McLaren MP4-12C set to re-write the rules of sports car design through Formula 1-inspired engineering, revolutionary chassis architecture, and absolute focus on efficiency
McLaren MP4-12C represents ‘pure McLaren’; from unique engineering to bespoke design where everything is for a reason
The McLaren MP4-12C is revealed as the first in a range of high-performance sports cars from McLaren Automotive, the independent car division based at the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking, England. The 12C, and future models within the range, will challenge the world’s best sports cars, benefiting from the expertise and virtuosity of the McLaren Group.
At its heart, the McLaren MP4-12C features a revolutionary carbon fibre chassis structure, the Carbon MonoCell: the first time a car in this market segment is based around such a strong and lightweight racing car engineering solution and the first time any car has ever featured a one-piece carbon fibre structure.
This step change in sports car design means that the 12C introduces new standards not just in handling, ride and outright performance, but also safety, economy and practicality in an already competitive sector.
The first car from the new company, the McLaren MP4-12C, is a high performance two-seat mid-engine model in the ‘core’ sports car market segment for cars costing between £125,000 and £175,000. The 12C is pure McLaren, featuring no carryover parts from any other car, and will be produced by McLaren in the UK. It goes on sale through a dedicated, worldwide retailer network in early 2011.
The heart of the new car is the Carbon MonoCell. McLaren pioneered the use of carbon composite construction in the 1981 Formula 1 MP4/1 model and set a trend that all Formula 1 teams have followed. The company brought carbon fibre to road cars for the first time with the 1993 McLaren F1 and then built on this experience with a carbon fibre chassis and body on the SLR manufactured to the same exacting standards, but in higher volumes.
Not only is the 12C unique in its class by offering carbon technology, it also has the highest specific power output as well as extraordinary power- and torque-to-weight ratios. Furthermore, the Proactive Chassis Control system offers groundbreaking handling and ride comfort while an intense focus on occupant packaging offers new levels of comfort and everyday usability.
The 12C is powered by a bespoke McLaren ‘M838T’ 3.8 litre, V8 twin-turbo engine producing around 600bhp, driving through a McLaren seven speed Seamless Shift dual clutch gearbox (SSG).
McLaren MP4-12C – what’s in a name?
The name of the new McLaren sports car is MP4-12C.
What does this signify? As one might expect at McLaren, everything has a purpose and the nomenclature is no exception.
- ‘MP4′ has been the chassis designation for all McLaren Formula 1 cars since 1981. It stands for McLaren Project 4, resulting from the merger of Ron Dennis’ Project 4 organisation with McLaren.
- The ‘12′ refers to McLaren’s internal Vehicle Performance Index through which it rates key performance criteria both for competitors and for its own cars. The criteria combine power, weight, emissions, and aerodynamic efficiency. The coalition of all these values delivers an overall performance index that has been used as a benchmark throughout the car’s development.
- The ‘C’ refers to Carbon, highlighting the unique application of carbon fibre technology to the future range of McLaren sports cars.
The elements of this name represent everything that the McLaren MP4-12C stands for:
- ‘MP4′ represents the racing bloodline
- ‘12′ represents the focus on complete performance and efficiency
- ‘C’ represents the revolutionary Carbon MonoCell
“We are very proud of the McLaren MP4-12C and all the teamwork, intelligent thought and sheer effort that have gone into developing this car. What drives people at McLaren is passion – if you cut them, they bleed McLaren. And there is no doubt in my mind that the 12C fully reflects that focus, drive and determination in its performance, style and ownership potential,” said Ron Dennis, McLaren Automotive Chairman.
“This is the start of an exciting new chapter in McLaren’s history, in British high-technology engineering and manufacturing, and in global sports car design. We aim to be the best, but will leave that ultimate judgement to our first customers in 2011. Until then, we will strive to put one name at the top of the ‘most wanted’ list for buyers of high performance sports cars: ‘McLaren’,” he concluded.
Chassis: Proactive control
The suspension for the McLaren MP4-12C breaks new ground, offering hitherto unseen levels of roll control and grip (an almost flat cornering attitude, depending on the programme selected).
Although such track-like responses would normally imply a rock-hard ride, the 12C delivers compliance and ride comfort more akin to an executive saloon car.
The suspension is based on double wishbones with coil springs. The dampers are interconnected hydraulically and provide adaptive responses depending on both road conditions and driver preference.
The Proactive system features adjustable roll control which replaces the mechanical anti-roll bars that have been a standard feature of road cars since time immemorial. It allows the car to maintain precise roll control under heavy cornering while decoupling the suspension in a straight line for excellent wheel articulation and compliance.
There are three suspension modes that are selected on the Active Dynamics Panel. As with the powertrain adjustment, there is a ‘normal’, a ‘sport’ mode and a high performance mode which adjusts numerous parameters in the system.
Not only is the Proactive suspension a unique application that delivers absolute benefits to driver and passenger, but it is also another example of McLaren’s drive to achieve all-round performance goals from core engineering targets.
The standard brakes for the 12C reduce overall vehicle and unsprung mass. McLaren has developed a composite braking system that uses a forged aluminium bell that attaches to the cast iron disc. This solution maintained the excellent brake feel of a cast iron disc while saving 8 kg. Carbon ceramic brakes will be available as an option, offering fade-free braking performance during high performance driving, but the standard composite brake system is actually lighter than the larger carbon ceramic units.
The design of the standard cast alloy wheels (19″ front, 20″ rear) was driven by McLaren’s light weight objectives: the light weight styling was agreed in concept, then the wheel was tuned using Finite Element Analysis to take a further 4 kg out of the wheels. Bespoke Pirelli tyres have been developed in conjunction with McLaren specifically for the 12C.
An array of electronic aids is fitted to the 12C that will assist and protect the less-experienced driver, or when conditions challenge even the best. These include ABS, ESP, ASR traction control, Electronic Brake Distribution, Hill Hold and Brake Steer. The level of intervention varies according to the handling mode selected.
Design: everything for a reason
The McLaren MP4-12C has been designed around a demanding mechanical package that puts emphasis on aerodynamics, compact dimensions, performance and efficiency, practicality and comfort. Although the design of the 12C was driven by aerodynamics, it aims to remain contemporary and elegant throughout its lifetime as well as distinctive among its peers.
Illumination from the running lights bleeds into three distinctive gills just above the headlamps. The windscreen is deep and low for superb forward visibility and redolent of the McLaren F1: in wet weather it is swept by a single weight-saving pantograph wiper blade, as was the F1.
The concept of dihedral doors is simply to allow the driver and passenger to get into and out of the car as easily as possible as well as allowing a smaller door opening than would otherwise be necessary.
The simple act of moving the door forward and upwards invites the driver to step across the sill and sit in the car more easily. In tighter parking situations, dihedral doors allow ingress and egress in a situation where another car has parked too closely. In traditional door systems a huge parking space is necessary to permit the doors to open wide enough.
With its single hinge, the dihedral doors offer weight-saving features and are unique to the McLaren brand. As is the unique handle-free door entry system.
The 12C’s rear is unique. It has an aggressive, business-like appearance with its downforce-optimised rear diffuser. The exhaust pipes exit high and in the centre of the car and the rear end is open to ensure efficient evacuation of hot air from the engine bay. The engine itself is visible through the top deck. The LED tail light clusters do not dominate the rear and are hidden behind horizontal black bars. They are only visible when illuminated: the two upper bars light up as LED brake lights and turn indicators.
The active Airbrake is another innovation that made its debut on the F1 supercar and was also incorporated into the SLR. It deploys hydraulically under braking, or when the driver wants to trim the car for increased downforce by using a switch on the Active Dynamics Panel.
Under braking, a piston operated by transmission hydraulics raises the Airbrake to a certain angle. Once a small amount of wing angle is pushed into the airflow, the centre of aerodynamic pressure forces the bottom of the ‘wing’ back. In this way, it raises the airbrake to maximum angle using the ‘free’ airflow rather than relying on another mechanical device.
The Airbrake moves the centre of pressure of the 12C rearwards, whereas it would normally move forward under braking. It improves yaw stability under braking and allows the brakes to work more effectively due to increased downforce. It is also a weight-saving solution that took almost 50 per cent of weight out of the mechanism.
Inside: it all starts with the driver
The interior is extremely space efficient and is designed to accommodate 98thpercentile adults in comfort. This has been partly achieved by the 7 inch touch screen telematics system oriented in ‘portrait’ mode.
The steering wheel is probably the most important sensory item for any driver. Apart from the feel and feedback from the front wheels, the actual grip and design of the wheel itself is paramount. The steering wheel is ‘clean’ – there are no buttons to distract the driver. It also needs to be small and very tactile.
McLaren designers and engineers found the solution to the steering wheel design challenge under their own roof. Having employed an advanced and compact airbag, the steering wheel design was then inspired by McLaren’s racing expertise.
The steering wheel grip of the 12C is as technically precise as a McLaren racing driver’s wheel.
This is because past Formula 1 championship-winning drivers’ grips were modelled and scanned and the most effective feel and thickness of their wheels was replicated for a high performance road car.
Like the McLaren F1, the driver has controls on both sides, which allows for a rational positioning of switches:
- Climate controls on each door console
- Telematics on the upper centre console
- Active Dynamics Panel on the middle centre console
- Transmission and minor controls on the tunnel console
- Trip computer and cruise controls on steering column
As such, all groups of controls have their own place and are accessible within a hand’s distance from the steering wheel. The instrument cluster has a large central tachometer and digital speed readout. Behind the steering wheel (and moving with it) is a Formula 1-inspired rocker for changing gears. It has been engineered to deliver a Formula 1 haptic. The science of haptics has been applied to all the controls in order to generate a consistent and high quality feel. All the controls are bespoke, designed exclusively by McLaren, and not a single one has come from the parts bin of another manufacturer.
The Active Dynamics Panel provides two rotary switches and four push buttons:
- ‘Active’ activates all the dynamic controls.
- ‘Winter’ sets powertrain, suspension and electronic aids to maximum driver support.
- ‘Launch’ initiates the launch control system.
The two rotary switches control ‘powertrain’ and ‘handling’, each having three position settings for normal, sport and high performance driving modes.
- ‘Powertrain’ changes throttle response, gearbox strategy, shift times and impulse (how much one can feel the gearchange). The coaxial ‘Manual’ button controls use of manual gearbox functions.
- ‘Handling’ changes stability control, steering weight, suspension firmness and roll stiffness. The coaxial ‘Aero’ button allows the driver to deploy the airbrake for increased downforce.
Aftersales, retail distribution, personalisation
Not only is McLaren establishing a new company, a new production plant, an all-new high performance sports car engineered and developed in house… it is also building a global network of retail distribution partners.
This small number of super operators will deliver the dedication and purposefulness necessary to ensure an ownership experience for the 12C that is as good as the car itself.
Ease of repairability, low-cost of servicing and maintenance, and availability of parts are of paramount importance to this customer relationship and have been key targets since the beginning of the 12C project. McLaren aims to offer segment leading performance here too. The principle being that a high performance sports car should not just be a pleasure to drive, but also to own; a car that is efficient to run and own retains its residual value and ensures its owner becomes a repeat purchaser.
Early planning indicates that 25 per cent of sales will be made in the UK, 25 per cent in the USA and the remainder to the rest of the world, notably Germany and mainland Europe, the Middle East and some Far Eastern countries. Although the McLaren MP4-12C has a comprehensive standard specification, customers for such an exclusive car want to have the ability to specify bespoke items, interiors and special equipment for their own car. McLaren has extensive experience of meeting these needs for McLaren F1 and SLR customers.
For example, the 12C will be available in a broad range of exterior paint colours and interior colours and configurations, while carbon fibre components and lightweight forged wheels will reduce weight yet further.