- Published: Wednesday, 16 April 2014 11:32
SINGAPORE — “Woah, holy sh..!” The only fitting words to tumble from my lips are the shortest prayer in the English language, as I take my left foot off the brake while keeping my right foot nailed to the floor — the proper way to exploit a Ferrari F12berlinetta’s launch mode.
It takes off surprisingly neatly, no wriggle from the rear to make you soil yourself, not even a chirp from the wide rear tyres. But in no time you’re past 4,000rpm and the engine is going properly, hitting hard and aiming straight for your kidneys. At 6,000rpm it catches another wind and it’s like the fuse has reached the dynamite, the Ferrari exploding forward in a way that makes it seem like time itself has just begun to accelerate, morphing the world around you into a scary blur.
Somewhere in all the excitement, 100km/h comes and goes in 3.1 seconds, and if you’ve got the nerve (not to mention, the disregard for the law) to keep the throttle open, you’ll see 200km/h just 5.4 seconds later. That’s the double tonne in 8.5 seconds, thank you very much, and I’m not sure if there are as many things on Earth that could keep up as there are fingers on my left hand.
And every time the rev needle sweeps into that boiling zone between six grand and the 8,250rpm redline, the F12berlinetta just thunders ahead in a way that makes the brain incapable of doing anything but making you utter very sweary things.
740bhp will do that to a man, especially since it’s being used to propel a car that weighs just 1,630kg on the kerb. That’s Formula One power in a BMW Z4 being driven by a very fat bloke.
The immense power is courtesy of a massive 6.3-litre V12, more or less derived from the mammoth engine of the FF (itself an evolution of the Enzo’s engine), but tweaked for better breathing and lower internal friction. Apart from being explosively powerful, it’s as wild and spontaneous as a party girl on her tenth Jagermeister, the sort of contraption we’ll all get misty-eyed about when small turbos have taken over. And thanks to an active flap in the exhaust that clears its throat as you let the revs build, the engine has a howl to scare usually indolent monkeys off the road well before they can even see you coming (don’t ask me how I know).
As for the lightness of the thing, the F12 is easy on the scales because it’s slim. As in, it’s physically a smaller car than the 599 GTB, the plush sports car it directly replaces. You immediately discern as much when you thread it down the road. It feels narrower, less imposingly broad than the 599 did, and compared to this, an Aventador’s width must be a nightmare.
Much of the Ferrari’s lightness is down to its construction, too, with the use of a dozen different alloys to make up the bodyshell in a way that keeps the kilos off, while making it 20 percent more rigid than the 599.
Indeed, there’s a pared down, back-to-basics feel to the Ferrari on the whole, and it’s manifested in the way the F12 looks. The main face of the car is fairly shark-like and aggressive, as the current Ferraris are wont to be, but the overall shape of the thing is an exercise in sculpted minimalism. The bonnet drapes low between the front wheels, like vacuum-formed plastic, and the neat flanks rise to muscular rear end that bulges subtly.
Only the rear could be accused of messiness, with too much going on between the lamps, a foglamp that’s shaped to ape the rear lights of a Formula One car, and a tail that ends rather abruptly, but the F12berlinetta otherwise looks like the work of a very restrained hand.
If you look closely at the front wheelarch there’s an ‘Aero Bridge’, a sort of opening on the bodywork that lets air swoop through. Damned if I can see how, but it apparently works with the rest of the car’s shape to add downforce.
Indeed, even though it isn’t festooned with wings, scoops and creases that border on the comical in rival cars, the F12berlinetta is amazingly aerodynamic. It’s more slippery than the 599, but at 200km/h there’s a whopping 123kg of downforce (versus 70kg). That ought to come in handy since Ferrari says the F12 will do ‘over’ 340km/h, and most owners worth their salt will try to find out how much over.
Mind you, all that stabilising downforce ought to feel extra welcome at high speed because the steering is sensationally quick. There’s a smidgen over two turns lock-to-lock, which means that there are few swooping roads you’ll ever encounter that would require you to take a hand off the wheel as you aim the F12 to divebomb one apex after another.
It’s quick enough to require a bit of adjustment, for the first few times you line the Ferrari up for a corner, you inevitably end up lurching into it too much and too soon, leaving you to sheepishly unwind the steering and take aim a second time. In fact, coaxing a good run from the Ferrari seems to involve calming yourself down, and obeying all the old rules of smoothness so that the car can do its work. And it does it bloody well. There’s no such thing in Ferrari’s world as understeer, the physics simply not applying here. You turn, the F12’s nose darts into place, and it’s your move again before you know it. What’s next is, if you feed in the throttle gently enough, a rocket-propelled launch back out of the corner and hopefully enough of a straight ahead for you to recalibrate your senses.
If you’re as graceful as an elephant, on the other hand, you might get a tiny wobble from the tail end of the Ferrari, but then its electronics will chime in to keep things in order, and not in a wrist-slapping, sudden-confiscation-of-power sort of way, but in a smooth manner that makes it feel as if it’s working to make you quicker, instead of trying to slow you down.
There’s enough intervention to bolster your efforts without deflating your ego, in other words, and you’d be foolish (or brass-balled) to switch all the electronics off. As for the brakes, which are composite ceramic, naturally, the only word for them is ‘mighty’.
What’s surprising, though, is that while the F12berlinetta can raise enough hell to make even a 458 Italia feel a bit tame in comparison, it’s also perfectly capable of playing the purring, docile pussycat. When the going’s gentle, say, at the national limit on the PIE, you might not even hear the V12. The suspension isn’t ludicrously harsh, either. Even if you haven’t selected the softer ‘Bumpy roads’ mode, the F12berlinetta is reasonably pliant over bumps, and soaks them up better than, say, the Mercedes CLA 200 that we also drove this month did.
Of course, that’s not to say the car is perfect. My idea of a driver’s car is one that you would confidently drive on the track without electronic assistance switched on — BMW’s 3 Series and Porsche’s mid-engined models come to mind — and I’m not sure if I’d ever risk it in the Ferrari, even if I had enough money to pay for one a few times over..
Speaking of which, the recent tax hikes have pushed the F12berlinetta’s base price to $1.5 million, for which you get a car that comes into the world as bare as newborn babe. Most customers apparently end up spending another six figures on options, although grumbling about that on my part would be like saying that I’d rather not climb Everest because the Hillary Step is too much of a bother.
Ultimately, the question every reviewer must ask himself is whether he would buy the car he’s writing about, or choose something else for the same money. It’s the F12berlinetta for me, no question. As for how to scrounge up the cash, perhaps I’d do better with longer prayers.
NEED TO KNOW
Engine 6,262, 48V, V12
Power 740bhp at 8250rpm
Torque 690Nm at 6000rpm
Gearbox 7-speed semi-auto
Top Speed “over” 340km/h
0-100km/h 3.1 seconds
Fuel efficiency 15L/100km (combined)
Price From $1,500,000
Also Consider: Lamborghini Aventador, Pagani Huayra
Photos by Gerald Yuen