The 2015 McLaren P1 is possibly the most exciting road car ever built. The people who gave us the magnificent McLaren F1 20 years ago have delivered their next masterpiece, representing everything learned in 50 years building Formula One, Le Mans, Indianapolis and Can-Am winners.
Let's start with the engine. Or rather, engines. There is a 727-hp twin-turbo V8 similar to -- but much modified from -- the usual McLaren 12C motor. Then a 176-hp electric motor is added. Combined output is 903 hp. With just a 3,075-pound dry weight, that's a power-to-weight ratio way higher than any top-end supercar, and substantially above the recently unveiled Porsche 918 Spyder, too.
The two powerplants work together. The electric motor delivers low-end torque instantly while the twin-turbo V8 has fantastic top-end shove. Combine the two and there's great throttle response and enormous big-rev power. In addition you can drive the P1 in electric E-mode -- the silent supercar. All-electric range is about six miles.
The seven-speed paddle-shift twin-clutch gearbox can also work in full auto-shift mode, the default setting. It's the ideal choice for easy 'round-town driving.
As with all McLaren cars, the chassis is a carbon monocoque and all body panels are carbon fiber, too. This helps keep the weight low, despite the hybrid drive and bank of lithium-ion batteries.
McLaren P1 suspension is 12C-based. It uses a hydropneumatic setup not so different from an old Citroën's. Its active ride magic-carpets bumps and potholes yet firms up on corners.
McLaren says aerodynamics is the single area where the P1 has its biggest advantage over rivals. It works actively, so the rear wing and underbody flaps adjust automatically to boost speed and driver confidence. In track-only "race" mode, the car dips 2 inches closer to the black stuff and you get "ground effects" suction. In addition, the big rear wing periscopes back almost 12 inches. You're now in max-attack mode, magnetized to the road.
What's it like to drive?
"Astonishing," is the simple answer. Forget the Ferrari 458 or F12, or the Enzo. Forget, also, the marvelous old McLaren F1, although you can sense similar genes. The new P1 is way faster, way more agile and much more composed at high speed. The brakes, too -- carbon-ceramic discs specially developed by McLaren's Grand Prix partner Akebono -- are outstanding, the best road car brakes we've sampled.
The Porsche 918 Spyder is the closest you'll get to a McLaren P1, but it's less powerful, it's heavier, and with its four-wheel drive and greater reliance on electronic controls, feels more like the digital experience rather than the raw driver's car; more secure but less thrilling.
The P1 is astonishingly fast on the track. The handling balance, especially in "race" mode, is superb. It's predictable and controllable, but the high speed and enormous power mean the P1 is a car demanding great respect. Even with the traction control engaged, it's easy to get rear wheel spin, so vast is the power and torque.
The surprise flipside is the P1's tractability and ease of driving on the road. In default "Normal" setting -- for powertrain and handling -- it can happily scoot around town, comfortably and with decent visibility, its transmission in smooth-shifting "auto" mode. It's only when you stab the right pedal you realize the McLaren's other-worldly capabilities.
Do I want one?
You bet! The McLaren P1 is the nearest thing there's ever been to a road-legal Grand Prix car, developed by one of the most successful F1 teams. Here, surely, is the ultimate automotive experience. At least until the daftly named LaFerrari -- promising more power but fewer aerodynamic tricks -- is available.
Sadly, even if you want a P1, and can afford the $1.15 million price, you can't have one. Like the LaFerrari, they're all sold out. All 375 have found homes, 30 percent in the U.S.
2015 McLaren P1 pricing and specifications
On sale: US deliveries commence Spring 2014
Base price: $1.15 million
Drivetrain: 3.8-liter 903-hp twin-turbo V8/electric motor; RWD, seven-speed manual transmission (with auto mode)
0-62 mph: 2.8 sec (mfr claim)
Curb weight: 3075 lbs
Fuel economy (EPA): Not available
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