Top Gear drives the Ferrari F12 Berlinetta

Posted on: July 30th, 2012

F12_2

So you’ve actually driven the new Ferrari F12? What’s it like?

Let’s not get carried away, because we need to put this car into context first. And the best way to do that is to put some facts at your fingertips. So, open brain and absorb the following: it has 730bhp and 509lb ft of torque, stats which give it a 211mph maximum and a 0-100kmph of 3.1secs. 0-200kmph is dealt with in 8.5secs, so 0-160kmph must be around the 6.5 second mark. That makes this an astonishingly fast car – Ferrari’s fastest ever road car, in fact. Quicker than the Enzo, quicker than the 599 GTO. And not just in a straight line. It gets round Ferrari’s own Fiorano track faster than both of them, too.

So it’s quite something, right?

It certainly is. And these facts matter, because the car is so approachable, so easy, and so friendly to drive that if you didn’t know the numbers you’d be forgiven for thinking this was ‘just’ a replacement for the 599 GTB.

But without those famous rear flying buttresses…

Yes, but look closely at the bonnet. Under CEO Amadeo Felisa, Ferrari is overlapping aerodynamics and design to such an extent that both happen simultaneously. In fact the holes in the front wings were proposed by the aerodynamicists, not the stylists, after the first design proposal for the F12 was thought to lack a little visual impact. So they also serve a particular purpose, cleaning up the airflow down the side of the car. There are plenty of other such touches, all helping the car slip more cleanly and securely through the air: flaps that open to aid brake cooling, vents above the rear wheels to prevent pressure build up, another in the centre of the bonnet to reduce air pressure on the base of the windscreen.

All this and good looking, too…

That’s the idea: elegance matters to Ferrari, so you won’t find ungainly spoilers and wings on any new model. (And that includes the new Enzo. You heard it here first…)

Click here for more pictures of the Ferrari F12 Berlinetta

But it uses the same engine as the Ferrari FF?

The basics (V12, 6262cc, 65 degree vee angle) are the same, but thereafter it’s entirely different. The work that’s gone on is little short of staggering. The presentation we had on the engine alone went on for the best part of 45 minutes… They’ve tuned the harmonics of the inlet and exhaust, developed a new oil scavenge pump for the dry sump, tested six (or was it seven?) different injector patterns. The list is bafflingly complex and detailed. But it has to be. As Ferrari has previously stated, the naturally aspirated V12 is the beating heart of this company.

So let’s cut to the chase: how does it feel when you give it the beans?

Completely devastating. There was one stat Ferrari showed in the presentation that claimed that as long as you’re doing over 2000rpm, from the moment you hit the throttle you’ll have 90 per cent of maximum acceleration in 0.7 seconds or less. That is to say the thing hits pretty much as hard at 2000rpm as it does at 8000rpm, and has near-instant pick-up and response. Quite an achievement.

So you don’t need to use high revs?

This is the possible flip side. The F12 has such massive punch over such a wide range and combines that with such amazingly zingy throttle response that there’s no real need to hit high revs. You will, of course. Often.

Would I be right in guessing that’s because it makes some nice noises?

Yes, the F12 Berlinetta sounds incredible, a whole sweet shop of aural goodness pouring treats into your eardrums. It’s even better when you back off (ideally in a tunnel or next to a wall with the windows lowered) and receive a barrage of exhaust crackles. It’s not perfect, though. Although Ferrari has fitted sound pipes to the inlet system which are fed straight back to the front bulkhead, there’s not as much induction noise as I would have liked.

Isn’t that a little picky?

Well, you’re allowed to be in a car costs £239,736 (RM1.2 million, which, by the way includes a full seven year, unlimited mileage maintenance package. Eat your heart out Kia).

Anyway, back to that engine characteristic, of how accessible the power is. It’s true of the whole car. This is really not a difficult thing to drive at all. Even with 730bhp through the rear wheels. Internally it was felt that the outgoing 599 was a bit top-endy – great to drive, but really great to drive if you yourself were a great driver. It rewarded Alonso, in other words. So the principle idea of the F12 was to deliver its thrills more readily, and not bite those who get it a bit wrong.

Click here for more pictures of the Ferrari F12 Berlinetta

Does that mean it’s softer, then, a bit namby-pamby?

Oddly, quite the reverse. It has the sharpest steering rack of any Ferrari, carbon ceramic brakes that now have more top end bite, and bodyroll has been reduced by 30 per cent from the 599. Turn in is 20 per cent faster, and you’ll use 15 per cent less steering angle, the engineers claim.

But it’s been so well honed. The brakes, steering, throttle, gearbox, all do exactly what you expect. There’s no slack or slop at all, so you always know where you are with it. It sounds ridiculous to say that a car with 730bhp (the same as a Pagani Huayra, let’s not forget) is a doddle to drive, but this one really is. It drives cleanly and precisely.

But is it fun?

OK, it’s not as exciting as a 458. The F12 is a car for grown-ups. It’s an immensely rich and satisfying machine, but despite its sharpness, power and ability it’s not a car for instant, high octane thrills, and more aligned to the FF than the Italia. It has that GT vibe. But there’s a reason for this. This type of Ferrari, the front–engined two seat V12, is the most heavily used of all Ferraris. Owners do more miles in them and often use them every day. So it has to be comfortable, reliable and practical. As well as doing the driving stuff.

And is it practical?

It has a 320 litre boot that expands to 500 litres with the neat load divider removed. Plus a great driving position, adequate stowage and good seat comfort (although the optional fang-like sports seats are decidedly firm). That enough?

Emphatically.

Let’s get back to dynamic stuff then, and point out a couple more interesting things. It’s lower, narrower and shorter than the 599 it replaces and this – together with a chassis constructed from 12 different alloys of aluminium – helps make the F12 70kg lighter too, with a kerbweight of 1630kg. Most unusually of all for a front engined supercar, the weight distribution is 46:54. It carries more weight at the back.

Clever engineering has put the double clutch gearbox (which is a complete honey, almost as exceptional as the engine) in the back, aft of the rear axle. Either way it means the F12 is a beautifully balanced thing, a car that works all four tyres evenly and smoothly, that doesn’t seem to understand what understeer is and why it should succumb to it and just feels meaty and precise and engaging and really rather wonderful. Personally I’d like slightly weightier steering, but for a front engined supercar, this is mesmerizing.

You like it then?

Absolutely. In execution and direction it feels closest to the old 550 Maranello, one of my all time favourites. This is a car you’d live with and drive and love and admire and appreciate every day. Any day, in fact. Neither fragile nor delicate, the F12 is bombastic, epic and howlingly fast. There’s nothing else remotely like it.

Click here for more pictures of the Ferrari F12 Berlinetta


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