McLaren is a British institution thanks to its Formula 1 exploits and also the iconic F1 supercar. Now it’s bringing that same technology to the road in a (slightly) more accessible form with the 12C – the ‘MP4’ bit has been dropped. We’re big fans of the 12C Coupe and were recently invited to review the convertible 12C Spider on the Ascari circuit and on the surrounding roads in Southern Spain.
As well as a folding roof the 12C Spider comes with all the upgrades that come with the 2012 version of the Coupe, namely a slight power increase, tweaks to the exhaust system that release more of the engine sound and revised transmission software that speeds up the gear shifts.
Normally even the most carefully-judged drop top version of an existing car has some visual compromises, but not the 12C Spider. In fact in a darker colour it is almost impossible to distinguish one McLaren 12C from the other, as the car was designed to be made roofless right from the outset and so the transformation is completely seamless.
Whether you like the looks is a matter of personal taste. It is functional rather than outright beautiful in comparison to more outlandish drop tops such as the Lamborghini Aventador Roadster, but that in itself holds appeal. If you want the showiest car on the street the McLaren 12C Spider isn’t for you but those in the know will be impressed. That said, jaws will drop when you lower the roof, which can be retracted in 17 seconds on the move at speeds of up to 30kmh.
The McLaren 12C Spider pulls a clever trick in that it has more boot space than the Coupe. Room has been made for the two-piece composite roof behind the seats and ahead of the engine, and with the roof up this space can be used for storage – and there’s two bespoke squashy bags to fill it with too. Add to that the front boot which, while modestly sized is at least a useful shape, and the 12C Spider offers space comparable with a small city car – not bad considering its performance.
Performance & handling
Clever people that they are, the McLaren engineers designed and built the 12C’s carbon fibre ‘MonoCell’ in such a way that the roof doesn’t contribute to its overall strength; so when you cut it off to make a convertible you lose no rigidity. That means no additional strengthening is required and the weight only goes up by 40kg for the roof mechanism, and with 616bhp powering less than 1,500kg fireworks are guaranteed.
The McLaren 12C Spider has numerous options available including Pirelli Corsa tyres, which although optimised for the dry offer spectacular grip – so much so that 12Cs so equipped are faster than those with the standard tyre. 0-62mph is demolished in 3.1 seconds and the top speed of 204mph never feels far away. The 12C Spider’s twin-turbo V8 is razor-sharp in its responses, there is huge grunt available right around the rev range and there’s a more distinct crackle and rasp from the exhaust to boot. You can also drop the rear window even with the roof up to get more noise in the cabin.
The 12C Spider’s ride and handling are arguably more impressive than its outright grunt. The car has Active Roll Control which essentially swaps anti-roll bars for electronic actuators, the upshot being that it adjusts automatically to suit the conditions. You don’t notice anything happening except that the 12C Spider is remarkably comfortable over poor roads and yet has no noticeable body roll whatsoever. On the limit the standard tyre actually provides a more enjoyable drive as the limits of adhesion are reached fractionally earlier, but either way it’s a masterclass in control.
Economy & environment
The 12C Spider isn’t quite as unkind to Mother Nature as you might think, given the performance on offer. An efficient turbocharged engine combined with an efficient dual-clutch transmission all mounted in a lightweight shell makes 24.2mpg combined possible, and the emissions of 279g/km are also very reasonable. If you choose to use the performance you can it to be thirsty, but it’s ahead of its key rivals in this respect.
Equipment & value
At just shy of £200,000 without options the 12C Spider is unquestionably a pricey car, but you get plenty for your money. Aside from the obvious stuff such as that McLaren badge and the carbon fibre, the Active Ride system is standard, as is sat-nav, climate control and an impressive audio system. However the cost of some of the options might raise an eyebrow; leather seats cost £1,830 while metallic paint is a breathtaking £3,820 – it’s enough to make you stick with a flat red or blue.
The 12C Spider is a safe as high performance cars get. Carbon fibre is what Formula 1 cars are made out of, structurally it is just as stiff as the Coupe and is packed with features like Brake Steer and Active Roll Control which will help you avoid an accident in the first place.
Usually the convertible version of an existing coupe – particularly when it comes to supercars – is a dynamic compromise that is more expensive just for the sake of open-air thrills. But amazingly the 12C Spider is arguably more of a complete car than the Coupe. It has more boot space, that clever roof, the same looks but with the option of dropping the top and no loss in performance or handling.
Its chief rival, the Ferrari 458 Italia Spider, is a more romantic interpretation of a drop-top supercar but sacrifices a little of the 12C’s everyday suitability as a trade off. The Lamborghini Aventador LP700-4, meanwhile, is a more dramatic car in most respects. Essentially it comes down to how you plan to use it, but in truth the 12C Spider can manage the urban crawl, a B-road blast or 20 laps of Silverstone with equal grace and purpose. It’s thoroughly brilliant.
Model tested: McLaren 12C Spider
Engine: 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8
Acceleration: 0-62 in 3.1 seconds
Top speed: 204mph
Emissions: 279g/km CO2