McLaren 12C Spider review
How to make the mighty McLaren MP4-12C better? Chop its roof off!
Kyle Fortune
Kyle Fortune

Published on October 25, 2012

Overall rating: 4/5

With the MP4-12C coupé's enhanced engine, more thrilling acoustics and even greater performance the McLaren 12C Spider adds open air to the equation. A perception-shifting supercar, the 12C Spider is an incredible technical achievement, and, unusually, offers more practicality than its closed relation.

In the metal 4/5

Initial criticism of the 12C's styling being a bit generic has faded; it's a head turner, even if it's not quite as extrovert or flash as some of its rivals. Looking like it's been technically styled rather than lovingly penned there's a functionality to its looks that underlines its purpose, yet there's an undeniable beauty to its shape too. The buttresses of the Spider look great, while the roof folds quickly and neatly in front of the mid-mounted V8 engine. Unsurprisingly the 12C looks best when it has got its roof stowed.

Do that and you'll lose the additional luggage space that roof stowage area brings, but you can always leave the roof up and drop the rear window for the best of both worlds - access to the engine sound without the buffeting and rush of the wind inside. Roof up it looks a touch more cab-forward than its coupé relation, while the panel gaps in the roof upset the flowing lines, too. Inside, the 12C retains the technical feel, McLaren resolutely doing things its own way, leaning on its F1 experience to do so. However, it's not entirely successful, as the seat controls are counter intuitive and they feel high, while the instruments could do with moving with the adjustment of the steering wheel.

Driving it 4/5

The numbers say it all. One hundred kilometres per hour arrives in 3.1 seconds, which is quicker than the mighty McLaren F1. On more track-focused Corsa tyres it'll reach 160km/h ahead of its iconic relation too, getting there in a scarcely believable 6.1 seconds. Yet for all the ferocity of its performance there's a civility about how it goes about its business, the 12C not the sort of supercar you walk away from grateful it's not spat you angrily into the scenery during your drive.

That 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 engine sounds better than ever too, McLaren dialling up the intensity along with its greater 625bhp output for the 2013 model year cars. It's a flexible unit, but those twin turbos don't really deliver their relentless force until there's more than 4,000rpm on the rev-counter. Before that it's merely fast; above it's in the lunatic sphere of acceleration.

On the standard tyres it's not quite as quick against the stopwatch, but sacrifice the odd second off your lap time and you'll have a more entertaining 12C. It moves around under you more on the standard rubber, the Corsa tyres' greater grip tying the rear down, with the result being a 12C that's more prone to understeer. For more neutrality, and a more mobile and entertaining rear, the standard tyres are the choice, for road and track.

The seven-speed dual-clutch automatic shifts are quick to react to your finger flips on the (still odd feeling) rocking wheel-mounted paddles. Default mode is fully automatic, manual shifting requiring a few button pushes to select, though it's worth it for the additional control, as the fully automatic mode feels remote and sometimes ponderous. McLaren boasts that its carbon-fibre structure means no additional strengthening was required in its transformation to open-topped car. The 40kg increase in weight of the 12C Spider is due to the roof's mechanism and some additional roll-over protection.

The suspension remains something of a revelation; the loss of anti-roll bars for a system utilising the dampers for roll-control creates a supercar that offers saloon car ride comfort and suppleness - without negatively affecting agility. That roundedness is perhaps part of its downfall though, as the 12C shifts the supercar paradigm from unhinged, raw and emotional to calculated, refined and technical. It's difficult not to be deeply impressed by the package, yet its breadth of ability is so far removed from what has usually defined the genre that it's a difficult car to comprehend. Or get overly excited about in truth. That might sound ridiculous when looking at the raw figures, but the numbers don't necessarily add up to a greater thrill on the road; not least as you'll find scant opportunities to really explore them.

Instead, enjoy the alert, consistently weighted steering with its fine feel and the engine's crisper response (and with that rear window down, more entertaining soundtrack) and the 12C has its moments, but they're fewer and less intoxicating than in some of its rivals. That might mean owners actually use it though, as the 12C's ability to be everything to everybody is something of a unique aspect of its make-up, and a break from supercar convention.

What you get for your money 3/5

You'll pay not far off half a million Euros to land a new McLaren 12C Spider in Ireland. That buys you a car with impeccable engineering and Formula One pedigree that only Ferrari can match. That it's not a Ferrari is arguably a huge part of its appeal to many; the McLaren is a rarer, less obvious choice than its Italian rival. Dip into the extensive options list and you'll easily add 10-20% to the list price, but if you're in this sphere in the first place you can probably afford it. You can afford the fuel too, though the 11.7 litres/100km (24.2mpg) combined consumption figure is impressive given the 12C Spider's performance.

Worth Noting

McLaren does things very much its own way, and the 12C Spider exemplifies that. It's all in the details: the wiring loom uses hexagonal cabling to shave 4kg off the weight and the steering wheel is exactly the same girth as that of Lewis Hamilton's Formula One car. Though it's a technical masterpiece, McLaren isn't slow to react to any criticism. For instance, the 'swipe' opening action of the butterfly doors has been replaced by a button so it opens first time - and keeps your hands clean too.


Adding the element of the open air to the McLaren MP4-12C the 12C Spider turns up the intensity of the driving experience. The compromises are few; indeed, the opposite is true. More access to the engine sound and additional practicality make the 12C Spider an even more rounded choice. A sensible supercar then, but with quite incredible ability and performance. However, the 12C Spider remains something of an enigma against its rivals, all of which come with far greater compromises. McLaren's pursuit of perfection has arguably created the world's greatest supercar, but it's those imperfections, those intangible aspects of their make up that arguably make the 12C's rivals more beguiling.


Tech Specs

Model testedMcLaren 12C Spider
Engine3.8-litre, twin-turbocharged V8 petrol
Transmissionrear-wheel drive, seven-speed dual-clutch automatic
Body styletwo-door roadster
RivalsFerrari 458 Spider, Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder, Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet
CO2 emissions279g/km (Band G, €2,258 per annum)
Combined economy11.7 litres/100km (24.2mpg)
Top speed338km/h
0-100km/h3.1 seconds
Power625hp at 7,500rpm
Torque600Nm at 3,000- to 7000rpm