When the McLaren F1 first hit the streets it almost immediately catapulted to the top of the performance car scene, taking home the title of world’s fastest production car in 1998 and holding it up until 2005. Building a car better than the original F1 was always going to be a difficult challenge, and perhaps that is why for McLaren’s next supercar the company isn’t setting its sights too high.

While the original F1 competed with the best supercars of its time--cars like the Ferrari F40, Jaguar XK220, and Porsche 959--McLaren’s newest model will be competing with more ‘entry-level’ models. Rather than chasing Enzos and Veyrons, the new model will go up against cars like the Ferrari 458 Italia and Lamborghini Gallardo, and as such it will be priced accordingly.

But the MP4-12C is not just a new car from McLaren. It is the embodiment of a brand new car company, complete with a new factory, a new distribution chain and a new level of customer service. At least that’s what the company, McLaren Automotive (the road car division of the McLaren Group), is claiming.

Starting with the MP4-12C, McLaren plans to design and develop a range of high-performance sports cars with such attributes from components that are bespoke, innovative and unique. And of course, all of McLaren’s models will benefit directly from the company’s F1 efforts.

Accordingly, the new McLaren MP4-12C features a raft of technologies never before seen in the sports car or automotive world. From the engine to the transmission, the suspension to the braking system, the use of aerodynamics to electronics, the MP4-12C genuinely is packed with unique features that should give it an edge in what’s shaping up to be a very tough segment to compete in.

At its heart, the MP4-12C features a revolutionary carbon-fiber chassis structure called the Carbon MonoCell: the first time a car in this market segment is based around such a strong and lightweight racing car engineering solution and the first time any car has ever featured a one-piece carbon-fiber structure.

Not only is the MP4-12C unique in its class by offering carbon technology, it also has the highest specific power output as well as impressive power- and torque-to-weight ratios. Power comes from a new 'M838T' 3.8-liter V-8 twin-turbo engine producing around 600 horsepower and 440 pound-feet of torque, driving through a McLaren 7-speed Seamless Shift dual clutch gearbox (SSG). According to McLaren, the engine also delivers its power at greater efficiency than any other car on the market with an internal combustion engine--including hybrids. The engine revs to 8,500 rpm, has quick transient throttle response and delivers its torque throughout the rev range. A staggering 80% of torque is available from below 2,000 rpm, ensuring great driveability and no need to floor the throttle to deliver performance.

As mentioned, drive is sent to the rear wheels through two wet clutches and a McLaren-developed 7-speed Seamless Shift dual clutch gearbox (SSG). The gearbox has a trio of performance settings, as well as launch control, while gears are selected by an F1-car style rocker shifter that pivots in the center of the wheel--pull right for upshifts, left for downshifts--with a 'first pressure' function that prepares the gearbox for the next shift.

The MP4-12C also sports an advanced suspension management system called Proactive Chassis Control, which is said to offer the comfort of an executive sedan but with unseen levels of roll control and grip.

The suspension is based on double wishbones with coil springs. The dampers are interconnected hydraulically and provide adaptive responses depending on both road conditions and driver preference. The Proactive system features adjustable roll control which replaces the standard mechanical anti-roll bars. There are three suspension modes that are selected on the Active Dynamics Panel. There is a 'normal', a 'sport' mode and a high performance mode which adjusts numerous parameters in the system.

Another feature that helps the MP4-12C to handle at a new level is a development of an electronic system used by McLaren's 1997 MP4/12 Formula 1 car--Brake Steer. In essence, it is a system that brakes the inside rear wheel when the car is entering a corner too quickly to make the desired radius. Under normal circumstances the front would wash away wide of the apex the driver wants to touch: in other words, the car is in a state of understeer.

Brake Steer manages the tendency of a car to wash out and brings its nose back on line. It assesses the steering angle to determine the driver's intended course and applies the inside rear brake to increase yaw rate and resume the desired course. The system also works on acceleration out of a corner when the inside rear has a tendency to spin, allowing the driver to put power down more quickly. It controls what a limited slip differential would do and obviates the need for such a complex and heavy unit, thus saving more valuable pounds.

The end result of all this high-tech gear is some serious performance numbers. McLaren is claiming a 0-62 mph time of less than 3.0 seconds in initial testing, as well as an 11.0 second quarter mile and a top speed in excess of 200 mph. Vehicle weight will come in at around 2,866 pounds (dry).

Of course, as complete as the MP4-12C is in standard form, there will be customers that will always want to customize their vehicles further. Thus, the car will be available in a palette of 17 exterior paint colors, and a range of interiors in a variety of colors and materials for the seats, dash panel and inner door panels. Other options for the exterior include ordering the mirrors, diffuser, splitter and roof in carbon-fiber. Brake calipers can be specified in three colors, while lightweight forged wheels are also available in a choice of finishes.

Inside, the seats can be specified as electrically-operated and heated, or as a manual lightweight sports seat with carbon-fiber seat backs. Optional goodies include satellite navigation, Wi-Fi access, and voice activation.

Performance options such as carbon ceramic brakes with uprated calipers, a sports exhaust, and cup tires can also be specified.

Production will start at the new McLaren Production Center late this year and if all goes to plan, the first examples of the MP4-12C will start deliveries in the U.S. in the middle of 2011.