What do we mean when we talk about assemblies of steel, carbon and plastic in terms of “emotion”? Every craft has a very narrow dividing line between mere technical proficiency and creating something that’s greater than the sum of its parts, but few crafts enjoy a cadre of critics that are as obsessed with constantly defining this line as auto journalists. I suppose that after spending enough time driving and trying to evaluate cost-no-object luxury items the line may become more obvious, as skills are sharpened and observational powers are honed. But more than increasing the ability to define the line between mere “excellence” and “greatness” or “proficiency” and “emotion,” a career of supercar driving largely seems to reinforce the importance of simply having that line. After all, what’s more important to the reviewer of supercars: preventing some poor soul from squandering a quarter of a million dollars on the wrong supercar, or establishing their own exquisite taste? Here’s a hint: only one of these things keeps the gravy train rolling. So when you’ve got two similarly-performing supercars competing directly for the attentions of the well-heeled, few will actually care which laps what the fastest… and when the going gets tough, the tough get wobbling.
This is all well and good… after all, everyone wants to drive a Ferrari 458 and a McLaren MP4-12c, but nobody wants to go through the motions of justifying why you think one is fundamentally better or worse than the other. Besides, consumers are free to understand that one man’s “lack of emotion” is another man’s everyday usability… or “waste” their money on the car the journalist says he prefers. But when McLaren comes out and gives the latest mid-engined Ferrari a run for its money with its first roadvcar in over a decade only to be met with accusations of a “lack of emotion,” there’s no way a self-respecting sportscar firm would make a change to their baby. But that’s exactly what’s happening…
Autocar reports that McLaren has been “stung” by criticisms of its lack of emotion, and it’s making changes to mollify the exquisite tastes of automotive journalists. But if, as some journalists have argued, the McLaren is a “disappointment” (5th Gear), “needs a chassis setting between Sport and Track” (evo), or “suffers from an obvious lack of sex appeal” (C&D), they’re going to be disappointed with the tweaks… because they’re apparently tiny.
Chief among the changes are an improved throttle response and a “fruitier” exhaust note. A McLaren spokesman said these were changes that had been planned anyway, but the press criticism — and McLaren’s “Formula 1 mentality” — had “upped the pace” of development.
“We want drivers to enjoy the car a bit more,” he said. “The changes don’t lead to any performance increase, but they do lead to an emotional increase when you drive the car.”
The changes apply only when the MP4-12C is in Track mode. Many of the tweaks are to the car’s Intake Sound Generator, which controls the amount of noise coming from the engine bay into the cabin. A tube containing a butterfly valve runs from the engine’s plenum chamber to the cabin. The valve now opens wider in Track mode.
“It was a bit too sensible before,” said the spokesman, “You won’t notice the changes in normal mode, just when you’re really having fun and pushing it.”
At the end of the day, episodes like this seem almost to satirize the very notion of the media-manufacturer relationship. McLaren couldn’t possibly do a thing to its new car to ever make it as “emotional” in the eyes of journalists as a Ferrari… after all, most auto writers are seemingly obligated to refer to Italian cars (particularly the expensive ones) as being defined by their “emotion.” But by letting the wobbling of some overprivileged scribes get to them, McLaren are admitting that “emotion” (as defined by the motoring press) matters. In fact, it doesn’t… as is witnessed by the success of the German auto industry. And by playing into the auto writer wobble, McLaren may just have done more to reinforce the Ferrari brand than losing any comparison test to the “emotional” Italians would have.