Sunday, March 10, 2013

Initial Thoughts on the Mclaren P1

Rumors and a steady stream of teasers have been floating around regarding the McLaren P1 for quite some time.  Initially, the rumor was that this car would be a true successor to the McLaren F1, that it would be a world beater.  It certainly looks the part.
It certainly looks like a proper hypercar.

Needless to say, as a child of the 90's and early 2000's car culture, I was very excited.  There's nothing more fun than a good old fashioned hypercar war...just ask the teenagers of the '70's (Lamborghini Countach vs Ferrari 512 Berlinetta Boxer), the 80's (Porsche 959 vs Ferrari F-40 or GTO), the 90's who were spoiled with the Jaguar XJ220, the Bugatti EB110, the Ferrari F50, Lamborghini Diablo and the McLaren F1, and last but not least, the teens of the early 2000's who had the Ferrari Enzo, the Porsche Carerra GT, and the Mercedes SLR McLaren.

From my point of view, its been about 10 years, the Bugatti Veyron has been the king of the production car castle for too long and it is far too ugly. I was excited by the prospect of McLaren attempting to take back the throne it held from 1992 through 2005.

                                                       Ahhh....the glory days.

However, McLaren was quick to dampen the excitement when they announced, "the aim is not necessarily to be the fastest in absolute top speed but to be the quickest and most rewarding series production road car on a circuit." source  Please allow me to translate this, "we can't beat or even approach Bugatti so we are just going to pretend we don't care."  Great, there went my excitement over the second coming of the great hypercar wars of yore.

Here are the numbers according to Motortrend:
903 hp and 664 lb-ft. According to McLaren, 727 hp and 531 lb-ft will be provided by a twin-turbo, 3.8-liter V-8, an upgraded version of the 12C’s engine running an additional 3 psi of boost. Additional thrust will be donated to the accelerative cause by a McLaren-built electric motor mounted to the back of the engine and producing up to 176 hp and 192 lb-ft. All that power is shunted to the rear wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. All said and done, McLaren says the P1 will hit 62 mph in less than three seconds, 124 mph in less than seven seconds and 186 mph in less than 17 seconds (that’s 5 seconds faster than the McLaren F1).

Read more:    
These are impressive numbers no doubt.  I'm sure this car will be an amazing all around car.  As a supercar, I would be gushing with praise.  But this car is priced as a hypercar ($1.3m) so I am analyzing it as a hypercar.

In reality, the translation above could also say, "we can't beat or even approach the last hypercar we built so we are just going to pretend we aren't trying to." Frankly, I don't understand how or why McLaren thinks its okay to charge $1.3m for a car that, by some metrics, is not as good as their previous $800k+ car.  I'm sure this car will demolish the F1 around a track but that's not what hypercars are all about.  First and foremost, hypercar wars are supposed to be a high stakes game of one-upsmanship.  Hypercars are all about the numbers, what is possible, not what is practical.  The majority of people with enough money to afford a hypercar barely even drive them, much less race them on a track. On the same token, they probably spend even less time pushing their cars' top speed limits.  A hypercar should be  performance without compromise.  It should accelerate quickly, handle well, and have an insanely high top speed.  Its an opportunity for a manufacturer to say, "this is the fastest car we can make."

I know it seems silly to be ranting about McLaren throwing in the towel when their customers are unlikely to ever drive their cars at 200+ miles per hour but that is sort of the point of the hypercar.  Its not what hypercars actually do that makes them special.  If that were the case, a P1 can probably sit in a private garage just as well as an F1 can.  What makes hypercars special is what they are capable of doing, what they do in magazines and comparison tests, how they look on kids and teenager's walls, and what they do in the hearts and minds of enthusiasts (most of whom will never own one) around the world.

I doubt magazines will have the urge to race a P1 against an F18.
 Its just not that special.
To this day I can still rattle off a McLaren F1's top speed and 0-60 time from memory (240mph and 3.2 seconds). I'd be surprised if anyone will be able to recall a Gumpert Apollo's 'ring time 11 years later from memory.  I suspect that the P1 will be overshadowed by the F1 in the annals of time in similar fashion.

The other issue faced by the P1 is the the MP4-12C.  I suspect its "street cred" (or more likely "wall cred") will be harmed by the fact that it uses a tuned version of the MP4-12C's engine coupled with a KERS hybrid system.  Also, its interior looks very similar to its younger sibling. Which is strange considering the price premium.  The F1 had very unique interior, notice where the guy is sitting in the picture above.

P1 Interior
Mp4-12c Interior
Furthermore, in addition to the F1, the P1's credibility is being challenged by its little brother, the MP$-12c.  The P1 will likely not be fast enough to justify its price compared to the MP4-12c.  The MP4-12c does 0-60 in 3.2 seconds and tops out at 205mph.  McLaren says the P1 will do 0-60 in "under 3 seconds" and top out at limited 217mph.  Impressive no doubt, but not terribly so considering most of the hypercars of days past were at that level over 10 years ago, the last gen 911 turbo does 0-60 in about 2.9 seconds, and the current crop of supercars (458 Italia, Zr-1, MP4-12c, Aventador, etc...) are within spitting distance.

The current crop of supercars cost half as as much as the P1.  The P1 is not twice as good as those cars.

I'm not sure what the issue is but we seem to have hit a plateau in hypercar development.  I include the Veyron in this statement because, even though it has an amazing top speed, it is not very fast around a track (comparatively speaking of course).  Hypercars should be amazing on all major performance metrics: handling, acceleration and top speed.  In a vacuum I would be head-over-heels for this car but its just not enough of a leap beyond past hypercars or current supercars to justify its extravagant price.                                                                                       

I love the diffuser.

I'm well aware that I'm being a little ridiculous.  Hypercar buyers don't care about price (If you have to ask, you don't belong!), they will likely never test the car's top speed and the P1 offers much more practical and useable performance than the hypercars of the past. But, as mentioned, hypercars are all about numbers. Hypercars are not supposed to contain compromises. The hypercars of the past were head and shoulders above the supercars of their time in acceleration, top speed, and handling.  Today, the difference between supercars and hypercars is just not big enough to justify the price.

In conclusion, the McLaren P1 will likely be an incredible performance car.  I look forward to comparisons between it and the recently unveiled LaFerrari.  However, this car will never get out of the F1's shadow and won't enjoy the esteem of the hypercars of the past as time goes on, not necessarily because this is a bad car, but because the current supercars are such good cars.

For more information about this awesome car and to view my sources, check out the links below:

Road and Track-P1
Car And Driver-F1
Road and Track-90's hypercar comparison