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McLaren MP4-12C (photos)

Almost 20 years since McLaren made a production car, the company is back in the game with the all new MP4-12C. This supercar relies on racing technology and materials for what should be a thrilling ride.

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Wayne Cunningham
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McLaren's first production car in over 10 years heralds the company's return to series manufacturing. The MP4-12C will be built at a new plant in Woking, U.K., with a production run of 1,000 per year. Three hundred of those cars will be exported to the U.S. Pricing is expected to be $225K to $240K.

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McLaren was most recently known for working with Mercedes-Benz on the McLaren SLR. But Mercedes-Benz turned to its in-house tuner, AMG, for its latest supercar, the SLS. The MP4-12C is built on racing technology developed by McLaren over decades of building winning race cars.

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Built of carbon fiber, aluminum, magnesium, and plastic panels, the MP4-12C boasts a dry weight of only 2,866 pounds. Couple that low weight with its twin-turbo 3.8-liter V-8, making 592 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque, and McLaren's projected 0-to-60 mph time of under 4 seconds seems like a safe bet.

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Ceramic brakes are an option on the MP4-12C. These big discs, 370mm in front and 340mm at the rear, are manufactured by Brembo for McLaren. Rather than use a limited-slip differential, the MP4-12C uses a technology called brake steering to help it negotiate turns. In a turn, the brakes pulse the inside rear wheel for better rotation.

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McLaren says the rear spoiler, inset just behind the engine cover, does not need any automatic trim function to adjust downforce, as it is optimally designed. However, it will work as an airbrake under heavy braking, flipping up almost instantaneously to help slow the car.

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The engine sits under a transparent cover in the rear. At only 3.8-liters, this twin-turbo V-8 redlines at 8,500rpm, reaching its peak 592 horsepower at 7,000rpm. The engine is built by Ricardo, an engineering company, with specifications provided by McLaren.

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Intended as a road-going supercar, the MP4-12C offers many amenities not found on race cars, such as doors that open out and up. We found it necessary to duck to get into the car. Climate controls for each zone are set into the door handles.

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Under the hood is a reasonable amount of luggage space, enough to fit a couple of 20-inch rolling bags. The fire extinguisher is an option.

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The seats in the MP4-12C were surprisingly comfortable, well-padded, and bolstered, and covered in thick leather. Likewise, we found plenty of leg and head room in the seats.

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McLaren says the steering wheel, pedals, and seat are all perfectly aligned, which is not always the case in the compact confines of a supercar. As the transmission is a seven-speed F1 style sequential gearbox, there is no clutch pedal, or even a shifter on the console. Rather, shift paddles sit behind the steering wheel.

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The entire instrument cluster is an LCD. In race car style, the tachometer dominates the center, with a digital readout for ground speed.

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Drive mode buttons run down the console, behind the electronic parking brake lever.

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Near the top of the narrow console, McLaren has come up with a unique and usable design for what it calls the IRIS system. This infotainment system uses an 80 gigabyte hard drive for navigation, and has iPod and Bluetooth support. The stereo is by high-end audio company Meridian.

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These buttons below the navigation system adjust the car's drive modes. The dial on the left can go from normal to sport to track. To operate it, the driver must turn the dial, then push the "Active" button in the center. The car also includes launch control and a winter mode.

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McLaren also put an uncovered chassis on display. This chassis shows the carbon fiber tub of the car, which is strong enough to be a structural element. Aluminum suspension pieces are bolted to the front and rear of the tub. This design allows damaged parts to be quickly replaced--another useful lesson from racing.

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The seven-speed gearbox sits behind the engine. It has a pre-cog function, letting the driver quickly touch a paddle to set the transmission for an up or down shift. The exhaust pipes are also designed to outgas high up on the rear of the car, eliminating the potential for aerodynamic problems with exhaust being channeled near the car's underbody.

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This car is a McLaren F1, the company's earlier production car built from 1991 to 1998. Only 106 of these cars were built. It was the fastest production car until 2005, and remains the fastest naturally aspirated production car in the world.

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This car, the McLaren XP4, is a prototype of the F1, and was primarily used to test the gearbox.

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