2012 McLaren MP4-12C

March 2, 2012

Bottom line: There is some justification for the divine-right theory of kingship — or, to give it a modern face, the existence of an economic One Percent. Only the rich can afford a car as expensive as the McLaren MP4-12C, which starts at $229,000. If they could not afford it, McLaren would not have built it, and that would have been a technological loss. The carbon-fiber “mono-cell” (the tub) used in the 12C is an amazing bit of work — technology that possibly could be transferred to lesser automobiles. Right now, it’s terribly expensive. But it has a possible future in the development of more-fuel-efficient mass-market cars and trucks.

Ride, acceleration and handling: The 12C is best in class in all three. It’s also best in braking, thanks to a McLaren-patented “airbrake” that rises in the rear of the car when brakes are applied at high speeds. The deployed brake moves aerodynamic pressure rearward and keeps the rear wheels planted on the road.

Body style/layout: The 12C is a mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive sports coupe with a carbon-fiber chassis. It is McLaren’s first commercially available car since the introduction of the 1993 McLaren F1.

Engine/transmission: It comes with a 3.8-liter, twin-turbocharged, 32-valve, double-overhead-cam V-8 (592 horsepower, 443 foot-pounds of torque). The engine is mated to a dual-clutch seven-speed transmission that can be operated automatically or manually.

Capacities: It seats two people. Trunk space in front can accommodate four soft overnight bags. The fuel tank holds 31.7 U.S. gallons. This is a high-compression, twin-turbocharged car — premium fuel is required.

Mileage: I was a laughingstock trying to nurse as many miles per gallon as possible out of a high-performance sports car. I averaged 25 mpg on public roads sticking to speed limits, which made it enjoyable, albeit frightening, to let loose on the track. Most of you would probably get a combined city-highway 23 mpg.

Safety: Rigid body structure; front and rear ventilated disc brakes; four-wheel anti-lock brake protection; McLaren-patented “airbrake”; electronic stability and traction control; post-collision and pre-collision safety systems; front head air bags; one of the best suspension systems in the business.

Price: The 2012 McLaren MP4-12C starts at $229,000. Add an estimated $2,300 for delivery. (Okay, next week I go back to normal cars.)

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