For some time now, the Ferrari 458 Spider has had things its own way by being right at the top of the drop-top supercar pecking order. However, it might not rule the roost for much longer, as McLaren has just revealed the first details of its own rival for the Fezza: the MP4-12C Spider.
The main change with the Spider over the coupe is, of course, the addition of a retractable roof. However, bar the usual changes that are needed when your turn a fixed-head into a convertible, there are quite a few new revisions to the Macca. After all, what would you expect from something that had the ruthlessly perfectionist input of Ron Dennis?
With the hard-top in place, theres very little to tell this Spider version apart from the coupe on which its based. Eagle eyes passers-by may be able to spot the almost imperceptible panel gaps in the roofline, theyre virtually identical, even when you look at It side on.
Its when it retracts, though, where the changes are more noticeable for obvious reasons. But the tin-top isnt just worthy of our words simply because it provides the McLaren with an open-air experience, as the technology underpinning it is quite remarkable.
Like the Ferrari it competes with, the 12C uses a folding metal structure, but thats where most of the similarities end. The McLarens roof takes a bit longer to pop up (17 seconds versus the Ferraris 14) but the plucky Brits mechanism can work at up to 19mph, whilst you have to be stationary for the roof of Italys finest convertible to do its stuff.
Its also a very compact design, despite there only being two pieces that make up the roof. The engineers at McLaren have somehow managed to make the roof fit in an incredibly small space when stowed away, and still leave enough room for a 52 litre luggage space behind the two seats and a glass engine cover for the engine!
Youd have thought that, given all theyd need to add to the centre console was a button to operate the roof, there wouldnt be any noteworthy changes to the Maccas interior. But this is McLaren were talking about, so there are new gizmos that were made specifically for the Spider.
For instance, the rear window can be lowered when the roof is up to, as McLaren claim, improve ventilation (though wed use it to let more engine noise into the cabin when its raining) and can be raised when the car goes topless to form a wind deflector.
But thats not all the technicians at Woking have even gone to such lengths as to change the air-con/climate control and the in-car audio systems, so they arent affected when the driver feels the need to drive around in roadster mode.
Under the skin
As expected from a conversion into a convertible, there is a slight weight penalty when compared with the standard MP4-12C. However, McLaren states that the strength and rigidity of the carbon tub means that there was no need for additional strengthening, so the 40kg increase in weight is a result of the roof mechanism.
The engine and transmission, though, have required improvements (which will soon be made available on the coupe). The seven speed dual-clutch gearbox now shifts cogs faster, and the 3.8 twin-turbo V8 has had a power hike from 592bhp to 616bhp.
The extra potency of the engine is more than enough to overcome the extra kilos. Though it now takes 0.2 seconds more to hit 124mph in the Spider than the coupe, the 0-60 sprint of 3.1 secs is identical. And, although the 204mph top speed (196 with the roof down) is a bit down on the hard tops, its still enough to beat the Ferrari 458 in a game of Top Trumps.
There are very few things that the 12C and 458 Spiders share from a statistical point of view, and one of these areas is the price. For the privilege of owning McLarens first ever official convertible, youll have to find just under 200,000 lying around somewhere, and thats for the most basic model! Still, at least its cheaper than the Ferrari
If you want an MP4 Spider right now, though, you may be disappointed. You can put your name down on the waiting list, but the first deliveries wont be made until November, so youll have to wait a while for a chance to fold the roof back if youre one of the early adopters.
We wont lie here: when we first heard of the specs and saw the press pics of this new McLaren we were rather excited by it. Its a cutting edge mid-engined supercar, after all, and from our perspective, we reckon it looks even more desirable than the normal fixed-head Macca.
Will it be enough to topple the mighty 458 Spider? If were honest, we dont know the critics seem to subjectively prefer the Ferrari, but the McLaren is still a phenomenal piece of kit, and wed be stunned if the inevitable group test verdicts stated one was noticeably better than the other. After all, do you really think the folk at the McLaren Technology Centre would have made a mess of it?
Long story short, we have extremely high hopes for the MP4-12C Spider, and well be staggered if it doesnt get the warmest of receptions from the press and the public.
Check out our full summary, reviews, stats photos and videos for the standard Mclaren MP4-12C.