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I had the honor to be invited to drive the McLaren MP4-12C on behalf of McLarenLife.com last week by the San Francisco Bay Area dealer located in Palo Alto. A special thanks to their Sales Director, Alessandro Ribola for hosting me for the afternoon dealership tour, drive and photo session. Over the next few days, I will be posting a short series of write-ups covering the driving experience, driving dynamics, engine and exhaust note, steering, interior and feedback from the company, as well as joining the grand opening of the dealership in the SF Bay Area.

In a nut shell, the MP4-12C is obviously world class, or few of us would be active on this site! It lacks the driving drama of the Italian competitors (a good thing) but also lacks some of the overt passion. Put another way, it is a level-headed, refined and well-mannered exotic. For many, this is precisely the alternative they have been looking for (or an accompaniment to) the existing standard bearers in the exotic car marketplace.

I'd compare it, in many ways, in personality to the Audi R8 or Porsche 911 Turbo S - meaning you can be driving hard, near your limit and yet still carry on an in depth conversation because it lacks the high strung drama of Ferrari/Lamborghini. As such, you realize you are going 100+ mph but didn't realize it until you looked at the speedo. But on the other hand, no particular aspect of the car’s character absolutely tugs your heartstrings either, like an Italian exhaust note that absolutely makes you want to do the most inappropriate things on the spot.

Caveat – having just compared the McLaren MP4-12C’s distinctive exhaust note to the well known, instantly recognized and loved Italians, I must fairly say the first time I drove a Lamborghini Gallardo between Germany and Switzerland, I admit I had a similar feeling of lacking passion for the new found exhaust note when comparing it to the well established Ferrari exhaust shriek. The Gallardo’s V10 exhaust note grew on me quickly and I now rank it among my very favorites. Much like how one can identify the distinctive Ferrari wail without actually seeing the car, the Lamborghini is now well established and recognized after a few years becoming a familiar sight and sound. I suspect, with more time behind the wheel and more familiarity with the MP4-12C, its exhaust note too will soon join the establishment as a benchmark among the world’s most recognizable and desirable exhaust notes.

This car had the Sport Exhaust package that is louder than the standard – and I am glad it did. I am a fanatic for well-refined, racy exhaust that is ideally suited across the driving spectrum from starting the car, idle, acceleration, highway cruising, etc. It is easier for manufacturers to get the exhaust note wrong with critics than it is to get it right. In this case, the exhaust note is throaty, without the shriek of Ferrari, or the V8 rumble of the R8 or the deep V10 whine of the Gallardo. It was somewhere in between, so clearly and fortunately, McLaren wasn’t looking to merely imitate its competitors. I liked it; though it is tough to describe the exact demeanor and note but the Sport Exhaust package was certainly loud enough to makes its presence known. Plenty of exhaust note enters the cabin even with the windows up, unlike the R8 that is most pleasing to the people behind the car because so little engine and exhaust note enter the cabin. McLaren did a great job of striking the balance between limiting the sound deadening material to let in the glorious engine and exhaust note while managing NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) issues that were an issue with Ferrari’s flat-plane F430, in my opinion.

Also, toggling the Handling control between Normal, Sport and Track while under throttle provides a noticeable audible change in the exhaust note. None of that subtle, "I think I hear a difference." These settings changes made a big difference, almost like a different car. That is awesome. You can clearly notice the volume change by toggling the Handling controls and as such, you must raise or lower your voice to compensate. To me, these are the traits of a very well executed exotic car – especially impressive on an all-new model by an all-new maker of road cars.

One other exhaust note comment, with McLaren entering the market, it is fascinating to compare how each of the exotic automakers has carved out a unique
personality and character for their exhaust, much like they have the driving dynamics of their cars. Bentley, Aston Martin, Porsche, Maserati, Ferrari, Lamborghini among the most widely sold exotics and now McLaren. Each has been careful not to encroach upon another’s audible signature exhaust. We will have to hear more of the MP4-12C’s exhaust note and hear McLaren’s upcoming models to truly appreciate their distinctive interpretation of a racing exhaust for the street.

I will shortly be posting about more about the driving experience.
 

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Torbin, great write-up. Thanks for covering this for us. Alessandro is a great guy and McLaren is lucky to have him as he knows the buyers after his many years at FofSF.

Good honest feedback on the exhaust. I personally think McLaren nailed it giving the right balance. With the flip of a switch you get the best of both worlds. Looking forward to your driving impressions.
 

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Grand opening tmrw night should be fun. Curious to see if some owners bring their 12Cs or F1s (can't even fathom that choice... "Which McLaren shall I drive today...?").
 

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The only statement I would really take issue with, is the following:

"But on the other hand, no particular aspect of the car’s character absolutely tugs your heartstrings either, like an Italian exhaust note that absolutely makes you want to do the most inappropriate things on the spot."

I think any owner that is through the break-in period will attest that the turbo power delivery makes you want to break the law in the most lewd fashion imaginable. Like car impounded and driver locked up for a very long time, lewd. :D

Looking forward to hearing more about your day, but hope that you're not going to fall victim to the clinical vs. passion cliche. It's been overdone!!
 

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I personally think McLaren nailed it giving the right balance. With the flip of a switch you get the best of both worlds. Looking forward to your driving impressions.
Honestly, so far I like the sound with Powertrain set to NORMAL the best. You can hear the engine working in all its mechanical intricacy, the overall sound is deep and rich and no single sound dominates the experience. SPORT is nice, too, as you get some of the amplified induction layered over top, which gives you plenty of variety in sounds for your ear to focus on. TRACK is dominated, unfortunately in my opinion, by the induction roar. You're hard pressed to hear anything else, including your own thoughts! For me, at least, it feels a touch gimmicky, as it probably should, given it was an afterthought to shut up the journalists moaning.
 

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The only statement I would really take issue with, is the following:

"But on the other hand, no particular aspect of the car’s character absolutely tugs your heartstrings either, like an Italian exhaust note that absolutely makes you want to do the most inappropriate things on the spot."

I think any owner that is through the break-in period will attest that the turbo power delivery makes you want to break the law in the most lewd fashion imaginable. Like car impounded and driver locked up for a very long time, lewd. :D

Looking forward to hearing more about your day, but hope that you're not going to fall victim to the clinical vs. passion cliche. It's been overdone!!
+1,but im afraid i have to say the power delivery pulls at my heartstrings over anything else ive ever driven,you can keep your italian exhaust note for me if its designed to make you feel quick,id rather just be quick.Ive had enough of that with a v8 vantage,obviously not in the same league but you get my point;)
 

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Honestly, so far I like the sound with Powertrain set to NORMAL the best. You can hear the engine working in all its mechanical intricacy, the overall sound is deep and rich and no single sound dominates the experience. SPORT is nice, too, as you get some of the amplified induction layered over top, which gives you plenty of variety in sounds for your ear to focus on. TRACK is dominated, unfortunately in my opinion, by the induction roar. You're hard pressed to hear anything else, including your own thoughts! For me, at least, it feels a touch gimmicky, as it probably should, given it was an afterthought to shut up the journalists moaning.
Spot on 6E. To my ears the noise is fake, at least in normal mode you can hear the other stuff. I've read on the forum that you can take out the induction tubes? Would be interested to know how simple and reversible this is so I can try a comparison test.

Hope the weather in the Atlantic is good - my car is supposed to be on the way. Also hope that those numpties didn't load it!
 

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Sweet! Cant wait to read/see more. Thank you!!
 

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Spot on 6E. To my ears the noise is fake, at least in normal mode you can hear the other stuff. I've read on the forum that you can take out the induction tubes? Would be interested to know how simple and reversible this is so I can try a comparison test.

Hope the weather in the Atlantic is good - my car is supposed to be on the way. Also hope that those numpties didn't load it!
Congrats Tex! Can't wait to see the pics of your 12C side by side with your Ford GT.

p.s. there is another thread started about the induction here: http://www.mclarenlife.com/forums/mclaren-mp4-12c-p11/724-removal-induction-facility.html
 
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