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2013 McLaren MP4-12C Spider - First Drive

A second look at McLaren's topless stunner on both road and track

Alex Bernstein
Dec 11, 2013
Photographer: Dirk Abinakad

No, you're not losing your mind. We've already reviewed the sultry 12C Spider back in EC 2/13, when Basem Wasef had a chance to let it loose on Spain's Ascari Circuit. However, McLaren invited us to drive the Spider at California Speedway, so how could we refuse?

We weren't expecting to come away from the track with newfound revelations. Let's face it; the consensus on this supercar is five stars anywhere you look. And while our star rating is no different, we stumbled upon a scary truth: The 12C Spider just might be the only real daily-drivable supercar in existence.

You see, rivals from Italy and Germany don't quite have it all. Sure, some are more violent and visually stunning (Aventador), and others are superbly sorted but lacking the thrust we want in a car of this caliber (R8 V10 Plus), yet the 12C Spider... Well, it doesn't fall short.

2013 McLaren MP4 12C spider butterfly doors 04 Photo 2/7   |   2013 McLaren MP4-12C Spider - First Drive

Even on a gloomy Friday morning, our yellow Spider could stop traffic. With the two composite roof pieces intact, its ability to transform into an open-topped racer is unrivalled. The lines are so clean, unlike many convertibles that differ from their coupe siblings in obvious ways.

What's more, the 12C Spider only gains a measly 88 lb compared to the coupe. Even more impressive is that no structural rigidity was lost along the way, yet the extra fun is immeasurable.

Thanks to boron tubes in the A-pillars, it makes little difference to the handling characteristics whether you choose the fixed roof or composite drop-top. As a result, McLaren admitted that most drivers were completely unaware they were in the Spider rather than the coupe since the two drive virtually the same thanks to the advanced carbon fiber monocell chassis.

2013 McLaren MP4 12C spider driver side view 07 Photo 3/7   |   2013 McLaren MP4-12C Spider - First Drive

There was an elephant standing on my lungs, my stomach was squashed in a vice, and my forehead was strapped tightly the headrest. Or at least, that's how it felt from the passenger seat when I was shown how the launch control works. In fact, it gets the Spider to 60mph in 3.1sec. We then continued onto 100 and then to 140. The car was ludicrously, inconceivably fast.

Even better is that there's virtually no turbo lag from the 3.8-liter V8 twin-turbo, which isn't surprising when you pop the bonnet to glance at the two tiny snails boosting the hand-built gem to 616hp and 442 lb-ft. How then, is it possible that the 12C pulls so hard to its 8500rpm redline?

The motor was built to provide immense low-end torque by utilizing the small turbos as primary power-adders. Up at the top of the rev range, where the turbos are spinning at impossible revolutions, the small displacement V8 takes over to keep the powerband climbing ever higher. The combination is almost utopian in its ferocious delivery.

On the tight track, stretching the Spider's legs wasn't quite as easy. In fact, witnessing the sub-3000 lb British bomber handle with the eagerness of a shifter kart was almost unsettling. A car shouldn't be able to do this...

2013 McLaren MP4 12C spider front fascia 05 Photo 4/7   |   2013 McLaren MP4-12C Spider - First Drive

Turn-in is almost telepathic, where merely the thought is enough to clip the apex with razor precision. And the idea of transition oversteer or a chicane mishap can be buried deep in your cranium, because the McLaren simply cannot be disturbed.

The Spider is so incredibly easy to drive fast that even my grandma could exploit its ability but, if she went too hard, the carbon-ceramic stoppers would surely bring things to a halt.

Blown away at its track performance, we assumed the 12C would be jarring on public roads. Cars of this caliber usually sit so far on the performance side of the spectrum that pebbles feel like potholes and parking lots become a chore. However, setting the chassis and powertrain dials from "Race" to "Normal" turned the g-pulling beast into a comfy, plush tourer. With the roof down and the whooshing, burbling behind your ears, crossing railroad tracks without scrubbing speed felt urbane for a car that's so capable of being uncivilized. This is something no other supercar can offer...

At $249000, the 12C Spider is no bargain, but you won't find more for your money if you're looking for a 204mph daily driver. And, frankly, who isn't?

2013 McLaren MP4 12C spider active rear spoiler 02 Photo 5/7   |   2013 McLaren MP4-12C Spider - First Drive

2013 McLaren MP4-12C Spider

Layout mid-engine, RWD

Engine 3.8L V8 32v DOHC twin-turbocharged, variable valve timing

Transmission seven-speed automated manual with dual-clutch

Brakes four-piston calipers f&r, 370mm rotors f, 350mm r. Optional six-piston, 394mm carbon-ceramic rotors f, four-piston, 380mm r

Suspension double independent wishbone, McLaren ProActive Chassis control with hydraulic circuits

Wheels & Tires 19x8.5" f, 20x11" r, 235/35 R19 f, 305/30 R20 rear

Exterior active rear spoiler with aero and air-brake functions

2013 McLaren MP4 12C spider track performance 06 Photo 6/7   |   2013 McLaren MP4-12C Spider - First Drive


Power 616hp at 7500rpm

Torque 442 lb-ft at 3000-7000rpm

0-62mph 3.1sec (with optional Pirelli Corsa tires)

Top speed 204mph

Weight 2945 lb (dry)

Economy 15/22mpg city/highway

MSRP $249000 (est)

2013 McLaren MP4 12C spider active rear spoiler 03 Photo 7/7   |   2013 McLaren MP4-12C Spider - First Drive
By Alex Bernstein
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