Dear Italian friends, I am lost in translation.
This story was originally published in our April 2014 issue
Help me with a word or phrase per favore, a word beyond forza and bellisimo and closer to perfecto.Feel free to substitute this word to the title of this story, a word worthy of Ferrari’s F12 Berlinetta.
As the word fails me, how about a suitable numero. Here are a few of relevance: 7.30, 840,000, 911, 28, 8700 and 8.3.
Allow me to explain. Editor Campbell has me fetching a Prancing Horse from its Richmond stable in Victoria for a 7.30am rendezvous to load-up onto the Spirit of Tasmania ferry bound for the twisties of the Apple Isle.
If the sharp, metallic BRAP of twelve cold cylinders barking to life hasn’t shaken the sleep from my caffeine-deprived brain, then engaging its hydraulic nose lift-kit and slipping the svelte two-seater coupe into the fast-impending crush of Melbournian peak-hour will.
Because this Grigio Titanio (silver) example lists for a cool $690,745, though it burbles down Swan Street, wedged in amongst the taxis and tradie utes, optioned up to $825,245.
The Ferrari King is already seducing me, slowly and gently, by how easily and effortlessly it dispatches the slow commute to Port Melbourne. Graceful styling, which owes as much to 250 hours of wind tunnel testing as it does Pininfarina’s design savvy, has the captivating presence you’d expect from the tree-topping Italian exotic, sans the ostentatious pretensions of – how do I put this nicely – brash rosso-soaked Prancing Horse cliché.
It’s too dignified a device to be hung off its redline in first gear along a South Melbourne café strip.
At a slow canter it’s incredibly quiet, the thrum of its monstrous Michelin Pilot Super Sports tyres almost drowning out the low, tubular, metallic hum of the V12 which rarely rises above 2000rpm as the dual-clutch manual, left in Auto, smoothly glides up and down its seven forward ratios.
My mind starts to drift to Stuttgart, of all places. The only other certifiably bonkers car I’ve driven with this much inherent comfort and silken low-speed discipline has had a 911 badge on it. And I remind myself, short of LaFerrari, I’m negotiating the Monday morning tradie crush in the most powerful Ferrari road car ever devised.
Then there’s ride comfort. It’s as supple as a base Carrera. And that’s despite the F12 not so much as offering a switchable Comfort drive mode, per se. Its ‘Bumpy Road’ active magnetic damper setting isn’t necessary around town, while the signature Ferrari ‘manettino’ steering wheel dial – governing the calibration of the powertrain, suspension, E-Diff, F1-Trac traction and ESC smarts – has Sport as its default ‘normal’ setting. And while the F12 drives nothing like a Camry, it’s certainly as easy to commute around town in.
The cabin area is awash with red Alcantara on the dash, doors and ($15K optional) race bucket seats. A sea of slick cold metal surfaces, fair dinkum carbonfibre and the smattering of minimal suede-like plastics are so slick they would make Audi blush. The styling is light and airy, yet rich, classy and purposeful.
But it’s the near-perfect ergonomics of the seating and touch points that demonstrates how much design thought has gone into getting the F12 right. It’s a personal godsend, too, because, at (well) over 28, I’m the only Gen X among MOTOR’s motley crew of Tassie-bound Y-genners and, thus, I’m the only bloke allowed to drive the F12 over the next four days.
Of course, once I arrive at Port Melbourne for load up, I ask who else wants a drive. Just to rub it in.
It’ll be after 26 hours – 10 of them at sea aboard the Spirit of Tassie – four meals, much trash talking and a 10pm photo shoot curfew (incorporating much swearing) before I find myself pointing the Berlinetta’s nose onto a motorway onramp outside of Devonport. Once the faintly hexagon, F1-inspired carbonfibre tiller is pointed straight, I give it the berries at about 30km/h.
HOOLLLEEEEECRAAAAAAP!! A lot can happen in five seconds. Five seconds of blurry physical and sonic ferocity. A few things stand out, mostly the violence of the shove and the sensations, through my spine, of the F12’s tail shimmying about as those 315mm rear Michelins strain against the F1-Trac leash. That I see more than one red shiftlight blink from the tiller rim suggests I get within coo-ee of its 8700rpm cut-out.
And as the Berlinetta can stride to 100km/h in 3.1sec and 200km/h in 8.3sec (from a standstill), a full five seconds of white noise would, of course, mandate a firm squeeze of those monstrous carbon-ceramic brakes. Believe me, when you uncork 6262cc of V12 fury, you’re not watching the speedo, but rather, in this case, the fast looming motorway merge junction.
What also stands out is a feeling, in the core of my bones, this is the quickest car I’ve driven. Ever.
I dial up 110km/h on the “Pit Lane Limiter” (cruise control to us proles) and the F12 slips into seventh, my mind racing for go-faster reference points. Murcielago? Turbo 911s? GT-R? None are as ferocious as the F12. Its F599 predecessor? Not in its successor’s league. Radicals? Nope. McLaren MP12-4C? Not driven one, but I’d seriously doubt it. Lexus LF-A? Too slow. Aventador…
Then it dawns on me. The only car on sale in Oz that could touch the red-misted ferocity of an F12 is Sant’Agata’s raging-est bull. And while the Lambo might boogey as hard, it surely can’t revert to a pampering grand tourer or placid urban runabout the instant the driver eases off the pedal. Frankly, nothing else can either.
Ferrari calls its F12 both a grand tourer and sports car. The enormous breadth of its Jekyll and Hyde talents is the true measure of the sheer magnitude of this Italian masterpiece. This depth of talent comes to light as I point the Berlinetta south-west into Tassie’s interior, towards Cradle Mountain.
But, it’s the F12’s engine and transmission that are its soul. And there’s a point in the F12 experience – call it seven hundred and something – where absolute numbers become semantics. Because once you’re north of 700 bolting horses, at roughly 7700rpm, the extra ‘something’ of output matters not.
That last 1000rpm of this lightened, reworked, FF-derived bent twelve, with its insane 13.5:1 compression ratio, is absolute nirvana.And at once it bridges Ferrari’s deepest history, from the marque’s very first 12-cylinder 125 S (1947) through to its heady Formula One engines, with which the F12 roughly matches with its outrageous 545-kilowatt count.
There’s more to the engine than astonishing naturally aspired outputs. It has the lively, low-interia friskiness of a race engine. Combine these two aspects and you arrive at such immediate and razor-sharpened throttle response that, even in seventh gear – which is direct 1:1 rather than an overdrive ratio – cruise control is a must.
Any flinch of the right foot can lift road speed a good 10 or 15km/h above the posted speed limit. All of this makes the low-rpm response feel dull, yet it’s all relative – the V12 makes 80 per cent of its 690Nm peak at 2500rpm. So it’s super tractable, yet benign enough for the bumper-to-bumper grind. And it does it all without the “drive-mode” swapping seen in in many pricey German cars.
The F12 dual-clutch self-shifts smoother and upshifts more quickly and cleanly than anything else on the market. Its refinement and calibration is such that it instantly transitions from buttery cruise to racetrack ‘kill’. Hover in ‘kill’ mode just long enough, and it always seems to know exactly which shift program is needed.
Snick the left paddle to “man battle stations” with a downshift, and it’ll instinctively proceed to toggle between manual and auto shifting, changing gears exactly when you want it too. Again, using its own intelligence without requiring any ‘mode’ button to be pushed.
Sure, a click of the manettino dial to ‘Race’ flexes and firms up the F12’s muscles. But be careful as its potency in Frankly, readers, I’m again lost for words – I’ve used all the usual high-watermarking superlatives for many great cars in my time, but the F12 tops everything. And I mean everything! It’s a super-quick two turns lock-to-lock and it’s electrically assisted with varying assistance according to speed. Simply put, the F12’s steering is perfect.
There’s no sneeze factor off centre and hallelujah for that. Because you discover very quickly the F1’s chassis is so fizzy and agile, yet the car is so confident and comfortable at piling on shocking speed, that its ultra-reactive, incredibly detailed steering helps keep the driver focused.
It’s an important facet, and one lost on many very powerful yet often numb (German) mega-cars that can dull the sensations of speed. When you want it and need it to be, the F12 feels like a proper, pure sports car. It feels as white-knuckling quick as it so genuinely is.
And thus, the Ferrari responds amazingly once you dig deep and push on at a red-misted pace. The handling package is edgy and aggressive enough to keep you utterly engaged – to feel like a proper hypercar – yet it’s so predictable and almost benign in its balance on the fringes of lateral grip. And it never seems to get overly flustered or too ragged when doing so.
And if the F12 was ever to get flustered, it would be through the often coarse, pockmarked and seriously twisty Targa Tassie stages around Lake Cethana and Mount Roland; Cethana Road, the dead end run to the dam, Olivers Road through to Mole Creek and on to Launceston – if you haven’t driven them, don’t die before you do.
And even after having my bum welded to red Alcantara for a good 24 hours and sampling its myriad talents, I didn’t expect the F12 to be quite as handy in these parts as I’d expected.
Blasting steep climbs between rock face and Armco, separated by impossibly tight hairpin corners, the F12’s front end is unflappable.
Big hits of throttle unhinge its rear eagerly, but the E-Diff is so well tuned, the F1-Trac and ESC intervention so subtly transparent and ‘round’ as to be almost undetectable, it’s just one wild yet totally onfidence inspiring thrill ride that’s punctuated by quick dabs of opposite lock.
I suggest to Dep Ed Newman that if I could punt any car in Targa Tassie, it’d be an F12 Berlinetta. He suggests in return that I’d lose. Perhaps, but I guarantee that I’d be the happiest bloke of the whole circus when it came time to pop the champers at the finish line. Driving the F12 to and from the event would be a pleasure of equal measure.
Politics might prevent one of the most intoxicating, multi-talented, addictive and thrilling road cars ever devised from fronting up for PCOTY 2014. But it’s most certainly Ferrari’s to lose. A lay down misere? That’s French, right?
Five out of Five
Body:2-door, 2-seat coupe
Engine: 6262cc V12, DOHC, 48v
Bore/Stroke: 94.0mm x 75.2mm
Power: 545kW @ 8250rpm
Torque: 690Nm @ 6000-8700Nm
Top Speed: 340km/h (claimed)
Consumption: 15.0L/100km (claimed)
Emissions: 350g/km (claimed)
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch
Suspension: double A-arms, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar (f); multi-links, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar (r)
Tracks: 1665/1618mm (f/r)
Steering: electrically-assisted rack and pinion
Lock-to-lock: 2.0 turns
Brakes: 398mm carbon-ceramic ventilated discs, 6-piston calipers (f); 360mm carbon-ceramic ventilated discs, 4-piston calipers (r)
Wheels: 20 x 9.5-inch (f), 20 x 11.5-inch (r)
Tyres: 255/35ZR 20 (f), 315/35ZR 20 (r) Michelin Pilot Super Sport
Price as Tested: $825,245*
Positives: World’s best drivetrain; incredible ride/handling balance; beautiful interior; exterior styling; everything, really
Negatives: Option prices; Ferrari insurance policies