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2013 McLaren 12C Spyder - First Drive

McLaren removes the roof from its carbon supercar

Basem Wasef
Feb 25, 2013
Epcp 1302 01 o+2013 McLaren 12C spyder+passenger side profile Photo 1/8   |   2013 McLaren 12C Spyder - First Drive

Critics might claim the McLaren 12C isn't emotional enough for the supercar pantheon, but that argument now seems even weaker: the new Spider derivative not only lets in the sunshine, it also introduces a new range of sensory inputs to the 616hp experience.

First and foremost, it's the sound. Idling in Ascari Race Resort's pitlane in southern Spain, the McLaren's twin-turbocharged V8 doesn't sound dramatically different to its coupe counterpart. But lower the window or retract the two-piece composite roof - taking 17sec and can be performed at up to 19mph - and the sonic soundscape alters dramatically.

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While the Intake Sound Generator has been tweaked for greater volume in Sport and Track modes, it can be altered independently of the powertrain modes, so the Spider's most significant difference is its newfound symphony of sound.

Rev the engine under load and a new spectrum of mechanical frequencies emanates from the mid-mounted mill: intake whoosh and wastegate wheeze are thrown into the auditory mix, lending this two-seater a new lease on life.

It creates more drama on the racetrack, where the huge tachometer's ascent to the 8500rpm redline seems more anxious thanks to the added aural ingredients. The 3.8-liter V8 turbo has already enjoyed a boost in output thanks to software tweaks (from 592hp), but in this application the sled feels saucier.

McLaren claims the 12C Spider was originally designed alongside the MP4-12C coupe, so no bracing or reinforcement was necessary on the ultra-stiff carbon fiber monocell chassis. Adding a pop-up roll-bar would have been redundant thanks to a boron tube in the A-pillars; the only components added to the structure are two composite roof pieces, a steel tonneau (for added rollover protection), an electric motor and its mechanism. Net weight gain? A paltry 88 lb.

Epcp 1302 02 o+2013 McLaren 12C spyder+top boot Photo 3/8   |   2013 McLaren 12C Spyder - First Drive

Back at the track, the Pirelli Corsa-clad convertible carves the 3.37-mile course in angry attack mode. There was a trace of perceptible understeer, but that was usually my fault; chassis stiffness is such that weight transfer on and off the front wheels becomes palpable.

Knowing when to turn-in required tapping into parts of the brain usually reserved for the kart track; in fact, this 2.5-ton car changes direction so quickly, with such ease and deliberation, it seems infallible in its quest to devour apexes and surge forward.

Only when the chassis setting was in its least permissive mode does heavy throttle application seriously unseat the otherwise balletic balance: tap into the rush of turbocharged goodness too heavily and the tail yaws into a potentially unrecoverable slide. I should know: I sent it into a spin coming out of a tight right-hander!

Epcp 1302 05 o+2013 McLaren 12C spyder+passenger side rear view Photo 4/8   |   2013 McLaren 12C Spyder - First Drive

Although Ascari isn't particularly brake-intensive, the 12C's carbon-ceramic stoppers encouraged all-out acceleration since the speed was so easily scrubbed off. Turn after turn, the 12C begs to be flogged across tarmac, and responds to driver demands like a champ.

Once track duties were complete, we headed out on public roads with standard tires and non-carbon brakes. Set the chassis and powertrain dials to "normal", and the 12C floats over bumps like a softly sprung, full-size sedan.

Clicking paddle shifters at lower RPMs yields surprisingly leisurely shifts, but where it really counts - in the tacho's upper stratosphere, in the heat of hard acceleration, the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox shifts swiftly and smoothly enough to encourage mid-corner cog swaps.

Epcp 1302 04 o+2013 McLaren 12C spyder+passenger side front view Photo 5/8   |   2013 McLaren 12C Spyder - First Drive

Speed with the top down and you hear the air currents hitting the rear spoiler when in the high-angle "Aero" mode; McLaren enjoys tapping into its F1 heritage by referring to their "other open air car" with tongue-in-cheek pride, and it's when the spoiler flips up and acts as an air brake that the road-going sports car reminds you it's track-focused.

Despite its exceptional ability and gut-wrenching moves, the 12C is still, at its heart, a more rational alternative to its Italian counterparts. Sure, it will have an eye-popping stablemate when the P1 flagship joins the lineup next year, but the 12C remains the thinking man's exotic: whooshes, wheezes, snorts and all.

2013 McLaren 12C Spyder

Layout Mid-engine, RWD

Epcp 1302 06 o+2013 McLaren 12C spyder+side rear view Photo 6/8   |   EPCP-130200-DRV3-030-032-

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 steel 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 aerodynamic and air-brake functions

MSRP $249000 (est)


Power 616hp at 7500rpm

Epcp 1302 08 o+2013 McLaren 12C spyder+driver side view Photo 7/8   |   2013 McLaren 12C Spyder - First Drive

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

Epcp 1302 07 o+2013 McLaren 12C spyder+passenger side profile Photo 8/8   |   EPCP-130200-DRV3-030-032-
By Basem Wasef
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