The McLaren P1 is Britain's take on the hypercar theme and it's utterly astonishing - as Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The McLaren P1 is defined by its numbers. Just 375 have been made, it costs £866,000, it reaches 0-186mph in just 16.5 seconds, develops 903bhp, achieves 34mpg fuel economy and emissions of just 194g/km. Yet for all the stats, this is a car with real force of personality. You remember all that stuff about the Bugatti Veyron being fast but strangely soulless? The P1 is what happens when you ladle on the charisma.
Fully twenty years elapsed from when the iconic McLaren F1 was launched at the 1992 Monaco Grand Prix to the wraps coming off McLaren's next no-compromise hypercar, the P1 at the Paris Motor Show. Yet sit in the P1, take in its incredible technology and the two cars feel separated by more like fifty years. The F1 is recognisably a car as many grew up with, albeit a hugely focused one. It has a petrol engine, a manual gear box with a clutch pedal and no anti-lock brakes, traction control, airbags or even power steering. What made the F1 great was that despite its huge power and lightweight construction, it was, in its philosophy, simple and elegant. But times have changed and the yellow and black P1 sitting in front of me looks not so much like a car and more like some sort of reverse-engineered alienware that's been revealed in an Area 51 spy shot. There's something otherworldly about the way it looks and what it can do. It's a different car to the F1 in so many regards but look a little closer and you'll be able to trace a certain commonality of focus.
The McLaren P1 is built around a carbon fibre chassis and uses a petrol/electric hybrid powerplant to drive the rear wheels. So far, so predictable. The 3.8-litre V8 engine is a development of the one used in the company's 12C supercar, as indeed is the lower chassis, as evidenced by an identical wheelbase. This has disappointed some observers who compare it to the clean sheet, no compromise design of the F1. One thing's for sure though. The only people who can possibly be disappointed by the P1 certainly aren't part of the small subset who have driven the thing. The engine makes 727bhp, with the electric motor weighing in with another 176bhp to give a combined figure of 903bhp. In a car that weighs just 1395kg including all its battery packs, this results in sledgehammer acceleration. 62mph vanishes in 2.8 seconds, and while this isn't as quick as an all-wheel drive Bugatti Veyron, when the traction advantage of the big Bug eases, the superior power to weight ratio of the McLaren sees it demolish the Veyron. To 186mph (300km/h), it's a clear 3.3 seconds quicker. Gear changing is taken care of by a seven speed dual clutch transmission and the car is glued to the ground by active aerodynamics. Plus there's hydropneumatic suspension and the driver can engage a KERS -style 'push to pass' system, a DRS drag reduction mode and even drive the car under full electric power up to speeds of 112mph - albeit not very far. It's an astonishing feat of calibration to get all of these systems working in such harmony, but it's far from a soulless exercise in technology. This thing has real edge.
Design and Build
The styling of the P1 is a complex melange of swoops, compound curves and the pure functionality borne of managing vast quantities of air moving over the car at speed. From some angles, it's quite beautiful, with a certain delicacy about its stance. From others, it's brutal, wilfully eschewing the sense of aesthetic displayed by its key rivals, the Porsche 918 Spyder and the LaFerrari. Getting in requires a certain suppleness of joints but is far less potentially painful than edging across to the centre position of the old F1. Once ensconced in the slim bucket seat, the cabin feels agreeably airy. Rear three-quarter visibility is poor but the door mirrors are good - not that much will pass the P1 once you press the loud pedal. The fascia is a surprisingly pared-back thing, with an almost vertical dash housing a digital display and the centre stack features another TFT display along with the ventilation controls. Finding things isn't instantly intuitive but your eyes will alight on a series of colour-coded buttons. Green activates the electric mode, black piles on additional turbo boost, blue snaps the rear wing back to drag reduction mode and red kicks in the 'push-to-pass' system. There's also a charge selector which regenerates the battery pack to an 85 percent full state. Switch the car into Race Mode and it'll perform a 40 second process of lowering its body, adjusting its front spoilers and switching computer maps - after which the car's front end is so low it's illegal to drive on road in the UK. Take it from me. You are going to have to read the manual for this one.
Market and Model
If you like the sound of all this and have a spare £866,000 knocking about, then I'm afraid you're going to be rather disappointed. McLaren has a set production run of 375 cars and they're all accounted for. You could put a bid in to owners like Ralph Lauren, Jay Leno or Rowan Atkinson but I suspect they're going to be quite keen to keep their hands on their cars. Given that the P1 costs a good deal less than the likes of the Aston Martin One-77 or a Bugatti Veyron, it seems a reasonable asking price. Standard equipment? Do you really need to ask? Something tells me that you're not going to demand your deposit back and buy a Porsche 918 Spyder because you're not pleased with the P1's stereo.
Cost of Ownership
Despite being capable of a 217mph top speed and possessing the ability to render a Bugatti Veyron to a rapidly receding speck in its mirrors, the McLaren P1 nevertheless emits just 194g/km of CO2 emissions and a combined fuel consumption figure of 34mpg, numbers that are 10mpg up on the McLaren 12C and on par with something like a humble Porsche Boxster 2.7. Of course, these figures are helped by the P1's hybrid powertrain, but if you were an owner, the ability to glide to the shops for your morning paper on pure electric power alone must be quite entertaining. 'Running costs' must be put into perspective though. In all likelihood, this McLaren P1 will have no net running costs. With just 375 units made, it's probable that this is a car that will appreciate in value. Of course, history will ultimately be the judge as to which of the McLaren, the Porsche 918 Spyder and the LaFerrari will prove the most collectible, and the smart money may well be on the Italian car right now, but the P1 isn't going to tank in value. That's a given.
It's hard to think what more McLaren could have done to make the P1 as special as it is. Yes, the company could, had it wanted to, gone all out to post a top speed that would blow the Bugatti Veyron away and would have ultimately compromised the P1 as an all-round driver's car as a result. Instead, it has chosen to showcase all that it knows and the result is quite devastating. Look hard and you can see the bloodline. The way the side windows morph into a carbon-fibre intake has been done to enact the window line of the F1. It's a rare and tiny piece of conspicuous styling in a machine that's almost entirely function over form but which nevertheless works as a performance car and as a jaw-dropping piece of contemporary industrial sculpture as a result. It has theatre, presence and provenance. Other pretenders may come and go but the P1 is the linear champ. For the time being at least.