What is it?
A rocketship. The Ferrari F12 Berlinetta is Ferrari’s replacement for the 599 GTB and the company has thrown everything at it to ensure it’s vastly quicker than its seminal predecessor, but also that it’s more enjoyable at low speeds. The headlines are that’s it’s considerably smaller (50mm shorter, 60mm lower, 20mm narrower and with a 20mm shorter wheelbase), 70kg lighter at 1525kg (dry), produces more downforce and has a much lower centre-of-gravity. But you’ll need to have exceptionally deep pockets to get into one: it costs from £239,736.
Where to begin? Let’s start with the V12. Similar in size to the Ferrari FF's engine but significantly re-engineered to produce more power, rev higher and ensure much quicker throttle response. It produces an almost unbelievable 730bhp at 8250rpm (it revs to 8700rpm) and 509lb ft at 6000rpm. All that mumbo is transmitted to the 315-section rear tyres via a 7-speed dual clutch transaxle and Ferrari’s E-Diff – the 599 made do with a single clutch ‘box and a normal mechanical limited slip differential.
The results are startling: 0-62mph in 3.1-seconds, 0-124mph in 8.5-seconds and a top speed of over 211mph. Those acceleration figures put it ahead of a McLaren F1. Around Fiorano it’s faster than an Enzo or even the ultra-extreme 599 GTO.
Of course there’s so much more. The F12 gets the latest evolution of Ferrari’s adaptive magnetorheological dampers (SCM-E), which react much more quickly, improved carbon-ceramic brakes and, as ever, the relentless evolution of the many traction and stability systems sees huge gains in control and speed. Then there’s the already famous ‘aero-bridge’ – ducts set into the front wings – which reduces drag and improves downforce, plus active brake cooling ducts that only open when the discs are getting really hot, to reduce drag. The list of technical highlights is almost endless. Ferrari has retained an aluminium chassis for the F12 but new materials increase stiffness and reduce weight.
The aim was to create a car with mid-engined agility (and traction) but in a more usable package. Ferrari’s V12 customers tend to do higher mileage than those rather gauche V8 clients, apparently.
So what’s it like?
It’s terrible. No it’s not, of course it’s not. It’s actually incredible. Starring role goes to an engine with fantastic throttle response and savage power. It feels like all 730 horses are in full health. The twin-clutch ‘box is also as smooth and fast as you’d hope. Amazingly the traction is also very trustworthy and on a scorching hot and dry day you can really feel the E-diff hunting for drive and digging you out of corners.
But although the engine and clever drivetrain dominate the experience, it’s supported by a seriously capable and exciting chassis. Ferrari has gone for an even quicker steering rack ratio, which take some getting used to and never feels totally natural, especially in high speed corners. However, hiding beneath that sometimes too-aggressive response is superb balance and a good degree of suppleness, too. I can’t think of a more agile front-engined, rear-drive car with big firepower. What’s really impressive is that the very pointy front doesn’t upset the rear until you’re literally throwing the car between direction changes. Even then, the rear tends to adopt just a shade of oversteer that barely needs correction.
Of course with so much power on tap there’s proper oversteer to be had should you want it - and with the stability control systems turned off. Be sure you do really want it though, because even those trick Michelins will spin and spin and spin and… SPIN as the V12 ramps up towards peak power. It’s massively entertaining but needs real concentration to fully exploit.
How does it compare?
With a 599 GTB? It’s on another planet. Faster, with much better traction, greater agility and more feel through every control… and Ferrari should be congratulated for making the F12 so much more compact. It feels tiny on the road compared to the 599 (while still offering plenty of cabin room and a big boot, though) and that will be a huge bonus in the UK.
With an Aventador? It’s surely not as dramatic but it’s every bit as quick and is more exciting to drive hard and easier to drive slowly. In truth they’re very different cars. On a wintry day in the UK I reckon the Aventador might feel more trustworthy, but the F12 is certainly the more exciting, more precise and more adjustable drivers’ car.
Anything else I need to know?
Lots. Buy issue 174 of evo magazine for a full feature on the F12berlinetta.