What is it?
The Ferrari F12 Berlinetta is the fastest, most powerful product ever offered by the world’s most fabled supercar constructor for use on the public road. The 119bhp increase in engine power over the 599GTB is the largest hike in output of any Ferrari over its immediate predecessor and, with that, comes a 60kg reduction in weight.
But for all its new found urge, the F12 is a traditionalist Ferrari at heart. It places its normally aspirated V12 engine in the nose, its gearbox between the rear wheels, leaving space for just two occupants inside. And you could have said as much about the 275GTB, almost half a century ago.
And just like that old Berlinetta, with this new one it is the engine that dominates the headlines. You can pore over its active brake cooling ducts and its downforce-enhancing aerodynamics all you like, but they won’t divert your attention from that motor for long. From less than 6.3-litres it generates no fewer than 730bhp at 8250rpm. That’s 70bhp more than a 599GTO and 39bhp more than its closest rival, the Lamborghini Aventador. Even comparison to the million pound Bugatti Veyron is not as irrelevant as you might expect: sure the Ferrari can’t compete with its 987bhp output but factor in weight and you’ll see the Ferrari’s 448bhp per tonne is not that far from the two tonne Bugatti’s at all.
The F12 costs £239,736, an increase of £27,640 over the 599GTB or, put another way, a smidge less than a BMW 320d SE. Then again that’s also the amount of money the typical customer is likely to spend just on options, which means that for almost all owners, the F12 is a quarter million pound motor car.
What is it like?
Engine aside, the F12’s greatest strength is its least obvious. It’s not just lighter than a 599, it’s smaller too: however you measure it – length, width, wheelbase or height, there’s just less of it, making it feel a substantially more compact car. This is just as well because when that V12 lets rip, you won’t need the car’s size adding to the intimidation.
For this is a car that will beat a McLaren F1 to both 60mph and 125mph. And it will do it in one, seamless, its double-clutch gearbox ensuring literally no pause between shifts. And when you hear how it works above 8000rpm, you’ll wonder not how the 8700rpm limit got to be so high, but why it seems so low: this engine feels like it could go on forever.
How do you harness that? How do you transmit 730bhp to the public road through the the rear wheels of a front engined sports car? Ferrari has done astonishing work here. Thanks in varying degrees to an even more rear-biased weight distribution (46/54 per cent front to rear), new suspension, Ferrari’s E-diff and specially developed Michelin, Pirelli or Bridgestone tyres, the F12 puts its power down better than you could imagine. Of course you can leave the electronics to identify the adhesion limit but the F12 is so clean in its power transmission, at times the black lines in the mirror are the clearest indication that you’ve broken traction.
In corners it is, of course, a very different matter. It should be said that the F12 is not a particularly easy car to drive very fast on road or track, and not just because the scenery is so accelerated by that engine. Then again if you leave the manettino control in ‘Sport’ or even ‘Race’ it looks after you so well, it’s perhaps too easy to forget the exact nature of the beast with which you’re dealing. Turn off the electronics, let the car be itself and you’ll soon find out.
This is a car that understeers a little and then oversteers a lot and, at first acquaintance, it’s quite disconcerting. Your disquiet comes not from the power but the steering. Ferrari has not only shortened the car’s wheelbase, it has also substantially increased the speed of the rack which, in my view, is a mistake.
The big reaction you get to any given input might give the car some superficial sportiness, but it also makes the car more difficult to drive, requiring more precision from the driver in general and in particular when the back gets loose. You don’t want a rack so slow you can’t get the lock off in time but within reason, the slower the steering the wider the ‘catch’ window is opened. The good news is that, steering aside, the chassis is faithful and the engine which you might think could be the architect of your downfall, is more likely to be your saviour: so precise is its throttle response, you’re extremely unlikely ever to mistakenly call for more power than intended.
We should not forget this is a dual purpose car. Unlike the purely sporting 458 or the dedicated GT that is the FF, the F12 has to place a wheel in both camps and while it rightly errs more to the sporting side, it has not forgotten its other role in life. Ride quality on rough roads is adequate thanks to a specific ‘bumpy road’ setting for its suspension available regardless of manettino position, while refinement is extremely good. You might think a 730bhp V12 might never know when to shut up, but at a steady 80mph on the autostrada, this is a commendably civilised conveyance.
It’s spacious too with head and legroom aplenty despite its shrunken dimensions. Oddment stowage space on board is poor, but the boot is an excellent size and if you remove the shelf between it and the cockpit, utilising the space behind the seats, implausibly it’ll hold the same amount of clobber as a BMW 7-series. The interior design is less impressive, with too much plastic and a style too derivative of lesser Ferraris for this kind of money.
Should I buy one?
Have you got £239,736 to spare? If so and if you like the idea of traditional V12 Ferrari sports car turned up to about 27 then, yes, wake your dealer in the middle of the night and bag your space before that list gets any longer. Just remember this car is not a paragon of virtue, its steering alone sees to that. And while it is undoubtedly Ferrari's fastest to date, it’s still not its most exciting. Ferrari will be sick of hearing it, but Ferrari’s most thrilling driving weapon remains the F40.
But as a device that can be used everyday (as 20 per cent of owners will), for taking long journeys laden with luggage and then, when you arrive, leaving the other half in the hotel and heading for the hills, I’m not sure it has an equal. A Veyron is not just four times more expensive, it’s less practical and not as fun to drive. An Aventador offers a greater sense of occasion while subjectively its engine is actually at least a match for the Ferrari’s, but it’s let down by its handling, its gearbox and relative lack of carrying capacity.
Once you’ve vacated the car and let your pulse return to something approaching normal, it becomes clear that this car’s greatest strength and biggest surprise is not how unfathomably fast it is, but how usable the car remains. For all its McLaren-melting acceleration, the F12 is not a recreational plaything, but a deadly serious working tool. That is the key to this car’s extraordinary character and why it ranks as one of Ferrari’s finest achievements to date.
Ferrari F12 Berlinetta
Price £239,736; 0-62mph 3.1sec; Top Speed over 211mph; Economy 18.8mpg; CO2 350g/km; Kerb weight 1630kg; Engine layout 12 cyls in a vee, 6262cc, normally aspirated, petrol; Installation longitudinal, front, rear-wheel drive; Power 730bhp at 8500rpm; Torque 508lb ft at 6000rpm; Power to weight 448bhp per tonne; Specific output 117bhp/litre; Compression ratio 13.5:1; Gearbox 7-speed double clutch