I was tasked with the job of picking up CAR's McLaren MP4-12C from Woking for the supercar showdown in the new July 2011 issue. Hardly one of life's chores. I'd been to the McLaren Technical Centre once before, but arriving at the Surrey gatehouse is still one of life's more memorable moments. There's a certain Willy Wonka in Woking quality to the whole place.
Once past security - golden ticket in hand - VIPs drive along a neatly manicured driveway towards the idyllic lake which frames the McLaren HQ. If you remember CAR's design critic Stephen Bayley visiting the MTC, you'll be familiar with the fastidious attention to detail that chief Ron Dennis lavished upon its construction.
You almost imagine that every bullrush, every blade of grass is arranged to Ron's wish. An obvious analogy, maybe, but one which you can't disconnect from the reality when you arrive at the McLaren Technical Centre. Once inside, I spot the proximity switches to flush the loo and realise that that legendary attention to detail is inescapably correct. The McTypeface used on the flush is the same as the controls on the car.
I sweep around past the Technical Centre and pull up in my Subaru Outback among the rows of company Mercs that McLaren staff clearly drive.
And there, lying in an orange glow under Ron's own office at the edge of the building is an MP4-12C. Our MP4-12C.
The scissor doors are raised invitingly, I'm struck by how simple the 12C looks. I've been writing about McLaren's junior supercar ever since I scooped it back in 2007, and I still associate it it with gunmetal silver. Seeing it in the burnt ochre of our test car made me stop in my tracks.
Press week is looming and I'm in a rush, yet picking up a McLaren isn't as simple as collecting any old supercar. I'm invited in and there's a reception committee of a PR and a product manager. I'm to be inducted in the ways of the 12C and given a familiarisation drive on the back roads around Woking.
It's hard to ask sensible questions when the only thing I can think about is the £170k supercar I'm lucky enough to be driving. Only a handful of people outside of McLaren have tested the MP4-12C on public roads and I'm on sensation overload as I steer around familiar roads near the Chobham test track.
It's an incredibly easy car to jump in and drive. Visibility forwards is first-rate, the simple cabin cosseting and it's easy to place the car on the road. But what strikes me most is that plump, comfy ride quality. There's a disconnect between bitumen bumps and the sensations my bottom's feeling and ears hearing. It really does ride better than many family cars and the hushed V8 woofles quietly in the background. Later, on my schlep back round the M25 and up the A1, the 12C is safely the most stress-free supercar I've ever driven.
Don't miss the full 15-page feature in the new July 2011 issue of CAR. We test the McLaren MP4-12C against the Ferrari 458 Italia, Porsche 911 GT2 RS, Audi R8 V10, Lamborghini Gallardo Performante and Mercedes-Benz SLS. On road. On track. Against the stopwatch with ex-Stig Ben Collins driving.