A Prius, a Veyron, and an MP4-12C walk into a bar…

Tom Cruise and his Veyron on the red carpet

That is a silly title, I know, but it does beg the question as to why I would put those three specific cars together at all? The answer lies in how they all have a similar reason for their existence, to be a number. Each was meant to achieve some specific measure of performance that would define the car to the world. While all three have been successful in achieving their tangible goals they have all wound up becoming relics of a more regimented and boring existence. They all cater to an increasingly soulless and superficial world where people judge everything from a bunch of numbers on sheet of paper or a computer screen, and not so much from actual experiences.   

Starting on a normal level with the Toyota Prius, here we have a car that was created for the sole purpose of achieving the maximum level of fuel efficiency possible from a conventional gasoline engine. All just so they could put a large number in big font on the window sticker at the dealership. In all other aspects the Prius is a severely compromised car. Its shape, while aerodynamic, can prove a bit awkward in some practical situations, it is far worse for the environment than a standard gasoline car due to its special battery, and many would argue that it is nearly too slow to function in real traffic. All it can do is get good fuel economy, and that is because that is all it was designed for. Toyota seemingly neglected most other areas of the Prius as a car. This sort of thing has also become fairly standard across the board now with other companies as well. Many cars are being unintelligibly lightened to a point where build quality noticeably suffers, and all of it is being done just so they can advertise a high MPG number to consumers. So, while the rest of this article may concern higher end cars, please understand that this trend is ruining many normal cars as well.

The Veyron Super Sport, the car Bugatti made specifically to reclaim the title of “the fastest production car’ after it was taken from the standard Veyron by the SSC Ultimate Aero.

Now for the Bugatti Veyron. I do, of course, recognize it for the outstanding engineering achievement that it is, and I love the car in many ways. However, from its conception it was made to be the “most” of everything that could appear on a spec sheet. It had to be the fastest, the quickest, the most expensive, and the most powerful car out there. As things wound up the Veyron also had the most cylinders, the most turbos, and a variety of impressive facts about it draining its fuel tank in 12 minutes or burning up its tires in 15. The purpose of the entire program essentially boiled down to making something insane that could be bragged about by owners, most of whom would never actually experience the car’s real performance for themselves. So, the Veyron, despite being an engineering masterpiece, was always destined to be just another status symbol. Something meant to be seen in rather than to drive for its own merits. You could say the Veyron was quite literally tailor made for the Guinness Book Of World Records, making it cliché and ultimately “un-cool” (as Top Gear might put it) from the very beginning.

Birdman is a prime example of the Bugatti’s use as a status symbol alone. He has even said in interviews that he is often driven around in his Veyron by a hired driver. I am a huge fan of his music, but this is very clearly what I am talking about here regarding the Bugatti. A Mclaren F1 would never be used as such by comparison.

I am sure many would disagree with this notion, but the simple fact is that the Veyron is easy enough for anyone to handle, despite its vast level of performance. Even someone like Paris Hilton could take a Veyron to 250mph with only minimal instruction. You do not need to be a serious driving enthusiast to drive a Bugatti, and that is not the case for the likes of the Mclaren F1 and Koenigsegg CCR, which both held the speed record before the Veyron. It weighs 4300lbs for a reason, to be solid and approachable for the average driver. Supposedly it is about as easy to drive normally as a Bentley GT, perfect for photo-ops on the red carpet, but not perfect for someone wanting a full-on supercar experience. That is the problem, the Veyron is only exceptional when you tap into its performance potential, and I would wager that fewer than 20% of Veyron owners use the full 1001hp on any sort of regular basis (let alone using launch control or doing top speed runs). It would seem that most Veyron owners have paid their $1.5M+ for the bragging rights and that the car was a free fashion accessory that was thrown in. I really do find it sad that the existence of such a car in fact boils down to that of a mere fashion accessory, destined to be raped by popular culture and cast aside. This does seem the case by in large though, and I while this approach has succeeded in selling out 300 Veyrons, I don’t think the Bugatti will ever have that same lasting, legendary appeal that the Mclaren F1 had because it has compromised itself too much.

Lastly we have the new Mclaren MP4-12C, a car that has been almost unanimously panned by the press when put up against its main rival, the Ferrari 458 Italia. The general consensus is that the Mclaren is in fact “better” than the Ferrari in every way that can be measured and written down, but that it somehow is not as good as the Ferrari in the way it makes you feel. Here is a secret for those of you who don’t know supercars that well: the way a supercar makes you feel is everything. Speed and handling figures, all of that is largely irrelevant so long as cars are at a similar level. What matters is what the car does to your emotions, the sort of special experience it offers the driver. So, for the Mclaren to be lacking in this area is for the Mclaren to be lacking in its identity as a supercar. With enough money, even a Prius could be made faster than a Ferrari 458 on paper in all regards, but it would never be special like the Ferrari. I fear the same sort of thing may have gone on with the new Mclaren.

First off the name of the car, MP4-12C, is horrific. Supercars are supposed to be sexy in all ways, and that name does not roll off the tongue with ease. Next, I feel like throughout the Mclaren’s development they were only focused on beating the Italia in every little way, but in the process they may have never really given their car a true identity of its own. Mclaren may have “beaten” Ferrari, but Ferrari is still “the one to beat”. The Italia is that cool kid in school, and the Mclaren is one of the kids trying to emulate him. A copycat can never match the original though because they spend all their time trying to be something they are not, whereas the original just is that way without trying. I feel like it is this identity issue that may be plaguing the MP4-12C at its very core.

The point of all this was to show how this fixation with numbers is usually a bad thing. I am not saying numbers are not important, but I am saying that they should not be the end-all-be-all in the purpose of any car because that takes away from everything else. This same problem is present in the tuning scene as well, lots of people build high power cars (that they cannot even nearly handle) just to show off a dyno sheet with a high number on it. This simplistic fixation with numbers is ruining many cars out there, both in production and in tuning shops. People need to wake up and realize that there is a lot more to a car than the numbers it puts down. Facts and figures are good ways to measure and compare some aspects of cars, but we should not let the spec sheet become a false idol to whom we will sell our souls.

-Nick Walker

Edit: Interestingly enough, the same day I post this article, Chris Harris releases a video below about the Mclaren. He does bring up some issues about its identity as a real supercar given its softer nature not present in other exotics. The car he is driving is the full production version though, and Mclaren has supposedly addressed some of the earlier complaints about the car. I hold the point I made in the article above as is, but this video does beg the question of whether the MP4-12C is indeed something revolutionary and not quite understood yet by more old school supercar enthusiasts. I am hoping to do a back to back drive of the MP4-12C and the 458 Italia later this year, so expect a follow up from behind the wheel of both cars on all of this in a few months.

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