There was never any doubt that McLaren would produce a drop-top version of the MP4-12C but you do have to wonder, after seeing the new Spider in the metal, whether this was designer Frank Stephenson’s vision all-along. Roof stowed neatly below the body-coloured tonneau cover the 12C Spider (McLaren seem to be dropping the MP4 bit of the name in conversation) looks for all money as though it was born to look this way. It’s not often that I prefer the styling of any open-top version over that of the fixed-roof sibling upon which it’s based. But in the case of the MP4-12C – and after spending two days behind the wheel of the Spider – I know which version I would be choosing when my Lotto numbers come in.
In most cases lopping the roof off a performance car comes at a fairly high price in terms of additional weight and body reinforcements required to compensate for the lack of a fixed roof. Thanks to the lightweight, ultra-stiff carbon-fibre MonoCell “tub” developed by McLaren for the 12C, though, absolutely no additional strengthening was required when the time came for the roof to be removed. In fact the 12C Spider weighs only 40 kilograms more than the Coupe (largely attributed to the single hydraulic pump used for the folding roof). Importantly, besides the fact that the Spider offers straight-line performance figures identical to those of the Coupe, the body remains as rigid with the roof off as when it’s built-in – a critical factor when it comes to the 12 C Spider’s agility and handling.
For the 2013 model year McLaren has upped the power of its twin-turbocharged 3,8-litre V8 from 441 to 460 kW. Peak power is available 500 N.m higher up the rev band (at 7 500 r/min), while torque remains unchanged (600 N.m between 3 000 and 7 500 r/min). Out of interest, owners of first-generation MP4-12C Coupe models can return their cars to the workshop to have these modifications added free of charge. The new model year, including the new Spider, is distinguishable by a carbon black bonnet badge.
While the additional power certainly looks good on paper, it’s the revisions to the seven-speed dual clutch transmission that are most notable on the road. The rocker paddles behind the steering wheel now have a lighter action and the resultant gearshifts are crisper than ever. The fact that each shift is announced to the world by a revised, more aggressive, exhaust note (and to the cabin via changes to the Intake Sound Generator system) is one of the highlights of the updated 12C. With the roof stored away the harmony that is a wailing V8 redlining at 8 500 r/min, intermixed by the flutter of turbochargers and slightly rude overrun crackle is amplified that much more.
Heading up (and down, and up again) the long, sweeping mountain pass linking the Spanish coastal town of Marbella, to Rhonda, some 30 km inland, I actually managed to make myself slightly car sick from blasting the left-hand drive 12C Spider between corners before braking hard (engaging the active airbrake) and experiencing the huge grip on offer mid-corner. That said, I wasn’t about to slow down, such is the pure exhilaration of the experience. Price tag aside, the MP4-12C, Spider and Coupe, remains one of the least intimidating supercars to drive hard. From the snug confines of the beautifully finished cabin the windscreen drops low revealing an unhindered view of the road ahead and framed neatly by raised wheel arches that communicate precisely where each front wheel is.
While taller drivers (myself included) should opt for the manually adjustable driver’s seat that affords more downward movement, the cabin of the 12C Spider remains surprisingly well insulted from the elements. Roof down I did note some unwelcome wind noise generated by the tall buttress behind my headrest, but this was only at speeds close to the national speed limit. A heated glass panel can be lowered independently of the roof to act as a buffer with the roof stowed or to allow more of the exhaust note into the cabin with the top up.
One of the most impressive features of the McLaren MP4-12C range is its ride refinement. Adaptive dampers are hydraulically interconnected and linked to a gas-filled accumulator. This constantly active system not only adapts to varying road conditions but also does away with the need for separate metal anti-roll bars. Mimicking the centre-mounted switch for powertrain sensitivity, this ProActive Chassis Control system can be adjusted between a Normal, Sport and Track setup.
With the two-piece roof in place, the tonneau cover can be raised via door-mounted controls to reveal additional storage area (and McLaren will give you a custom luggage set to fit this space). I was especially pleased to see that the upward-opening doors of the Coupe have been carried over unchanged to the Spider and that the engine remains on display through a specially designed pane of glass.
In losing its roof the 12C has not only gained a stunning new profile but also some arguably much needed charm and character. There’s a poise and attitude about the Spider that the Coupe models I’ve driven previously seemed reluctant to display. The fact that the 12C project as a whole has gently evolved throughout its relatively brief existence in the public eye has also meant that small “issues” have seamlessly been resolved and adjusted (gone are the somewhat temperamental swipe door handles for example).
That the 12C Spider offers not only head-turning styling and wind-in-the-hair motoring, loses nothing in terms of performance and agility next to its Coupe sibling, and features all of the new model year revisions, makes it easily the ultimate MP4-12C to date.
Est price R3 700 000
Engine 3 799 cm3 twin turbo V8
Power/Torque 460 kW/600 N.m
Transmission 7-speed SSG (dual clutch)
0-100 km/h 3,1 seconds**
0-200 km/h 9,0 seconds**
Top speed 329 km/h
Fuel consumption 11,7 L/100 km
CO2 rating 279 g/km
* All manufacturers claimed figures
** With optional Corsa tyres