As a car enthusiast for the last 16 years, I cannot recall a more talked about launch about a new car than the McLaren MP4-12C. This is the only car McLaren is making after the legendary McLaren F1 and only its 2nd ever. Despite not being the biggest McLaren fan, I have no hesitation in saying that the F1 was probably the greatest car ever made and had no rival cars from Ferrari or anyone else, mostly because it cost £540,000... in 1997.
The MP4-12C however costs only £165,800, and that brings it head-to-head with the current supercar king - The Ferrari 458 Italia. This is easily the biggest and most important car showdown of the 21st century so far.
One of the reason's is because the pride of Great Britain is involved. Having lost most of their iconic brands to the Germans, Chinese and Indians, McLaren is their last resort to claim a world beating product. Secondly, the McLaren F1 was way ahead of its time when it was launched in the early 90's. The expectation from the MP4-12C is similar and besides, people want to know what's better than Ferrari.
So has it done it then? Is it the new king?
Sadly, especially if you hate Ferrari, the answer is 'no'
If you look at this 'basic' spec sheet that I created, on paper, the McLaren is the clear winner. But performance cars are not just about absolute figures. Figures don't tell anything about how they handle, how confident they make the drivers feel and most importantly, how much fun they can provide. And on those fronts, the Ferrari emerges as the clear winner.
- Ferrari 1 - 0 McLaren
The 458 stuns the McLaren in a review by Car Magazine at the Rockingham circuit.
- Ferrari 2 - 0 McLaren
2nd blood goes to the Ferrari, this time during a test by Evo magazine. The driver here is Ben Collins, the former Stig!
- Ferrari 3 - 0 Mclaren
The verdict from Tiff and Jason of 5th Gear is clear - the McLaren is a disappointment.
- Ferrari 4 - 0 Mclaren
And now for the biggest verdict - Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear prefers the Ferrari as well. In his inimitable style, he sums up the verdict with a few words.
"The Ferrari is a pair of stockings. The McLaren is a pair of tights. Scientifically and mathematically and practically, the McLaren is better. And yet somehow, it isn't."
The upcoming review on the Top Gear TV show should be very interesting as well, although I don't think we will come across anything new.
For now, Ferrari still reigns supreme. Better luck next time McLaren. Or maybe, the Union Jack will be held high by the upcoming Lotus Esprit...
Update 10th July: The Mclaren blitzed the power lap at the Top Gear track clocking 1.16.2, nearly 3 seconds faster than the Ferrari. Clarkson's conclusion was a bit ambiguous; he didn't say which one he will buy.
So what does this mean? How can the McLaren be so fast around the Top Gear track when its slower everywhere else? The answer probably was on Top Gear itself. They said that the car was tested on their track which is probably the main reason why its so fast there. A car developed at one track may not be fast on other tracks.
Which test would I say is a more accurate gauge?
I will go with the one's where the driver of both the cars was the same man. In case of Top Gear, the 458 was driven by old Stig making comparison a bit difficult. Also, I kind of am inclined towards what Tiff Needell has to say about cars...
Of course, the Nurburgring. But we will have to wait for that because McLaren apparently crashed their car there while attempting to set a new record. Any guesstimates?
Update 14th July: It's 5 - 0 now. Tom Ford gave his verdict on Topgear.com. Reason? Same as all the others.