’s the first thing that strikes you when you get in – well, that and how firmly and comfortably the seats have got hold of you. 

    The large glass area emphasises the sense of speed – your eyes might be focused way down the road, but your peripheral vision is full of blurring trees.

  • The Speed thing

    Yes, the P1 is deeply, unsettlingly fast. Not in this shot, where it was travelling at about 20mph so young Luke could practice his photography skillz. But this remains a car you have to be very careful with. It’s easy to misjudge the P1 initially because it has light steering and an accurate, almost dainty front end. But when the twin sledgehammers in the engine bay get to work on the 3.8-litre V8, you need to be wary, because dainty is not a word you’d use to describe the back end. 

    It’s this duality of character between the axles that, for me, makes the P1 so incredibly exciting. There’s a sense that the chassis can only barely cope with the torque torrent that’s deposited on it. And that’s how a hypercar should be, I reckon. For me it’s what made the hypercar battle between this, the Porsche 918 Spyder and LaFerrari so compelling. They’re so different: In the Ferrari you were amazed at how 950bhp was so manageable and usable. It was the most drivable. The Porsche was the most complete all-rounder. And the McLaren? Purely and simply the most exciting to drive. 

    In the past three years nothing’s changed my opinion on that. The P1 remains a car you have to be careful of, a car that encourages you to keep your foot planted to the redline, to see what you’re made of, but then is so rampant as it heads there that it forces you to chicken out. It goads you, then tests your mettle.

  • Does DRS makes a difference?

    On a public road, not one iota. The speeds just aren’t high enough. IPAS, on the other hand, is quite addictive. In this mode the electric motor is only activated when you press the red button on the steering wheel. So, yeah with no electric torque fill you’ve got to deal with some turbo lag low down, but the pay-off is the Nitrous deployment system. 

    Because that’s what this is, really. A thumb-activated 176bhp wallop. It’s best pressed at relatively low revs, before the turbos are fully lit, where the effect is most noticeable. The instant surge is a real chuckle.

  • Favourite Road

    This was the whole reason we’d come out after all. To bring a sensational car to a great road. Not just a great road actually, a challenging one. Really gnarly in places, difficult to judge and hard to get right. A good test of suspension composure, steering confidence, chassis stability and all the rest. 

    And what’s great about the McLaren P1 is that it rewards slow driving. Yes it’ll unleash pent-up aggression like Mike Tyson in his pomp if you let it, but it’s equally beguiling if you limit yourself to, say, 30 per cent throttle and just let the chassis work. Considerably less frightening that way, too. 

    You feel very in tune with the P1 driving like this. You feel like you have it under control, and the whole experience becomes quite zen because, without worrying about the engine and trying to predict the lag, every input delivers an instant, utterly precise reaction from the car. Five-tenths in a P1 turns out to be a really lovely way of getting about.

  • See if it sounds good in a tunnel

    Does the P1 sound good? Now there’s a question. Judged by conventional means, no, not really. It’s not acoustically harmonious, there’s no rich V8 timbre or exhaust woofle and glug. It just sounds angry. Properly furious. 

    There’s a cracking tunnel near us, so on the way back from our morning stroll we paid it a visit. Gave it the berries in second with the windows open and just listened. It roared alright – no shortage of volume, but Luke and I agreed that both the R8, the Aventador and a host of others actually sound better than the P1. 

    You might think this is a pity. But to me, the noise the McLaren makes suits it perfectly. This is not a car that’s concerned with the pantomime aspects of being a hypercar. It wants to get places at furious speeds, and hasn’t got the mindset that places engine noise high up the agenda. That would just be a distraction, disingenuous somehow.

  • Fill up with fuel

    Good job the fuel flap isn’t part of the MOT test. You fuel the McLaren up via pop-up panels in the roof – fuel in the left, electricity in the right – but the little gas strut has failed on P1 OOV. Luckily a wedged wallet saves the day. 

    Of course we needed fuel on the way back home. Because it’s a hybrid, McLaren may be able to claim the P1 returns 34mpg on the combined cycle, but it doesn’t really…

  • So what does it do?

    14.4mpg after 160 miles, says the trip. Actually 13.9 says my calculator. Normally, I’d dismiss that as appalling, but with a car such as the McLaren P1 the experience is the thing, not the economy. 

    Look at it this way. 160 miles in a McLaren P1 is around 52 litres of fuel, so say £62. Would you pay £62 to do 160 miles in a P1? £62 to indulge that engine a few times, to experience that chassis and technology? Of course you would. And that wouldn’t change if you owned it I don’t think. 

    The P1 is such a rich experience, so memorable and vivid and bum-clenchingly jaw-dropping that you’d never care how much fuel you put in or what it was doing to the gallon. I realise this probably isn’t what McLaren had in mind when they were designing their hybrid hypercar, but it’s the truth, isn’t it?

  • Check the mirror finish on the Akebono brakes

    Back home, parked up and noticed the mirror finish on the Akebono brakes. And how chipped the calipers are. I like that – it’s one of the few signs that this car has clearly lived a hard life. 

    Apparently the day before the MOT, it did a track day at Silverstone, too. So how does it feel after 19,000 miles and three years? Fluid, loose, supple, run in. I mean look, it’s going to have been preened and fluffed back at Woking, but in between it’s had a hard life. It feels good on it.

  • Pause for navigation

    Except the electronics. We all know McLaren has had issues in this area and that they’re gradually being eradicated, but this P1 hasn’t had the latest updates – it’s a workhorse, not a show pony. So yep, the nav crashed a couple of times. Not ideal, but since I’ve still not found a car that has nav as good as my phone, it’s no biggie.

  • Pack it in

    It’s a few hours later. The P1 has to go back to McLaren, it’s a Friday and my wife and I are going away for the night – coincidentally to somewhere that means Woking is vaguely en route. Well, as far as I’m concerned, anywhere is en route when you’re in a P1, but you get the idea. 

    The McLaren is not designed for weekends away. The boot is small and unlined, and the soft bag will only squeeze in if we remove the sponge bag from it first. And no, there’s no space behind the seats, or between, under or around them either. The P1 is for driving, not hauling.

    But we manage, no dresses had to be left at home, and the missus and I get to share some time in the P1 together. If I tell you her favourite car is a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI, you’ll appreciate that this went down pretty well.

  • Back to McLaren

    McLaren always have some cracking stuff on display in the huge open area of the stunning MTC building. Having a good gander around is some sort of consolation.

    Because there’s this horrible feeling just before you give a car such as the P1 back. In the last few miles it struck me that I might not drive one again. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been massively privileged to have driven it at all, let alone on several occasions, let alone taken it home for a night. But the P1 experience is so special that the thought of not driving it again leaves me with a real sense of loss. The end. (although I hope it’s not…)

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