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The LaFerrari is very possibly the world’s fastest, most exciting hypercar. Which is some statement to make when there are machines such as the McLaren P1 and Porsche 918 Spyder to contend with.

The bottom line, however, is that LaFerrari has more power (a whopping 950bhp) and less weight to carry around than its prestigious rivals so figuratively, if nothing else, it quite clearly has the upper hand.

Either way, this is the ultimate Ferrari, and it has but four ancestors; the 288 GTO, the F40, the F50 and the Enzo, each of these being a limited series car, just like LaFerrari, of which just 499 will be made during the next two years.

At the centre of the car, behind its two fixed carbonfibre seats, sits a 6262cc naturally aspirated V12 engine that generates 790bhp at 9000rpm and 516lb ft of torque at 6750rpm. On their own these outputs would be sufficient to make LaFerrari more potent than the Scuderia’s last V12 F1 car, the 412T from 1995.

But also behind and beneath the seats sits a 60kg lithium ion battery pack which, via a 25.7kg electric motor, provides a further 160bhp and 199lb ft to give combined outputs of 950bhp and 715lb ft.

However, entirely unlike its rivals from Porsche and McLaren, the Ferrari’s power unit has been designed to produce its maximum outputs all of the time. There is no e-mode that can be engaged as such. Instead, the combustion engine and the Hy-KERS system have been engineered to work as one, with energy being constantly harvested on the move (via the brakes, the ABS system, the traction control system and even the E-Diff) to deliver full beans, as in 950bhp, whenever you want it.

The prodigious energy produced by this so-called power unit is then sent to the rear wheels, and the rear wheels only, via a seven-speed dual clutch auto gearbox, made for Ferrari by Getrag. This also has an electric motor attached to it, with a dedicated gear-set that transmits drive directly to the final drive, thereby reducing the need for a typically vast clutch. The meticulous removal of weight runs as a key theme throughout the supercar's engineering, and this is but one example.

Video: LaFerrari driven

As with the P1 and 918, LaFerrari features a carbonfibre tub on to which the engine and suspension are mounted. At each corner there are double wishbones (carbonfibre at the front) and coil springs with electronically controlled dampers, plus an enormous carbon-ceramic disc brake made by Brembo, those at the front measuring 398mm, those at the rear 380mm.

Electronics play a huge role in the car's engineering, and in the delivery of its vast dynamic repertoire. Wings at the front and rear are actively deployed on the move to provide two radically different running configurations; high and low downforce modes. 

Mostly, these exist to provide the maximum amount of grip and reduced drag required at any given moment – with a maximum of 360kg being produced at 124mph when cornering, or a minimum of 90kg at 124mph when travelling in a dead straight line. On the move, the car decides how much downforce it needs, not you. Intriguingly, the active wings also play a key role in cooling the engine, the batteries, the gearbox and the carbon-ceramic brakes, too.

The cabin of LaFerrari is a deeply exotic place in which to find yourself, as you’d expect, but it’s also smaller and more intimate than you might anticipate, despite there being 30mm more headroom than in an Enzo in order to accommodate drivers wearing a crash helmet. And that’s because the driving position itself is so low slung, with a fixed seat but movable pedals and steering wheel.

Ferrari claims the driving position is half way between that of a normal sports car and a Formula 1 car, with the driver’s backside sitting at broadly the same height as their toes. Sit on the floor against a wall with your arms and legs out-stretched but slightly bent, holding on to an imaginary steering wheel,  then shift your bum forwards so that your back is at an angle of 32 degrees to the wall and you’ll get a rough idea of how “single-seater” the driving position feels. And the rest of the cabin is very much in the same vein.

There are three different instrument styles than can be dialled up within the TFT digital dash display, all with the rev counter dominating to varying degrees. Anyone who’s ever been fortunate enough to sit in a 458 will recognise certain elements immediately, but there’s a sense of purity inside the Ferrari that elevates it above any of Maranello’s other cars. It feels quite a lot like you’re sitting inside a very well appointed Le Mans car, actually, with swathes of Alcantara and buttons for the sat-nav where normally you might expect to find switches marked 'rain' or 'pit lane speed limiter'.

However fast and furious and noisy and exciting to drive you might imagine LaFerrari to be, double it, add 20 and you might, just maybe, get somewhere close.

I find myself vibrating with excitement as I prod the starter button, squeeze the huge right hand gear paddle to select gear ratio number one and rumble out on to the track for my first few tentative laps, with the manettino switch set to Race mode. Other than this now familiar dial on the steering wheel, there are no other buttons to play with, nada; Ferrari deciding instead to let the car do the talking, which is a refreshingly pure ethos to adopt.

The ride instantly feels spookily smooth and calm, the steering surprisingly light but bursting with a delicious, old school kind of feel. The brake pedal also feels light underfoot but is again rippling with feel. And the throttle response, the first time I go anywhere near the loud pedal is just outrageous; the car explodes down the back straight even on half throttle in fourth gear.

And that’s what you get when you integrate electric power with a thumping great V12. At low revs the electricity provides the torque, and provides it instantly, and from there on up – at about 3000rpm – the V12 takes over. Yet the transformation is so smooth you are never actually aware that it takes place. Instead, it feels like the car is powered by a 10-litre V12 that somehow has massive low rev response at the same time.

LaFerrari vs McLaren P1 vs Porsche 918 Spyder

And to begin with, at least, it’s the immediacy of its response to the throttle that pretty much defines what LaFerrari feels like on the move. The torque appears to arrive from the moment you think about opening the accelerator, not when you physically press the pedal, and to begin with that takes quite some getting used to. 

But once you do, and to be fair this happens far faster than you’d think, given the vast range of capabilities contained within this most complex of cars, there is a proper box of secrets to be unlocked.

The sheer thrust the thing can generate will scare most people half to death to begin with, for example, because it really is monumentally rapid. And it just never lets up. The acceleration, and the noise, and the violence, it all just keeps on coming at you, stronger and louder with every extra revolution of the crankshaft until the limiter intrudes at an ear-splitting 9250rpm. The first time I run it right up to the limiter in third, the hairs on the back of my neck sit bolt upright, and it’s all I can do not to start screaming uncontrollably for no apparent reason.

And yet, in their way, the gearchange, the brakes, the steering, the turn in, the handling balance and the ride… they are all every bit as incredible as the engine – sorry the power source – and the acceleration it can produce. You look at what this car has on paper and assume that it is going to be a deeply complicated machine to drive, one that perhaps us mere mortals will never get to truly understand, or get the best out of. But that’s not the case at all in reality.

In many ways LaFerrari feels as natural and easy to drive as a 458 Italia. Its responses may be massive, its grip vast and its performance envelope borderline insane, but it also feels surprisingly, well, normal in the way it drives. The electronics are there but they operate very much in the background. A bit like the brilliant speech writer for the brilliant speech maker, they are a key element of LaFerrari’s DNA but they don’t define how it feels, or how it drives.

And as for the way you can eventually learn to play with the car, assuming you are bold enough to rotate the mannetino switch right the way round to switch everything off, well it’s just breathtaking. Never before have I driven a mid-engined car that feels so well balanced, so comfortable, when its rear tyres are lit and you’ve got half an armful of corrective lock applied. In my head, in my world, you should not be able to drive a car like this, like that, but believe me; anyone who knows broadly what they are doing behind the wheel could do exactly the same thing in it after a while. And that’s purely because the car has been engineered to allow most people to be able to drive it hard, really hard, without scaring themselves.

Video: LaFerrari's design secrets uncovered

There are no spikes on which to impale yourself, in other words, even if the scenery does appear in the windscreen at a quite unbelievable lick, if and when you press the accelerator hard and hold it there for more than a couple of seconds. Everything LaFerrari does – from the way it turns into a corner to the way it stops for one, and even the way it accelerates out of a bend – it does predictably. You always know where you are with this car. And considering just how insanely fast it is, that is arguably its greatest achievement; being manageable.

On the road, where I also drove it briefly, LaFerrari feels if anything even faster still – to a point where you really do need to choose your moment before squeezing the throttle with anything approaching enthusiasm. But even so the ride quality is still quite amazingly good, the steering beautifully well judged in its response and not in the least bit corrupted by rough surfaces. 

The visibility is also nowhere near as poor as I had expected it to be, the car’s general drivability/usability not much less than that of a 458 Italia. Which is extraordinary given how much deeper its well runs in all other respects; including the ability to turn heads, which is something it does more than any car I’ve ever driven.

You can’t unfortunately buy one though, because A) all 499 cars are now sold out and B) you might well have struggled to match Ferrari’s strict critieria for ownership in the first place.

If you wanted to buy a LaFerrari then you needed to have bought a minimum of two recent Ferraris via the dealer network from new, and have owned six in total in the last 10 years, and ideally never have speculated on any of them – or something along those lines. 

A more appropriate question then; is it better, worse or just different to a McLaren P1 and Porsche 918 Spyder? And is it a worthy successor to the mighty Enzo?

LaFerrari is a more than worthy successor to the Enzo. Indeed, it makes the old-timer feel gruesomely under-achieving in most respects, and is also a much easier, far sweeter car to drive in the process. 

Does that make it a better hypercar than the McLaren and 918? That’s a question we aim to answer properly in months to come, but my hunch here and now is that it will be one heck of a dust-up. Between at least two of the world’s most exciting cars.

And in the meantime, be in no doubt; LaFerrari is a true masterpiece from Maranello.

Ferrari LaFerrari specifications

Price €1.2m (approx £1.15 million); 0-62mph Sub-3.0sec (claimed); Top speed “Above 217mph"; Economy na; CO2 333g/km; Kerb weight 1255kg (dry), 1345kg (approx) with fluids; Engine V12, 6262cc, petrol plus electric motors; Installation Mid, longitudinal, rear wheel drive; Power 950bhp at 9000rpm; Torque 715lb ft at 6750rpm; Power to weight 707bhp/tonne (with fluids); Specific output 152bhp/litre; Compression ratio 13.5.0:1; Gearbox 7-speed paddle shift DCT; Length 4702mm; Width 1992mm; Height 1116mm; Wheelbase 2650mm; Fuel tank n/a; Range n/a; Boot n/a; Front suspension Double wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar, electronic adaptive dampers; Rear suspension double wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar, electronic adaptive dampers; Brakes 398/380mm, ventilated carbon ceramic discs, front and rear; Wheels 9.5jx19in (front), 13.0jx20in (rear); Tyres 265/30 ZR19 front, 345/30 ZR 20 rear, Pirelli P-Zero Corsa

Find out how LaFerrari squares up against the McLaren P1 and Porsche 918 Spyder

Watch Steve Sutcliffe's video review of the LaFerrari

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