M cLARE N 12 C &650 S

They’re all but in­dis­tin­guish­able to ca­sual ob­servers and it’s a sim­i­lar story on the spec sheets, so what progress, if any, did Mclaren make when it cre­ated 650S from 12C? And what does the new 720S need to im­prove?

Evo - - CONTENTS - Be­fore we sam­ple Mclaren’s lat­est Su­per Se­ries model, the 720S, we re­visit its 12C and 650S pre­de­ces­sors

‘HOW DIF­FER­ENT CAN THEY ALL BE?’ ASKED A CAR- SAVVY friend, nod­ding at the brace of glow­ing or­ange Mclarens but re­fer­ring to the ex­tended range. To be hon­est, I’ve had to do my home­work. Back in 2011 I drove the orig­i­nal, the MP4-12C, and ar­riv­ing back for my sec­ond stint at evo mag­a­zine I find there are swarms of the blighters. There are ‘Sports Se­ries’ and ‘Su­per Se­ries’ and ‘Ul­ti­mate Se­ries’, but to the un­trained eye they all look pretty much the same. Dur­ing this test three peo­ple will ask if the 650S (the more or­angey one) is the £866,000 P1…

Dive into the tech­ni­cal specs and you’ll find that be­neath their un­stressed skins, Sports and Su­per Se­ries cars are cre­ated from the same es­sen­tial in­gre­di­ents: a car­bon­fi­bre tub, dou­ble-wish­bone sus­pen­sion all-round and a 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 with a seven-speed dual-clutch trans­mis­sion. Their skins dif­fer, Sports be­ing sheet-moulded com­pound, Su­pers car­bon­fi­bre, and so do their chas­sis: Sports mod­els have phys­i­cal anti-roll bars while Su­pers have ‘Proac­tive Chas­sis Con­trol’, Mclaren’s cross-linked ac­tive damper sys­tem that repli­cates the ef­fect of phys­i­cal anti-roll bars in cor­ner­ing but leaves the wheels un­linked in a straight line for ride com­fort. Out­puts, mean­while, ranged from 533bhp (540C) to 666bhp (675LT) be­fore the 720S landed, and prices from £126,000 to £285,000, but when they’re all un­mis­tak­ably su­per­cars, you can’t blame peo­ple for not know­ing one from an­other.

It’s a relief that the lat­est Su­per Se­ries car, the 720S (see page 78), has an

all-new look to bring some def­i­ni­tion to the range. The 720S is the suc­ces­sor to the 650S, it­self the suc­ces­sor to the 12C (the less or­angey one) and thus a de­scen­dant of Mclaren’s orig­i­nal multi-task­ing su­per­car, the MP4-12C. It’s been quite a jour­ney, and to find out just how far the Su­per Se­ries has come and if there’s a dis­cernible evo­lu­tion­ary tra­jec­tory, we’ve brought the 650S and 12C, both here in Spi­der form, to some of our favourite roads.

When Mclaren an­nounced the MP4-12C it boldly de­clared that it wasn’t go­ing to com­pete with the es­tab­lished mar­ques, it was go­ing to teach them a les­son. In some ways it did, and the speed with which Mclaren has es­tab­lished its cred­i­bil­ity and ex­panded its range to fill nu­mer­ous su­per­car niches is ex­tra­or­di­nary. There has, of course, been learn­ing and de­vel­op­ment along the way; few com­plex prod­ucts ar­rive on the mar­ket, en­joy suc­cess and re­tire years later com­pletely un­changed, whether they are vac­uum clean­ers or su­per­cars. The MP4-12C was no ex­cep­tion: it quickly be­came sim­ply the 12C, and even in the first months of pro­duc­tion, there were changes afoot.

We in­cluded the MP4-12C in ecoty 2011, based around the Por­timão cir­cuit in Por­tu­gal, and the car came with an un­usual ac­ces­sory – a chunk of the Mclaren de­vel­op­ment team. They con­tin­ued to fet­tle it dur­ing the test. Each day we’d bor­row it for pho­tos and driv­ing and each day the dy­nam­ics were clearly not right. The steer­ing lacked feel and was too light, and the han­dling and ride were an odd con­coc­tion; the ride was re­mark­ably – ar­guably un­nec­es­sar­ily – cos­set­ing for a su­per­car, but the han­dling suf­fered for it, be­ing oddly de­tached from the road and prone to mild di­ag­o­nal pitch sen­sa­tions. Un­til, that was, on the fi­nal day, when what­ever tune the engineers set­tled on was squirted into the dy­namic-con­trol mod­ule and the car was in­stantly, vastly im­proved.

In fact, it was so good that had it been like that from the start it might have stolen the win from the 911 GT3 RS 4.0. The sus­pen­sion still neu­tralised aw­ful, bro­ken road sur­faces, and the MP4 passed noise­lessly over bumps and dips that ground bits off the un­der­sides of the Fer­rari FF and RS Porsche, but now you were con­nected to the car and road. Now you could ex­ploit its abil­ity and un­leash more of its near-600bhp power more of the time, guide it con­fi­dently, rev­el­ling in the su­perb driv­ing po­si­tion and the panoramic view af­forded by the wide, low-scut­tled screen.

Right there and then, the MP4 felt like the new kind of su­per­car Mclaren had promised us. That’s to say, a car that could cross a con­ti­nent in com­fort and then tear around a race­track as fast as any­thing else. Ex­cept that back then it still felt a bit weird around Por­timão’s chal­leng­ing crests and curves. Oh, and ev­ery time you used the car­bon-ce­ramic brakes the bite was so sud­den you risked head­but­ting the steer­ing wheel. And there were a few other is­sues too, in­clud­ing the An­droid-based IRIS in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem, which re­mained blank for the du­ra­tion of the test.

Six years on, Mclaren has clearly never let up on de­vel­op­ment. That said, if you’re not Mclaren-savvy, five min­utes in the car park will save much frus­tra­tion later,

be­cause the switchgear is not al­ways in­tu­itive. In­deed, there’s plenty of op­por­tu­nity for the 720S to move the hu­man­ma­chine-in­ter­face (HMI) ex­pe­ri­ence on… Touch­screen but with hard key ac­cess? That’s the nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem. Want to ad­just the clock? That’s hid­den in a stalk-ac­ti­vated sub­menu in the in­stru­ment clus­ter, not in the long Set­tings menu on the touch­screen. And the door-mir­ror ad­juster? It took me an hour to find it on the move. It’s tucked be­hind the wheel, lit red and marked ‘P’ – for the park­ing mode, ob­vi­ously.

I’ve al­ways been irked by the mode switches for han­dling and pow­er­train, too, be­cause they look cheap and be­cause you can’t sim­ply dial up the mode you want. Oh no, they don’t work un­less you press the ‘Ac­tive’ but­ton first, like a game of Si­mon Says. But I think I’ve fig­ured that now. More later.

I feel fully ac­quainted with the dy­nam­ics of the 650S hav­ing driven it the best part of three hours north. The first thing that strikes you is how sup­ple the ride is, how well it iso­lates you from the va­garies of the road sur­face and en­ables ef­fort­less long-dis­tance cov­er­age. There’s still plenty of MP412C DNA in the ride. The last 40 min­utes to the car park at Blakey Ridge on the North York Moors have been par­tic­u­larly in­vig­o­rat­ing, es­pe­cially the road that heads up from Hut­tonle-hole. This has pocked sur­faces, abrupt crests and flat, un­sighted apices. The 650S doesn’t merely cope with this road, it smooths it out, fills in the dips and neu­tralises im­pacts. True, you can oc­ca­sion­ally sense the MP4’S foibles in slightly odd re­ac­tions or move­ments, but switch the han­dling to Sport and these are re­duced to trace ef­fects, so you feel con­fi­dent to let the big-lunged, turbo’d V8 breathe deep.

It’s a light-sound­ing en­gine like the Fer­rari 488’s V8, the flat-plane crank syn­chro­nis­ing power strokes, re­sult­ing in a sweet, four-cylin­der-like note. It’s un­mis­tak­ably tur­bocharged, more in the dizzy­ing way the power and torque ex­pand and es­ca­late than for any re­sponse lag – there’s a mo­ment be­fore it gets go­ing, but the slick du­al­clutch gear­box is bril­liantly re­spon­sive. Mclaren says the biturbo mo­tor is good for 641bhp (650 PS) and I don’t doubt it: the first time I stabbed the throt­tle to the stop, the in­ten­sity of the ac­cel­er­a­tion was shock­ing. The power piled in so hard and the rear tyres hooked up so com­pletely that I imag­ined their side­walls buck­ling like they do on drag­sters, a sen­sa­tion fos­tered by a hint of squirm from the rear.

Less than 20 min­utes after park­ing up, the 12C ar­rives, giv­ing us a chance to play spot the dif­fer­ence. This 12C is one of the last from 2013 and a Mclaren 50th an­niver­sary car too, so it has a big spec. This in­cludes 650S-match­ing ce­ramic brakes be­hind slightly dif­fer­ent de­sign al­loys that wear 650S-size Pirelli P Ze­ros: 235-sec­tion at the front, 305 at the rear. There’s also a re­designed front apron that brings in­creased down­force. Over­all the de­sign is more con­ser­va­tive than the 650S, but this lim­ited-edi­tion car looks much more su­per­car-like than the orig­i­nal MP4. To me, the MP4 looked too much like an iden­tikit su­per­car cre­ated for an in­sur­ance ad­vert, but Mclaren’s de­sign boss Frank Stephen­son put that right on later mod­els, re­plac­ing the plain head­lamp de­sign with small arcs imi­tat­ing the com­pany badge.

It’s even more dif­fi­cult to tell the 12C and 650S apart from the inside, though. A red badge here, coloured stitch­ing there… In fact, the most sig­nif­i­cant ad­van­tage the 650S has is that it comes with DAB ra­dio. Still, there’ll be a dis­tinct dif­fer­ence in the way they drive, won’t there?

Well, yes, but this 12C is more like the 650S than the MP4. This shouldn’t be a sur­prise be­cause Mclaren car­ried on de­vel­op­ing the car and of­fered up­grades to cus­tomers of early cars. All of them are en­joyed by this last-of-the-line 12C, in­clud­ing the en­gine up­grade that raised the orig­i­nal MP4 out­put of 592bhp to 616bhp. And rather unexpectedly, be­tween 6000 and 8000rpm, this 12C feels very nearly as crazy fast as the 650S.

There is clearly much shared char­ac­ter be­tween these two cars, but it only takes a cou­ple of miles to re­alise that there are lots of dif­fer­ences, too. And after a cou­ple of days, the depth and de­tail of the im­prove­ments in­cor­po­rated in the 650S show an un­der­stand­ing of what makes the car more ex­ploitable and en­joy­able. This is evo­lu­tion. Project for­ward and you can see where the 720S needs to im­prove to move the Su­per Se­ries on again.

The un­ex­pected ini­tial sup­ple­ness of the 650S is un­ex­pected soft­ness in the 12C, and while this gives the 12C the feel­ing of greater iso­la­tion from sur­face im­per­fec­tions, it comes with some shake over sharper bumps – the slight af­ter­shock when a damper doesn’t deal with a bump pos­i­tively. There’s also an ex­ag­ger­a­tion of the odd ef­fects felt in the 650S, namely unexpectedly free lon­gi­tu­di­nal and di­ag­o­nal body move­ments, and even switched to Sport chas­sis mode, the 12C doesn’t sharpen up. It’s al­most as if the car is air-sprung. As a re­sult, you feel a lit­tle less com­fort­able ex­ploit­ing the brutal, dra­matic power de­liv­ery.

An­other con­trib­u­tor to the 12C’s less hur­ried feel is its steer­ing, which de­mands less ef­fort and is less abuzz with feed­back. To be hon­est, a lot of what comes through the wheel of this 650S is noise rather than use­ful feed­back, so that’s no loss, but the lack of in­stant re­sponse is. Turn the wheel in the 12C and there’s a mo­ment where noth­ing hap­pens, al­most as if the sus­pen­sion needs to see some roll be­fore it can re­act.

Not that the lack of phys­i­cal roll bars in any way lim­its the ab­so­lute cor­ner­ing abil­ity of ei­ther car. Lat­eral grip and trac­tion are ex­tra­or­di­nary; trac­tion es­pe­cially so given the kick the twin-turbo V8 can de­liver and the lack of a lim­it­ed­slip diff. The way these cars stick in cor­ners, the lat­eral G they cre­ate, makes me wary of turn­ing off the trac­tion con­trol. When strong grip is bro­ken mid-turn, the force a turbo en­gine is work­ing against is gone and it can spool up dou­ble-quick, which means more power and more wheel­spin and a wild slide where a mo­ment be­fore there was order.

The 650S cor­ners so flat and so hard that it hon­estly doesn’t feel like it is ever go­ing to break trac­tion, even with the thump of 500lb ft of torque ar­riv­ing at the se­ri­ously loaded rear tyres. I se­lect Track han­dling and pow­er­train modes, light­ing up the trac­tion-off warn­ing sym­bol, and after a few more

runs I reckon I’ve found the spot to snap the throt­tle open for a slide. I brace and go for it but there is no jab of op­po­site lock re­quired. In­stead, the en­gine goes BAAARRRP! – an ig­ni­tion cut torques down the V8 mo­men­tar­ily to main­tain trac­tion. TC not com­pletely turned off, then. I’m just fine with that…

It’s now that I re­alise the logic be­hind the ‘Ac­tive’ but­ton nes­tled be­tween the two mode tog­gles. It’s not like the manet­tino on a Fer­rari, but more akin to the M but­ton on BMWS in that you can pre-pro­gram var­i­ous ve­hi­cle set­tings, say Track han­dling with Sport pow­er­train per­for­mance, and a press of the Ac­tive but­ton gets you there.

As well as be­ing more dy­nam­i­cally com­posed than the 12C, there are other ar­eas where the 650S is su­pe­rior. While both it­er­a­tions of the twin-turbo V8 are thrillingly in­er­ti­afree and rev-hun­gry, the 650’s has a stronger mid-range pick-up and so gets the car ac­cel­er­at­ing sooner. It’s also less vi­bra­tory and sweeter-revving, and smoother at idle, too. Am­bling into town, both cars get heads turn­ing be­fore they heave into view – they have that su­per­car sound qual­ity, that depth, that un­mis­tak­ably po­tent growl. The 650S, with its op­tional sports ex­haust, has a su­perb ex­tra layer of sound, a hint of tra­di­tional but race-bred V8 that adds greatly to the sound qual­ity, like good sea­son­ing en­hances flavour. There’s more turbo chuff in the 12C, but per­haps it’s just more au­di­ble be­cause there’s less tailpipe con­tent.

These are dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences, then. The 12C has come a long way since its early MP4 days, drift­ing slightly from its orig­i­nal mission state­ment, be­com­ing a lit­tle sharper, a lit­tle less cos­set­ting, and all the bet­ter for it while still of­fer­ing a uniquely Mclaren take on the su­per­car theme. The 650S moves the idea on in what seem ini­tially to be mostly sub­tle ways, but which longer ex­po­sure re­veals are sig­nif­i­cant. It may not look that dif­fer­ent, but the sportier edge to its dy­nam­ics and the fine-tun­ing that have gone into the 650S make it a much more sat­is­fy­ing and com­plete su­per­car.

There are things that would im­prove both cars and which are, there­fore, things that the new 720S will hope­fully ad­dress. As al­ready men­tioned, HMI is one, and a re­lated is­sue that the new car ap­pears to have ad­dressed is the po­si­tion­ing of the gear-se­lec­tor but­tons on the cen­tral con­sole: in the 12C and 650S to get to them you have to do an im­pres­sion of a T rex. The 720S’s have moved fur­ther for­ward and hope­fully are slicker to use than those of the 650S, which are more re­spon­sive than the 12C’s go­ing from D to R and vice versa, mak­ing three-point turns less stress­ful. Ma­noeu­vring from cold, both 12C and 650S can feel like they have slip­ping clutches, with lots of revs for not much move­ment, so im­prove­ment here would be wel­come.

How­ever, the great­est im­prove­ment Mclaren promised us with the 720S was not Fer­rari-beat­ing shove but the best-ever ex­e­cu­tion of its Proac­tive sus­pen­sion, with su­pe­rior com­fort

han­dling pre­ci­sion. Does it de­liver? Let’s find out.


Above right: in­te­ri­ors are hard to tell apart (650S is on the far right, if you’re strug­gling), but both cars of­fer a driv­ing po­si­tion that is among the very best in su­per­car­dom, even if you do have to clam­ber over the very wide sill of the car­bon tub to get to it

Above: the 650S Spi­der (lead­ing) is ‘crazy fast’, says Barker, but if your 12C hap­pens to have the fac­tory en­gine up­grade that took power from 592bhp to 616, then it’ll stay with the newer car with­out much trou­ble.

Right: the 650S, which bor­rows the front-end styling of the P1 hy­per­car, feels sharper through the cor­ners, how­ever

‘The 650S cor­ners so hard it hon­estly doesn’t feel like it is ever go­ing to break trac­tion’

Above: Mclaren moved the game on in small but sig­nif­i­cant ways when it mor­phed the 12C into 650S. Will it be the same story from 650S to new 720S, or will it be a far larger leap for­ward?

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.