US television presenter and car collector Jay Leno has joined engineers in the UK to take a ride in the new McLaren MP4-12C.

Mr Leno is said to be "seriously interested" in the new McLaren having previously purchased a McLaren F1 road car from the group ten years ago.

“I thought it was quite an honour to be given this chance. It was a real thrill,” said Mr Leno. “If you are a soccer fan, it’s like being asked to play with Manchester United.“So when you are with your car friends and they say ‘I wonder what this new McLaren is like’, you are able to tell them you were in it – and at that point, the conversation just stops!”

Following a factory tour with McLaren Automotive boss, Mr Antony Sheriff (see video below), Mr Leno was taken to a secret viewing room to see the car, which still bears an early version of the nose.

“I like the proportions,” said Mr Leno. “Too many road cars now are big and wide. It’s better looking than the Ferrari, and I think it has a unique pedigree. Everybody knows Ferrari; only real enthusiasts know McLaren.”

The icing on the cake for Leno was the chance of a chauffeur ride with factory test driver, Mr Chris Goodwin.

“He told me the camouflaged prototype car was in the middle of its development programme, and that they were honing its ride and handling,” explained Mr Leno. “Apparently, Dunsfold is good as it has loads of different corners. It’s bumpy, fast and slow, with lots of changes of direction.”

Mr Leno then strapped himself into the cockpit to spend an hour, first in the dry and then, after a thunderstorm, in the wet, lapping Dunsfold at full speed.

“From the passenger seat, it feels amazing!” reported Mr Leno. “It’s obviously not a finished car, but acceleration is extremely strong and the engine revs to 9,000rpm.

“The gearbox shifts very quickly, too – certainly faster than a human could shift. It’s all a sensory overload, but not in any sort of scary way.

“This is the first car that has forced me to accept that paddleshift is the future. I much prefer a mechanical gearchange – like a mechanical watch. But Chris Goodwin’s changes were sublimely smooth and fast.”

The car Leno rode in is stripped bare and crammed with test equipment. But he still assured us that it’s a great place in which to spend time, with the two-seater offering lots of space, despite having one less seat than his McLaren F1.

“Visibility is good,” he added. “It’s a modern, practical car – not a dream machine that you couldn’t live with. It appears to have good ground clearance, so you should be able to use it in most places. From inside, the sound was snarly but pleasant. Any time you have twin turbos you get a bit of a muted sound.”

The greatest compliment Leno paid to the 12C was by comparing it to a model from one of Britain’s greatest auto brands: Lotus.

“It felt like the kind of car [Lotus founder] Colin Chapman would have made if he was still alive,” he said.

“Only when you’re on the move do you sense how light it is. Yes, it has a carbon fibre tub and the lightest technology out there, but that lightness really translates to the road.

“It felt nimble, precise and accurate – all the things a Lotus is famous for, but in a package that is uniquely McLaren. I love the fact they have fought to get the car under 1,400kg. It’s a revelation in this day and age.”

With AutoExpress UK