McLaren P1

"The P1 barks and spits like an angry Rottweiler," said David"

"The miracle of McLaren is not how fast the P1 is, but how little drama there is to driving the P1 fast!"

"The P1 was extremely rapid"

"P1's selectable modes: Normal, Sport, Track" 

Imagine my surprise. I'm at the Dunsfold Aerodrome circuit in England, testing McLaren's hyper-hybrid P1, a car that no less an expert than Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson had labeled as all but un-drivable and I was, well, totally non-plussed. Oh, the P1 was extremely rapid, but here I was in the full bloom of English summer - in other words, it was cold and damp - running full throttle in what is supposed to be the most unmanageable supercar in the world and, to be frank, the P1 was anything but intimidating.

Driving Impressions
Having prepared myself for the racecar of doom, I was driving what felt like an MP4-12C with a few extra ponies. Indeed, I mentioned to my minder that I was less than whelmed with what I had thought would be an out of body experience. So, he reached over to the center console and flipped the little mode selector switch to the P1's Race mode which, in a 28 second electro-mechanical pas-de-deux, lowers the P1 50 millimeters, elevates its ginormous rear wing 300 millimeters and recalibrates the suspension for racecar stiffness. Most importantly, it awakens the hitherto dormant 176 horsepower electric motor that McLaren has seen to attach to the 3.8 liter, twice-turbocharged V8, transforming the up-till-then mild-mannered supercar into a horsepower-belching Le Mans racer. 

You see, in the first three of the P1's selectable modes - Normal, Sport, Track - one is motivated primarily by the 727 hp gas engine. Oh, the electric motor is always on partial duty to fill in the hole in the bottom of the powerband caused by the upgrade to larger, turbo-lag generating turbochargers. And one can, if one is in Track mode, hit a little red IPAS (Instant Power Assist System) button on the steering wheel and get more of the electric motor's boost. For the truly gluttonous, however, this seems an unnecessary complication when one can just press the Race button and have all of the power all of the time. 

All of the power, in case of the P1, is 903 bhp; more than Porsche's 918, but less than the 949 the LaFerrari is reputed to possess. Officially, McLaren says the P1 bludgeons its way to 100 kilometers an hour in just 2.8 seconds. Four more will take you to 200 klicks and, if you hang on for a total of 16.5 seconds, you'll see an amazing 300 km/h. That's just slightly slower than the Veyron Super Sport but faster than the 918, save to 100 km/h. 

More important than the mere quantity of all that power, however, is its quality. And in Race mode, the P1's throttle response, massive turbos or no, becomes superbike swift, the punch at any rpm immediate. And where the MP4-12C always feels stifled no matter how ferociously it is accelerating, the P1 barks and spits like an angry Rottweiler. It would seem Ron Dennis has finally given permission to McLaren's engineers to lose all the hounds. 

The amazing thing about all this incredible speed - and where Clarkson's claim of unmanageability is so very wrong - is that it's really not all that terrifying. Indeed, the amazing thing about the McLaren is not just that it can accelerate to 300 km/h in those aforementioned 16.5 seconds, but that it can do so with such relative calm. Unlike the Porsche 918, McLaren's hyper hybrid puts all its power - gas-fueled and electric - to the rear wheels and logic would dictate that 903 rockin', rollin' horsepower would be a bit much to be contained by just two tires, 315/30ZR20 Pirelli PZero Corsas notwithstanding. 

The miracle of McLaren, then, is not how fast the P1 is, but how little drama there is to driving the P1 fast, even on the bumpy, slippery and indecipherable Dunsfold circuit (which, by the way, is Top Gear's test track). Credit the huge rear wing deployed in Race mode that adds a whopping 600 kilograms of downforce, the front splitter that aerodynamically pushes down the front end and the basic inherent balance of the McLaren chassis that, amazingly, is strikingly similar to that of the MP4's. Oh, the carbon fiber tub is now totally enclosed (rather than open like the 12C's) and the suspension seriously rejigged, but if one wants to pay the MP4-12C the highest possible compliment, it is to note that essentially the same chassis handles the P1's 903 horsepower with such aplomb. 

Other aspects of the McLaren's performance impress. A fully charged P1, for instance, can toddle along on electricity alone for 11 kilometers thanks to its 4.4 kW-h Lithium-ion battery. It will also record, if the European Union's testing is to be believed, an impressive 8.3 L/100 km fuel economy rating. 

Verdict
But no buys a 903 hp supercar for its fuel economy. One does buy the P1 because it is the ultimate expression of McLaren, one of the most storied racecar franchises in the history of the sport. And probably the most track-worthy production car on the planet. 

2013 McLaren P1

Pros: Incredible speed, amazing aplomb, everyday civility
Cons: US$1.15 million, they're all sold
Rivals: Porsche 918, Ferrari LaFerrari, Jaguar's stillborn C-X75
Engine: 3.8L, twin turbocharged V8, 727 hp, 176 hp electric motor,
Transmission: 7-speed dual clutch manumatic
Performance: 0-100 km/h: 2.8 sec, 8.3 L /100 km Top speed: 350 km/h
Chassis: 1,395 kg

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