A stock Ferrari has finally crested the nosebleed barrier of 700 horsepower, and deliveries of said Prancing Horse are slated to start at the end of February in the States. This screaming new F12berlinetta takes it all to 730 horsepower at 8,250 rpm and 509 pound-feet of naturally aspirated Italian V12 torque at 6,000 rpm. It hurtles to 60 miles per hour in 0.3 seconds, we swear. Okay, it's 3.0 seconds officially, but we know in our collective heart that tests with appropriate velocimeters will record something near 2.8 seconds as it barrels toward a top speed of 211 mph. And it's 2.5 seconds quicker to 125 mph versus its 599 GTB Fiorano predecessor.
But the F12's freakish speed factor is not the whole story here. Not even the half of it.
The two-seat F12berlinetta is gorgeousness on four Michelins (or Bridgestones or winter Pirellis if you like). Pininfarina and Ferrari's ever more responsible on-campus centro stile have combined for one hell of an all-aluminum form that follows impressive aerodynamic functions. One senior company expert tells us, "You could say the front two thirds of the car are predominantly Pininfarina, while the centro stile here can take most credit for the rear end."
Maybe it depends on the color it's wearing, but this very design hit us as a little overwrought when it debuted at last March's Geneva Motor Show. Yet all appeared in sync on our test drive day, in person and on Italian asphalt. Though it may seem bigger to the eye than the 599 it replaces, the F12 is actually smaller in every dimension – 2.0 inches shorter in length, 1.2 in. less in wheelbase, 0.7 in. down in width, with a mondo 2.5 inches off the height. The coupe's all-important center of gravity has been pushed down a full inch, too, and overall dynamics take advantage of this.
That's the third – and the major – ingredient to the F12's greatness: the ride and handling are spectacular by any evaluation. We half expected a hot-tempered horsepower-monger with the yips at lower speeds and revs, but we didn't get that at all. This Ferrari is a surprisingly tractable piece of machinery. That might have to do with every onboard system responding to the driver's desires 20-percent more quickly on average than in the 599. The latest generation of BWI Group's magnetorheological dampers, the mapping of all five settings for the manettino switch on the steering wheel, the very tight 11.5:1 steering ratio with only 2.0 turns lock-to-lock, or the towering, knock-free 13.5:1 compression ratio all have something to do with everything feeling so right.
This Ferrari is a surprisingly tractable piece of machinery.
In the interest of full disclosure, we must note that it rained for the better part of the day during our test in Italy. So, no, things weren't ideal, but nevertheless the show had to go on. Things dried up nicely by the afternoon, so we did get in some properly raucous miles over the hills south of Maranello. Whereas several preceding rear-wheel-drive Ferraris with twelve cylinders in front might have whipped us into the weeds on such a day, the F12 – even when we broke company rules for the wetness and put the manettino drive selector in Sport – was solid throughout on its 20-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires (255/35 ZR 20 front, 315/35 ZR 20 rear). The F12's standard e-diff system was always involved to varying degrees, and its adhesion and side-to-side torque monitoring probably had much to do with its stellar comportment.
Comparing the 730-hp F12 drive experience to that of the 612-hp 599 or 508-hp 575M Maranello before it is to border on the silly. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we have had this very same thought for seemingly every new front-engined V12 Ferrari we've ever driven. At 1'23" for a lap around Ferrari's Fiorano test track, the F12 is two seconds quicker there than the hallowed Enzo ever was. At first blush, there is no other production super GT with so much up front that can do things as well as the F12 does – not by a long shot. As a bonus, it can be driven to lead the pack at any track day. Face-off comparisons with the usual American, British and German suspects will be good stuff.
The F12 is two seconds quicker than the hallowed Enzo around Ferrari's Fiorano test track.
The F12 Berlinetta had its typical Ferrari internal project name – F152 – green-lit back in mid-2009. In 2007, however, Ferrari let the world know that one of its priorities for all future models was to reduce weight, and to this end, they showed the Millechili concept, which in English means "thousand kilograms" or roughly 2,205 pounds. A key effort in this weight loss plan has been to make Ferrari a center of expertise in the development and use of aluminum alloys. Through strategic use of twelve separate alloys used in building its chassis and body, the F12berlinetta's official curb weight of 3,594 pounds is 165 pounds less than the outgoing 599 GTB Fiorano. That's at least 200 pounds less than the predominantly carbon fiber 691-hp Lamborghini Aventador LP700-4, another comparison car.
This latest aluminum approach has not only peeled off pounds, it has added crucial rigidity to the entire car – stiffness is up some 20 percent versus the 599. On the sinewy body shell alone, average panel thickness versus the panels of a 599 has likewise been reduced 20 percent.
Using the manettino on the multi-function steering wheel – a comfortable steerer with no menu switches for the onboard computer functions to gum things up – we readily felt the differences between Wet, Sport, Race, CT Off and ESC Off. (Yes, we tried them all even on this perilous rainy day – delinquent as charged.) This suite of features has come so far over the years, and it corrals in these power-packed Ferraris perhaps better than any other similar systems. The throttle remains authoritative, but is also sweet and helpful so that any nervy preconceptions we had heading in to our 730-hp drive day soon evaporated.
There is always the fear that these more stretched-out true GT style supercars will feel unwieldy with little incitement, that it'll end up being the car that is in charge of the proceedings – especially when things get wet. But the F12 takes that idea and crushes it. With all major drive system hardware having been brought in closer to the chassis' centerline and then lowered, the driving is much more in keeping with what you visualize in your head. We ain't no science PhDs here, but this is all advanced physics at work. And while Ferrari's physics class is happening all around, the remarkable amount of outward visibility puts the driver's mind at ease.
The F12's quad exhaust tips aren't stingy at all with their F1-inspired banshee call.
The rev limiter for this dry-sump 6.3-liter direct-injected "F140FC" is set at a glorious 8,700 rpm. The twelve-cylinder is more compact overall and, in keeping with the "hug the center" philosophy, it's mounted back and down as far as it can go in the engine bay. It sits a hair's breadth from one's right calf and foot, yet the sound in the cabin is kept at a remarkably proper level. The positive reactions of pedestrians near and far, however, make it clear that the F12's quad exhaust tips aren't stingy at all with their F1-inspired banshee call.
When playing with the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, it doesn't matter too much where you're at on the manettino setting; the shifts adapt themselves along with the throttle and the driver's desired mood to remain just as smooth as you'd like. The ECU is constantly monitoring the meeting of revs whether upshifting or downshifting, and after just a few getting-acquainted miles, we understood this relationship and felt free to do as we wished without fear. Never once did the transmission hung on the rear axle deny us a downshift. Hallelujah.
Does all this make the F12 a good everyday driver? Yes. Yes it does.
On a particularly rough stretch of provincial road where we were hoping to feel any suspension ticks we hadn't yet induced, the F12 and its double wishbones up front and a multilink rear sincerely didn't bat an eyelash. The new-generation BWI dampers are also noticeably improved beyond the already fine last-gen units, keeping this Italian's four rubber corners clawing the surface below. And we really diced it up, so you can believe us. Add to this the latest-gen Brembo carbon ceramic brakes that are positively squeal- and grind-free. We found them to be easily modulated, even while hauling things in from 125 mph to zero in record time. Does all this make the F12 a good everyday driver? Yes. Yes it does.
While we can wax euphoric about so much of the F12's dynamic envelope, we know its steering will take a little getting used to. For about the first hour, we were repeatedly surprised by how a little steering input goes such a long way in the F12. Some may feel badly about this inherent quickness, but we became accustomed to the 32-percent less steering angle needed to make any maneuvers. Through the numerous ascending and descending hairpins on our route, one hand left its normal position at the wheel only on rare occasions. After that first hour up in the hills, we fell in love with the steering's responsiveness.
The two starring functional features on the F12's exterior have to be the so-called "aero bridges" at the base of the windscreen pillars and the chin spoiler vents for cooling the front brakes. The former's aesthetics pick up where the flying buttresses on the 599 left off. Air flows directly off the nose and is channeled over and then down and around the body chiefly via these aero bridges. They're a major reason the F12berlinetta's aerodynamic efficiency and downforce have been improved by 98 percent compared to the 599. All of which means the F12's high-speed runs are laced with stability never seen before in a Ferrari.
Two outer low front air intakes make up the moveable aero equipment on the car. These smallish black metal flaps are automatically opened and shut by sensors that determine when front brake cooling is a good thing (Hint: they're always open during heated driving and they close automatically at any speed below 25 mph).
In regards to the cabin, there's really nothing revolutionary in terms of comfort, space or materials. Our F12 came with the standard sport seats dressed with Poltrona Frau leather in the optional Daytona design look. For this particular Ferrari, these would be our chairs, whereas in the 458 Italia we prefer the more aggressive and body-hugging racing seats. Prior to the start of F12 deliveries in Europe, though, Ferrari's new onboard computer with integral satellite navigation needs a lot of help. As it stands, we observed several beta-stage glitches and found it to be the most trying sat-nav system we've had to use in quite some time. Ferrari is aware of the troubles and is working closely with their supplier to eradicate all reasons for disgruntlement. We will need to live with the whole unfamiliar onboard system for a bit before passing definitive judgment.
What a package, though. And we got so swept up in the F12's glory that we nearly forgot to mention that fuel efficiency is up a useful 30 percent over the 599. Even the super-rich will appreciate that development, if only because they won't have to deign to visit gas stations as often. And according to our contacts, the base price for all this will not be oft-quoted $330,000 figure – it should be closer to $310,000. A bargain.
In the past, a model putting up these impressive numbers would be more than enough to justify its coronation as Maranello's halo car. But that's not the F12's role, at least not for long. Ferrari is readying a new Enzo successor with 800 or more horses, and it should be coming to an auto show by the start of 2013. Judging by our day's drive in the F12, it will have quite a lot to live up to.