McLaren MP4-12C, Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Black Series: 2012 Best Driver’s Car Contenders
Our look at the nine contenders for the 2012 Motor Trend Best Driver’s car competition concludes with the McLaren MP4-12C, the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Black Series, and Chevy’s mighty Camaro ZL1. As part of our Best Driver’s Car Week, we’re highlighting each contender through a special hot lap video around the famed Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, with commentary from race driver extraordinaire Randy Pobst, who drove all nine cars to the limit. Stay tuned tomorrow, Thursday, August 23, to find out which car won this year’s title!
2012 McLaren MP4-12C
Some 14 years after ending production of the game-changing and extremely exclusive F1 supercar, McLaren is back in the street car business with the high-tech MP4-12C. It combines a lightweight carbon-fiber passenger cell with aluminum sub-frames and suspension, and replaces traditional anti-roll bars with a variable hydraulic system. A self-adjusting rear wing provides downforce and assists with braking. The race-derived twin-turbo V-8 engine is mounted as low as possible in the middle of the chassis to keep the center of gravity low. It’s not hyperbole to call it a race car for the street.
|2012 McLaren MP4-12C|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$267,545|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Mid engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door coupe|
|ENGINE||3.8L/592-hp/443-lb-ft DOHC 32-valve V-8|
|TRANSMISSION||7-speed twin clutch auto|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3213 lb (42/58%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||177.4 x 75.2 x 47.2 in|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||15/22 mpg|
|TIRES, F;R||235/35ZR19 91Y; 305/30ZR20 99Y Pirelli P Zero Corsa|
On the transmission: The transmission’s fabulous. I didn’t feel like the shifters were stiff. They felt natural to me, but I was making an effort to make sure I went through the detent.
On the brakes: The car is so bloody fast that I was a little bit conservative with my brake points, but the braking is extremely strong. I love the center of pressure change from that brake-wing angle-change. You can really feel that lock the car down in the brake zone and help it stop.
On the engine: There’s a tremendous amount of engine noise that I think is intake noise. By strong I mean LOUD. I’m thinking about wearing my earplugs like I’m driving a race car. I haven’t driven this car on the street, so I’m guessing maybe it’s not so radical there.
Overall: Wow, what an amazing experience. I’m gonna tell you, I both like it and hate it. This McLaren raises the level of stability control to a whole other realm. There’s a lot of computing at work while I’m driving and it’s extremely effective in the way that the car drives, but the car’s not driving exactly the way I’m driving it. I even find myself getting a little bit stupid, like I know I have these crutches so I lean on them. They work so smoothly, it’s almost invisible, except I know I just turned the wheel 20 degrees and the car’s not turning 20 degrees. Something else happened, and that something else is very effective, but I’m not the guy really driving the car. It is amazing.
Turn 3: Braking stronger later in braking zone. Will drift the tail, then the computer controls it. Understeers mid-corner. Excellent traction under power.
Turn 9: Excellent stability on turn-in for tricky fast downhill corner. Funky transition to understeer mid-corner at power application. Pushes under power.
2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Not content with being beaten at the track by the Ford Mustang Boss 302, Chevrolet rolled out its big daddy Camaro, the ZL1. The race-bred ZL1 borrows heavily from GM’s BMW-fighter, the Cadillac CTS-V. The ZL1’s supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 packs 26 more horsepower and 5 more lb-ft than the V Caddy’s mill, and it makes use of the Cadillac’s ultra-responsive magnetic shock absorbers. Big brakes and cooling ducts feature prominently, as does a Corvette-derived stability control program with five levels of assistance, including a setting that allows the driver to mash the throttle mid-corner while the computer doles out the torque necessary to achieve maximum acceleration and grip.
|2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$57,265|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front engine, RWD, 4-pass, 2-door coupe|
|ENGINE||6.2L/580-hp/556-lb-ft supercharged OHV 16-valve V-8|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4094 lb (53/47%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||190.4 x 75.5 x 54.2 in|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||16/19 mpg|
|TIRES, F;R||285/35ZR20 100Y; 305/35ZR20 104Y Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar G:2|
On the Track Mode: The Track Mode Five setting is a good one for an aggressive track-day driver. It does an excellent job of keeping the car from getting in trouble. I do believe it’s taking a little bit off the lap time because the car won’t leave the corner as hard. It was putting power down extremely well.
On the steering: Turns in accurately with no drama. Easy to throw into corners, but a little lazy turning into the tight corners.
On the engine: The engine has a real fat torque curve. It’s another classic American kind of engine, except it revs out well, too. We’re revving to 6000, it makes power all the way up, but it’s making huge power at 2500.
Overall: The Camaro is very happy on the racetrack. It’s an enjoyable car to drive. It’s got a big, meaty feel from the big, fat steering wheel, the big shift knob and the effort — you feel like you’re moving large gears. It’s just such an American “both hands around a piece of iron” kind of feel, like you’re swinging a sledgehammer, but it’s very effective. It’s very rewarding to drive. I enjoy it.
Turn 8: Confident braking but long travel from beginning. A little lazy into very tight left, bit o’ push at turn-in. Rear stays hooked up exiting Corkscrew. This car likes banking-type loans.
Turn 11: Still stops for hairpin Turn 11, unlike some others in test. Accurate turn-in, but a little lazy into tight one. Pushes, washes front a bit at late entry. Second gear got sudden power oversteer at throttle application. Traction much better later after transfer of weight to rear–characteristic of front-engine, front-weight chassis configuration.
2012 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Black Series
The Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG is a potent sports coupe, but for those who demand the best of the best, AMG’s Black Division offers the extremely limited (read: already sold-out) Black Series. Combining the looks of a DTM race car with maximum performance, the C63 Black is wider, more powerful, and lighter thanks in part to the absence of the rear seats. Its 6.2-liter V-8 borrows parts from the mighty SLS AMG and produces an extra 29 horsepower and 14 lb-ft of torque over the most powerful non-Black C63. Its functional aerodynamic add-ons and massive carbon-ceramic brakes help keep all the power on the track and under control.
|2012 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Black Series|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$109,925|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front engine, RWD, 4-pass, 2-door coupe|
|ENGINE||6.2L/510-hp/457-lb-ft DOHC 32-valve V-8|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4045 lb (52/48%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||185.3 x 69.7 x 54.6 in|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||13/19 mpg|
|TIRES, F;R||255/35ZR19 96Y; 285/30ZR19 98Y Dunlop Sport Maxx Race MO|
On the transmission: I thought the transmission shifted very well for a torque-converter automatic. I got hung up in second gear off the hairpin. It revs fast and you gotta pull the shifter real early to avoid hitting the limiter. When I hit the limiter, it stayed there a long time. It felt awful, frankly, only because it was slowing me down.
On the steering: Good feel in the steering. It has those linear responses. You ask for 10 percent of turning, you get it. Pretty impressive.
Overall: It is just a terrific package, extremely satisfying to drive. It’s almost like you took a Subaru BRZ, tightened up the shocks a little bit, and added 300 horsepower. That’s kinda where this car is. It’s that good.
Turn 2: Strong braking, no fade — first-rate. Very direct and linear at turn-in, tight and well-dampened, too. Very little sensation of roll, will drift the entry. Roll power on with care, will snap loose. Do it right and it’s hooked up on exit. Slight power oversteer possible and enjoyable.
Turn 8: Late-brake king! Puts the power to the ground when you go to the throttle. Small power oversteer is predictable and fun when tracking out.
All About Randy
Randy Pobst is one of the most successful American drivers on the road today. His career includes two overall wins at the 24 Hours of Daytona, four World Challenge GT Class championships, five Sports Car Challenge championships, and nine SCCA national championships. He currently drives for KPAX Racing in the World Challenge series