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The McLaren MP4-12C Is a Great Deal at $140,000 -- Or Is It?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro January 2017

I was recently contacted by a viewer in Florida who offered me the chance to drive his McLaren MP4-12C. This is not an offer you turn down, so I went to Florida, and I drove his McLaren MP4-12C, and I was delighted. Seriously, the car is quite impressive. Who knew McLaren was really making decent automobiles?

Actually, there were two reasons I wanted to drive the MP4-12C. One is, obviously, that it's cool, and fast, and I wanted to see exactly how cool and fast it is. But the other was more practical: A used MP4-12C is rapidly becoming affordable, and I wanted to find out whether it really is the bargain it seems to be on paper.

Here's what I mean. Back in 2012, when the MP4-12C came out, a well-equipped MP4-12C cost about $250,000. At the same time, a well-equipped Ferrari 458 Italia also cost about $250,000. But the MP4-12C had more power than the 458 (616 horsepower vs. 570) and reached 60 mph a little faster (3.2 seconds vs. 3.4). And here's the kicker: While the average asking price for a used 2012 458 Italia on Autotrader is around $217,000 today, the average asking price for a used 2012 MP4-12C is just over $140,000. In other words, the faster car is cheaper -- and not a little cheaper. Much cheaper. Eighty grand cheaper. So when you compare the MP4-12C to the Ferrari, it's sort of a bargain.

Now, I admit the MP4-12C's $140,000 asking price isn't really affordable for people trying to decide between, say, a Focus ST and a Volkswagen GTI. But let's be honest: If the MP4-12C keeps depreciating like it has been, it'll soon be comparable to real cars purchased by real people, such as dentists, and not exotic cars purchased by people who claim to be "investors" even though they usually wake up around lunchtime. Put simply, the MP4-12C will soon be under $100,000. It'll soon be in Porsche 911 territory.

And that begs the question: Does this make the MP4-12C the single greatest deal in the exotic-car world?

In so many ways, the answer is yes. With just a little tour of the car, I quickly discovered that the MP4-12C isn't just another exotic-car attempt focused solely on performance, but rather a tremendously cool car. For instance, there are no door handles. There aren't even door buttons. To open the door, you slide your hand under the approximate area where you'd expect the handle to be, and it senses your hand, and the door opens. Tell me that isn't awesome.

Inside the car, the center control stack is refreshingly simple. Instead of climate controls, there are performance settings. The climate controls are mounted on each individual door. That's pretty cool, too. And the giant screen in the center offers a web browser. If you're connected to Wi-Fi, you can use this car to browse the Internet. At one point, I watched part of my own YouTube video... while sitting in a McLaren MP4-12C.

More cool stuff: The turn-signal stalks look like they're from the future. The spoiler turns into an air brake if you're going fast enough and you step on the brakes. And the running lights are in the shape of the McLaren logo. Before this, I had never been around an MP4-12C before, and I have to admit I was impressed. For a "first effort" at an exotic car, McLaren certainly managed to put in a lot of attention to detail.

But I was even more impressed when I took the MP4-12C out on the road. Despite the fact that this car is four years old, it still felt as fast as any modern exotic car I've driven -- like the Lamborghini Huracan, the Porsche 911 GT3RS and the Lamborghini Aventador SV. The transmission shifts incredibly fast, and the engine responsiveness is amazing. The sound is also wildly exciting, considering that this car relies on just 3.8 liters and a couple of turbochargers for propulsion.

More impressive than the acceleration is the handling. This car is stable, the turn-in feeling is excellent, there's no vagueness, there's no body roll. If you were designing an exotic car, this is exactly how you'd hope the engineers could make it feel when it goes around corners.

Now, I admit, this is generally how I feel after I've driven an exotic car: The handling is great, the acceleration is great, and I want one. What's special in this case, I think, is that I really wasn't expecting the MP4-12C to be so good. Here's a first-year model from a first-time company that's attempting to compete with some of the greatest names in the automotive world -- Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini, the Audi R8, the Nissan GT-R. And... it does.

And not only does it compete, but it's faster. And now it's cheaper. At $140,000, it's surely the best deal in the entire world of exotic cars.

Sort of. Because there's still one big concern I haven't addressed, and that's reliability. The MP4-12C does offer amazing acceleration, and amazing handling, and an amazingly cool experience -- but it's still an aging British car. More importantly, it's an aging British car with a highly stressed engine and no proven track record for long-term dependability. How's this thing going to be holding up in five years? Dead reliable, like the one I drove, which still felt new after 25,000 miles? Or plagued with issues, like certain, ahem, other British cars?

Nobody knows. And so, the question isn't whether the MP4-12C is the best value in the exotic-car world. The question is: Just how much of a risk-taker are you?

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
The McLaren MP4-12C Is a Great Deal at $140,000 -- Or Is It? - Autotrader