About a year ago I wrote an editorial that absorbed and explored the fallout of 2011’s biggest automotive test: McLaren MP4-12C versus Ferrari 458 Italia, and why the quantifiably superior former was comprehensively defeated by the esoteric latter. More sense of occasion, better noise, more emotion, better looking – it’s exactly the subjective sort of criteria that cars shouldn’t have verdicts based upon – and yet the Ferraris’ victory seemed to make perfect sense.
After all, in Britain, we’re always harder on our own. We have a self-deprecating irony which far outweighs any petty hostilities he hold against foreign nations, no matter how xenophobic the media sometimes portrays us. That the international press agreed was hardly a stop-press shock, however.
So why then, as a twenty-something lad who hasn't a hope in hell of getting his hands on a supercar in the near future, do I crave a drive in the MP4-12C over any other car, past or present? It’s seems curious, inexcusable even., In the face of the true greats, like the Ferrari F40 and E30 BMW M3, or one of the cars of the moment (Toyota GT86, Fisker Karma) that I’d choose to spend my fantasy ten minutes wheeltime in the unloved, supposedly clinical 12C.
I think it’d because cars maintain interest, for me, when they remain controversial. A mkI Ford Focus is still an enigma, still relevant, because there are those who proclaim it an all-time benchmark, and those who rate its front differential abilities as a liability, impeding it on the very roads it should have breakfasted on. Likewise the E60 BMW M5, a car blessed with a magnificent V10 engine, but now condemned to do-you-dare bargain status, thanks to its Flintoff-shaming thirst and mood swing-prone transmission. As likely to provoke furious debate as they are a spontaneous Sunday morning drive, these are the cars that, like it or not, still matter. Even though they’re outdated.
The MP4-12C then. At the root of my fascination is the almost rehearsed two-pronged approach I’d have to experiencing it: the drive, and the understanding. The driving is simple: educate myself on the adaptive modes for powertrain and chassis, sample the twin-turbo engine, and bend my head around the concept of its Active Chassis Control as the hydraulic talent tackles bends itself. Meanwhile: does the car excite, entertain, and leave an impression, beyond its numbers? To see if the MP4-12C got under my skin as an experience, as a sensation, rather than simply a very rapid motor vehicle, is the crux of its charm – the charm that so many branded it desperately free of.
Interesting debate, the wider ‘technology in cars’ one. The obvious Ferrari rival is too loaded to the gunwales with systems to keep the driver safe, comfortable, and allow him to drive the Maranello machine faster than contemporary GT racing cars of the previous decade.
So, the presence of technology itself is not the factor that decides if a car can be successful. It does move at such a relentless space though – faster even than the cars whose potential it unlocks, that it dates those cars quickly, long before inclement weather and frayed seat bolsters ever could. That means the new generation of supercars, 12C included, will be irrelevant sooner than say, the 512 Boxer or Enzo were.
One might argue the lightweight, meticulous F1 never really crossed that threshold – it’s still a zenith even today. Having said that, at a cool £640,000 when new, perhaps it never became relevant in the first place.
On the one hand, a young lad lusting after a drive in a super sports car is nothing original or surprising. But desiring a taste of a car’s abilities and putting them in context is the core reason any of us want to be a motoring hack, or simply like cars at all. Roll on the second opinion.