The Italian Junkyard

Thoughts, ideas, criticism about cars. Interesting news and facts from the world of the automobile. Events in Italy and Modena. What you can find elsewhere, filtered through the eyes of a discerning enthusiast. Design, style, everything on the chopping block. Nobody is safe anymore.

Friday, October 9, 2009

8.3 My two cents on the McLaren MP4-12C, as they won't get much more out of my wallet.

Let's have a look at the final result, the brand new McLaren MP4-12C.
It's actually McLaren Automotive, to distinguish it from the the other companies under the large umbrella of the McLaren Group. Whatever.
First thing I have to say is that this orange, no matter how historically important, doesn't suit it. It was barely OK on the road going F1, while the F1 LM was just right in that livery, probably because of its racing bodywork, and we are quite used to weird colors for racing cars, but not this time.

As for the car itself, the 12C seems to be actually larger and rounder than what it appears in those cold media shots. You can perceive this looking at the last images from test on the Nurburgring, where the car was wearing a matt black with white stripes paint job as the only camo. It seems so large you'd expect to glance a third central seat for the driver.
I've posted quite a few spyshots after the break, courtesy of Secret New Cars so that you can have a good idea of what the car looks like in the flesh.

Make the jump to read the rest of the story, have a look at the high resolution images and fall asleep watching some videos as well.

As for the look itself, it's growing on me little by little, and it raised from the “oh dear, leave that Lotus alone” level to the “kinda cool, I guess” one.
It looks pretty fluent and simple, which is good if you think of the hyper aggressive Ferrari F430 or even the hi-tech 458 Italia, still it look also a bit too simple, almost obvious.
It may be the color, and it may be the less than inspired photos, but it just fails to kidnap my childish inner side.
Now that I think about it, the child has to be grown as it doesn't happen very often lately, being intrigued by a new car...unless it's a Bertone Mantide that is.

My main concern about the MP4-12C (sounds like a new mp3 player to be honest) is that it doesn't look homogeneous at the end of the day. The front end and the side work together quite well, but the rear end and its LED taillights are just straight from another design. They just look too space age and hi-tech if compared to the rest of the car. I can see them working with the cockpit, which is quite nice I'd say, or with the engine bay, which isn't good at all since if there is something enthusiasts want is too see the engine and not a plastic box.

About the engine bay, just think about the F1's one, it was such a glorious view, with the dramatic add of the gold creating a suggestive background. Perhaps cars like the Subaru Impreza or the Porsche 911 look to have just a mechanical device of some sort giving them the right motivation, but then there are things of beauty as the Rolls Royce Phantom engine, or the chromed intake manifolds of the glorious Alfa Romeo V6 or the hydroformed aluminum ones in the Pagani Zonda F. That's the heart of the car after all, and it has to be passionate and exiting not only in the substance, but in the look as well.
This on the other hand looks once again cold and made of plastic, too focused on an uncommunicative design. It may looks good as an object, but it doesn't look like something capable of 600 bhp and endless smiles on your face.

Back at the tail, the black lines running horizontally try to mimic those at the front end, but they don't work as good as the others. The exhaust pipes appear to be in a completely wrong place, and just a gimmick to the Formula 1 cars' layout.
All in all, the rear end quite remembers me what a 16 years old boy would have drawn in his spare time. Not really intriguing considering this is the real deal.
Even less good thinking that, while in eighties and nineties cars' tails were among the most ignored part in the loom compartment with the omni present black horizontal grilles, right now the tail has a huge importance, as much as the front, helping the car to achieve its own image and personality.

The rest of the car is OK, nothing out of the ordinary, the double air intakes in front of the rear tires are a bit, well, fishy, but they manage to recall a Formula 1 spirit.
The headlights aren't the best in the world, still an improvement over many over complicated ones, affected by the new LED mania. Looking at you 458 Italia.
Now I can see the point of using LED technology to achieve new results in the design of this element, but right now the results are either inexistent (Audi) or too busy (Ferrari).
Simplicity should be a good path to follow.

That said with the interior, a few words on the technical side.
Marketing BSs aside, it strikes me that McLaren eventually opted for an in house designed engine. Not that I'm sure on that, but they never quoted another manufacturer as even a collaborator in this aspect.
The choice of a twin turbo layout is quite sensible, an easy way to achieve both good specs and low emissions at the same time. It is also what all cool kids do now it seems.
What actually surprised me is the power. Not that 600 bhp are an irrelevant figure. On the contrary it is a level of power that managed to propel the older F1 to the historical limit of 386 km/h (with a peak of 391 km/h).
One of the main point of this car and if its press release it's the new revolutionary single piece lower part of the central monocoque, a component usually made welding and joining more parts together.
It is called Carbon MonoCell.
This obviously allows for a more rigid component, and it also seems to save a lot of weight.
They are proud of this lightness, they are “obsessed” with it, so...did you really need of 600 bhp?
Considering all the contenders, from the brand new Ferrari 458 Italia to the Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4, all of them are using an aluminum chassis, or steel in other cases, the MP4-12C is the only one with a carbon fiber chassis, something usually reserved to supercars like the Ferrari Enzo, Maserati MC12, Bugatti 16.4 Veyron, Pagani Zonda, Koenigsegg CCX and so on.
Regardless of this, the 12C is also the most powerful of its class, by about 25 bhp.
I understand that when you release or just design a new car, you are doing that to “beat” the contenders and not just be exactly like them, still I suspect this is once another car in the wrong direction.
Seems like “more with less” a difficult to be learned lesson.

And then there is the gearbox. Once another time it's a dual clutch unit, and it may even be one of the last new units will see on the market as the new automatic transmissions from ZF proved to be easier to design, adopt and run, while being capable to sustain even higher inputs from the engine they are matched with.
It also adopts a technology, or rather a name, derived from the units developed for Formula 1 cars. That's to say, this is a seamless shift gearbox. means that virtually there won't be torque interruption anymore.
By the way, what bothers me aren't its paddles behind the steering wheels and the chronic lack of a shifter between the seats, but rather a new function of its electronic counterpart, which is called Pre-Cog.
Minority Report, here we come.
Basically the system allows you pre-engage a gear way before of actually changing it, so that when it's time for the new gear to be engaged, it is already there.
How does it work? Say that you're accelerating from idle. You obviously know that sooner or later you're going to need to change into second. So when you are at about 4.000 rpm, for instance, you activate the paddle by half of its allowed movement, and the system prepares the second clutch and the specific gear, second in this case, so when you reach the red line or the point at which you actually want to change gear, the new gear is ready to be engaged, saving “milliseconds”, say the PR.

Just WOW, I mean, for real?! Does it work with my PS2, or Xbox360?

There is more though: this new pseudo feature is called Brake Steer. Oh, and what's this?
It's a fancy ESP. It basically brakes the inner wheels if the trajectory of the car doesn't coincide with the one requested by the driver. In case of acceleration out of a corner, if the inner wheel tends to spin, it brakes it again. It's a kind of magic even small compact cars can have, but it's secret don't tell them.

So, what's this, the ultimate driving machinery, or a full-size car for playing with you're favorite gaming console?
At the moment it is none, as the car won't be available until 2011, and it's right now going under testing and development, so many things could change until then. Basically McLaren showcased the car so early to look for new investors (money, as if they were short on that), and to start re-creating a name in the big-players market.
Oh, you better start saving your coins, this is going to be much more expensive of the competition.

Since after all I'm not a super renowned designer or critic, please welcome McLaren Automotive Managing Director Antony Sheriff, in these three videos courtesy of EVO Magazine, in which he will explain us what we are looking at and how that it works. Be afraid, boring chatting inside.
Well, we'll see how it ends up.

All images Copyright: McLaren Automotive
excepr for the spyshots, copyright: Secret New Cars
Videos copyright: EVO Magazine

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