Supercars are 20 to the dozen these days and it takes something pretty special to elicit that all-important ‘wow’ factor from a modern production car. McLaren is one manufacturer who is most certainly capable of such feats of design and engineering, and while it’s debatable as to whether the original F1 will ever be usurped in terms of pure aggression and innovation, subsequent models suggest that it hasn’t lost its edge when it comes to jaw-dropping new designs. This claim is underlined with the release of the new MP4-12C, a car that most should agree from an aesthetics standpoint hits the ‘goldilocks zone’ between the sublime and the ridiculous.

Where some supercar manufacturers make no bones about the fact that new, often concept, designs are purely set to elicit a reaction based on looks – vehicles to be salivated over, rather than taken seriously, if you will – McLaren hits a surprisingly rare middle-ground by bringing practicality into the mix.

The design of the MP4-12C surely speaks for itself, and most would agree that at first glance it stands proud with some of the most impressive offerings of the past decade.

A bespoke McLaren ‘M838T’ 3.8-liter, V8 twin-turbo engine offering 600bhp, 433lb-ft of torque, 0-60m ph in just over 3 sec and a top speed of more than 200mph may not sit well alongside ultra-cars like the Bugatti Veyron but while these figures are impressive enough in themselves, what McLaren has managed to do with them in combining performance with practicality is something to be lauded.

Class-leading fuel economy and CO2 emissions are certainly not synonymous with your typical supercar, but Antony Sheriff, McLaren Automotive Managing Director believes that this is just as important as record-breaking speeds.

“The 12C is all about performance,” said Sheriff. “And in McLaren, we have a very broad definition of performance. We don’t just look at the traditional one-dimensional parameters like top speed, we focus equally on usable measures such as in-gear acceleration times [and] braking performance in all conditions. Sure, 12C is very fast, but it is also the most efficient, most drivable high-performance sports car in the world."

Perhaps the most unique aspect of the MP4-12C’s design is that it’s the first car that has been based around a one-piece carbon fiber structure, a factor that helps improve safety, economy and practicality as well as outright performance. It has the highest specific power output and torque-to-weight ratio of any such car, leading Sheriff to boast: “A clear illustration of its special qualities is in the efficiency of its power delivery. With the 12C’s power output of around 600hp and its low CO2 emissions, it delivers the highest horsepower-to-CO2 ratio of any car on the market today with an internal combustion engine ... and that includes petrol and diesel hybrids.”

The exterior of the MP4-12C is undoubtedly something special, but McLaren continues to reinforce its position as a serious contender on the inside as well. “With the interior, we have created a real step forward in the packaging of a sports car,” said Frank Stephenson, McLaren Automotive Design Director. “Moving the driver and passenger closer together improves driving control and moving the pedals improves the problem of wheel well intrusion. We also repackaged many of the major components that normally sit under the dashboard to allow for more space and a unique form. Packaging is one of the 12C’s really strong points.”

Designed to accommodate the 98th percentile of adults in comfort, the interior of the 12C combines space-efficiency with easy access to the range of driver-controls, which involves climate-control, telematics, transmission, trip-computer and cruise controls all situated within a hands' width of the McLaren racing-inspired driver’s wheel.

The two-seat, mid-engine MP4-12C is looking to hit the ‘core’ sports car bracket at between £125,000 and £175,000 (approx. USD$206,000-289,000) when production is finalized by McLaren UK, with an anticipated on-sale date of early 2011.

View gallery - 8 images