Friday, 2 March 2012

How McLaren Is Killing The Supercar


While not long ago I put the McLaren F1 as the best supercar ever made, their latest venture, the MP4-12C - named after their 1997 F1 car, is somewhat of a letdown. Moreover, I dare to say, McLaren is down the road to kill the content behind the term 'supercar'.

I have never owned a supercar. I have never driven one. I barely see one on the roads. And that is exactly I am entitled to make a judgement here.

The reason behind the McLaren roadcar-bashing is mainly the materials used in the car. Supercars are not made of steel, aluminium, carbon-fibre, magnesium, different alloys - contrary to the popular belief - but dreams. Cloudy, candy floss images where cars are war horses and roads are deadly dungeons. And within these dreams the McLaren MP4-12C fits in as well as a minister of equal opportunities in a street riot.

Yes, the McLaren is fast, faster than almost everything else put out lately, it is equipped with a grand mixture of technological advancements with groundbreaking "green" figures. And as Chris Harris pointed out, the car is easy to live with, it can behave as an ordinary car in ordinary, everyday situations.

And that exactly my problem is.

Because yes, it works properly in all situations and it is quick indeed, it is a perfect street, road and track car, where every engineered part is subordinated to performance and usability, ditching styling as something old-school, but that compromise comes with a price.

There is no other way of putting the problem but with the words of Hungarian motoring journalist Gabor Bazso (aka Nino Karotta) who - in his pursuit of designing and building his own Datsun 260Z trackday car - contemplated over the design of the car's new, flared wheelarches:
"I am unable to envision the curve of the rear wheelarches upon aerodynamic basis. This is not the sort of motorsport where every single air-molecule is forced to take a different route around the body. This should be left to Adrian Newey. Only in good looks I am interested in. ... I don't care whether those air-molecules fly by slowly or quickly, I just want them to have an erection while doing so."
In other words, the McLaren is just not inspiring enough. Or at all. I can't imagine the person who's dreaming about the McLaren, although he should be the sort of person who's browsing and comparing torque figures in his spare time, rather than Playboy centerfolds.

The other thing is the handling, and this is the most crucial part. There is nothing wrong with a well-designed chassis and great balance. It's the abundance of electronics. In fact, McLaren decided to put Michael Schumacher's brain in the car. It is like if Schuey himself was sitting in the passanger seat with extra pedals for him as in driving instructors' cars. He greets you with a big smile and says: "Today, we are going to go fast." So you're putting your foot on the pedal, hitting an A-road, while Schuey not saying anything. He will however dance his way through on his own pedals, breaking when needed, accelerating when needed. And out of every corner he is putting a big smile on his face with a "Well done!" look in his eyes, thinking "Mein Gott!" in the meantime.

Honestly, are you still dreaming of a car your mother can drive, too?

And what is it that it slices through city traffic easily? Who ever wanted a practical supercar? I know, it's the Honda NSX that started the whole trend, but the whole sexepil of that car at the time was going against the trends and putting handling before power, while retaining a reasonably sized boot. The MP4-12C does that too. And some more. And again, more, until the point it overkills it. In fact, killing it. Not just committing suicide, but endangering the species of supercars. Because if it's a practical supercar you want, why not start your search at the other end of the scale and look for high-performance saloons? No, a BMW M5 won't go as fast around the corner as the McLaren, but it has four seats, a big boot, tremendous amount of power, and a huge smile-factor.

So what does McLaren do?

McLaren is making speed accessible. It's making it commonplace. It's just putting more numbers at the bottom right corner of the speedometer. It's making the supercar friendly.

McLaren is now turning James Hunt into Lewis Hamilton.

It is your choice to decide whether you'd have a beer with James or talking of suspensions with Lewis.

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