To Infinity And Beyond: The McLaren P1 Is The Hypercar, Redefined

As fast as fast can possibly get
Imthishan Giado

McLaren P1 UAE

First things first: this is not a review of the McLaren P1.

Unlike some other journalists, McLaren did not deem the assembled media at this event fit to review the P1 in any capacity other than that of a passenger. That’s right: despite the combined 100+ years of experience present, we were provided with a high-speed passenger ride, equivalent to five or so laps of Yas’s South Circuit. Since I am not blessed with a pneumatic posterior festooned with sensors capable of discerning fine suspension design, I can only provide you with the most basic of impressions.

With that proviso out of the way, I can tell you one thing for certain – the P1 is fast. Probably the fastest car I’ve ever been in, and am ever likely to be in, short of miraculously hitching a ride on a Soyuz capsule.

McLaren P1 UAE

First, the basics. The McLaren P1 is the first of the new breed of plug-in hybrid supercars and potentially the quickest of the lot (if the LaFerrari doesn’t spoil things) with a retuned 12C 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 delivering 727bhp and 53lb ft of torque. It’s aided by an electric motor producing an not-insubstantial 176bhp and 192 lb ft, for a combined total output of 903bhp and 722lb ft of torque. In a car that you can drive on the street. In a body that weighs a mere 1400kg. Madness.

McLaren P1 UAE

In the flesh the P1’s manga-inspired lighting system make it a very different proposition to the more generic lines of McLaren’s first supercar, the 12C. Weirder and wilder, this is the supercar that dropped out of university, said sod it and went on a unrestrained bender through New York’s finest dive bars until it ended up passed out in a pool of its own vomit in the top floor suite of the Four Seasons, cocaine scattered everywhere like Christmas day snowfall. Subtle, this is not. Attention, its owners will get. Though you do have to wonder if McLaren, stung by the accusations that the 12 was too bland, have pushed the needle too far out in the other direction.

The cars you see in these pictures are a pair of pre-production prototypes used in testing across the world. The black one, XP7, has racked upmore than 16,000km in environments as diverse as the frozen lakes of Sweden and the harshest deserts of the United States – not to mention, plenty of max-attack practice at Bahrain’s Sakhr circuit. It lacks most of its bulkhead, virtually any noise insulation, a properly fitted dashboard and is in fact so loud that you need headsets to communicate with the driver.

The other car, more representative of the finished P1s, is the backup vehicle with a mere 11,000km and a fully finished interior and bearer of the proud plaque PP3 – the third preproduction vehicle off the line. Want a P1? You’re looking at a (minimum) price of $1.1 million with everything and anything being customisable to your (bizarre) tastes – and oh, you can’t actually have one because the entire run of 375 units is sold out. Currently, 47 cars have been sold in the region; for comparison, more than a 100 will travel to China.

Did I say they’re all sold out? They are, but people can be a little flake-y sometimes. So fickle. Ask nicely and pray to the deity of your choice and a slot may open up, in which case you’ll need to wire a payment of 240,000 British pounds to secure your place in the line. But no matter how much cash you proffer, you’ll not be able to secure the coveted first car in the line – unlike some other less-scrupulous Italian brands, sniff the McLaren team.

Let’s not get caught up in the figures. I have but ten minutes to experience the P1 in the wrong seat and tell you what’s it all about.

McLaren P1 UAE

Starting up, the P1 is more mechanical than the Italians, lacking that histrionic edge of uncertainty. My driver pulls away from the pit land onto the South Circuit and there’s a complete lack of drama. No biting clutches, no jerky head movements. With everything set to normal, the P1 feels fully the apex predator of the modern hypercar movement, prowling the circuit like a wolf with fangs tucked away out of sight.

Even as you hit the first corner, you know it’s immensely quick, the torque pushing the light P1 up to 150kph the same way other cars think about 50kph. With the chassis still set to default (but the powertrain set to track) this is the P1 at its most lethargic, yet it easily has the beef to destroy virtually any car you might bring to bear against it. Body roll? None that I could feel, only slot car like accuracy as my super-polite driver feeds it through the bends like a flying fish, every gearchange accompanied by the whoosh of the blow-off valve, a ‘chuff ‘ of insouciance.

McLaren P1 UAE

In this mode, you’re getting about 727bhp, the electric motor only feeding power to the back wheels if you’re really, really burying your foot into that carpet. Did I mention it’s quick? Must make sure to mention it in every paragraph. On track the ride is good; firm but not harsh, about equal to the 12C on its harshest setting.

The next few laps, my driver gradually ups the ante, taking it through Sport and Track modes which up the ante on the steering feel, gearbox change speed and the stiffness of the chassis. Without being six inches to the left, I cannot honestly tell you what difference it made, but my driver was certainly not slowing down. He could go even faster at the push of the iPAS button on the steering wheel which adds instant thrust from the electric motor – as close to Knight Rider turbo boost as you’re likely to get.

Then, a sudden volte face. We do a lap in electric-only mode, which is damn near the spookiest thing ever. Utterly silent, the P1 glides through the bends like the world’s fastest golf cart. Even with ‘just’ 176bhp, it still seems very quick indeed though you won’t be going very far: quoted range until the lithium-ion batteries die is a commute-defying 10km.

Right, forget about all that electric stuff. For our last lap, we return to the pits to switch the P1 into full-on ‘Race mode’. In other cars, this is a twist of the manettino; in the P1 this is a massive palaver. The car must remain stationary for approximately 30 seconds while the big wing deploys slowly to the heavens signalling to God that you’re ready for Him now and the ride height drops by 50mm. Lots of other complicated things happens as well, but for the sake of brevity let me sum it up thusly: this is the P1 in full-on, fangs-bared, Wolf Of Yas Marina mode.

McLaren P1 UAE

That last lap was simply a blur. No boost button pushing necessary, my driver could summon all 903 bhp whenever he wanted, and well he wanted to a lot.  The torque is immense and crushes your kidneys into the alcantara. Watching the numbers scroll on the digital dashboard is like watching a skydiver go through reverse freefall. Never have I seen a car go to 250kph so quickly. Nor shed the speed so violently. A full dab of the anchors nearly sent me into the windshield – and that’s while wearing a full six-point harness! Make no mistake – in Race mode, the P1 has all the pace and cornering potential of a real racecar. One with A/C, satnav and Bluetooth audio, that is.

And then, it’s over. The crackling, flame spewing P1 pulls into the pits to cool down briefly before spurring off into the night with its next terrified passenger. And I’m left wondering what to make of the entire thing.

McLaren P1 UAE

Verdict
Nine years ago, the Bugatti Veyron redefined what we thought road cars could do. The McLaren P1 does not quite eclipse the Bug in terms of absolute performance – with the amount of money Dr Piech threw at, what could? – but comes damn close. And I have no doubt that as a car built to do one thing and one thing very well, it would destroy the big Bug on a track.

Yet it shares one curious similarity with the Veyron, one unusual shared slice of DNA which McLaren perhaps may not like to hear. One cannot help but respect the immensity of the Veyron’s performance, but for me, it is not a car to lust after – merely to collect, commentate and polish daily.

I love cars that make you work, even frighten you a little. By making 250mph performance accessible to the masses, Bugatti robbed the car of that raw challenge that defines the truly great autombiles. A Ferrari F40 is, even today, not a car you would not want to drive often, not an easy car at all to pilot, never mind driving quickly. But as a 360-degree experience to occasionally savour and masticate within your soul, it’s still the Guv’nor.

McLaren P1 UAE

Fact is, at no point during my brief passenger drive did I feel worried or even perturbed by the P1, the driver calmly slinging us through curves at near-F1 speeds, even in mad-dog Race mode. It is an unquestionable masterpiece of technology, a wondrous example of the engineer’s art. But not, I’m sad to say, of my heart.

2 responses to “To Infinity And Beyond: The McLaren P1 Is The Hypercar, Redefined”

  1. Ronster says:

    you missed saying it’s quick in a few of the paragraphs… fun read Imthi

  2. Sid says:

    Want a P1? Just hit up Al Ain Class Motors!!

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