Billed as the most powerful and high-performance road-going Ferrari ever, the F12 Berlinetta is serious business. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Ten Second Review
The 730bhp Ferrari F12 Berlinetta brings savage performance and jaw-droppingly handsome styling to a market that many thought was on its knees. Sales suggest otherwise and if you've got a quarter of a million pounds or so going spare, here's as good a home for it as any.
Although many people's idea of an ultimate Ferrari is something mid-engined, most of the classic Ferrari road cars have the driver sitting behind the enormous V8 or V12 under the long bonnet. A V12 in the case of the 250 GTO, the Daytona and the magnificent 599, all very desirable indeed and all of which sent power to the rear wheels. Following that blueprint is the latest in the line, the F12 Berlinetta. It's billed as the most powerful and high-performance road-going Ferrari ever and with good reason. With 730bhp to call upon, the F12 Berlinetta has the power to face down cars like the Lamborghini Aventador and the Mercedes SLS AMG. It succeeded the much-loved 599 GTB and was unveiled at the 2012 Geneva Show to generally favourable reaction, despite Lamborghini's rather showy trick of trying to steal its thunder with the one-off Aventador J. Seasoned motoring correspondents knew that the red car with the prancing horse badge was the real story and it's one that bears closer scrutiny.
Ferrari are one of a privileged group of manufacturers with their own test facilities. The Fiorano test track features a rather gnarly figure of eight configuration and it provides Ferrari with a regular datum point as to the performance of its cars. For reference, a Testarossa laps Fiorano in 1m 40s, an F40 manages the circuit in 1m 29.6s while a 458 Italia requires only 1m 25s. The F12 Berlinetta? It smashes its way round in just 1m 23s, which is quicker than the special edition 599 GTO or an Enzo, giving lie to the barb that front-engined Ferraris are an old man's option. The F12 Berlinetta can bludgeon its way to 62mph in just 3.1sec and 0-124mph in just 8.5sec, helped by a very clever launch control system. Its total torque output is 509lb ft, 80 per cent of which is available from just 2500rpm. Ferrari decided against turbocharging and went with a normally aspirated V12 which revs all the way 8700rpm. It's a laudable move in an age when many car makers are opting for the efficiency of smaller turbocharged engines. While even Ferrari isn't immune to emissions regulations - and tax laws in Italy have made this even more germane of late - it's great to see brute force winning against the bureaucrats. The F12 Berlinetta does brute force very well, maxing out at over 211mph. That's not to say the engine isn't a technical masterstroke. You only need to realise that it makes 116bhp per litre to realise that this 6262cc 65 degree V12 really does squeeze every horsepower possible out of every cubic centimetre of swept cylinder volume.
Design and Build
There's quite a lot to take in from a design perspective. The clean purity of line that characterised the 599 has been replaced by something a little smaller and more extrovert with an overall look that's more aggressive. The basic proportions are just so, but a lot of work has gone into the detailing. At 4618mm long, 1942mm wide and 1273mm high, the F12 is slightly narrower but a good deal shorter and lower than the 599. The wheelbase is also 30mm shorter than the 599's 2720mm and this, coupled with an engine that's set well back behind the front axle line, gives this model its amazing agility. The rear end of the car looks tight and the transaxle dual-clutch gearbox and rear suspension have been redesigned to take up less space. The centre of gravity is both lower and further rearwards than the 599, with Ferrari quoting what it feels is a 'perfect' distribution of 54 per cent over the rear axle. It's more practical too, with the luggage compartment behind the seats now accessible when the owner lifts the glass tailgate. The leather interior is nicely complemented by plenty of carbon fibre and aluminium trim, with some vaguely aeronautical air vents also catching the eye. Some of the aerodynamic features are quite lovely. The 'Aero Bridge' channels air from the side bonnet air intakes, through the wheel arches, and exits it through deep slashes in the doors. Active Brake Cooling only opens the brake cooling ducts when the carbon ceramic brakes are up to temperature.
Market and Model
Although there will doubtless be special edition versions, track packs and, as rumours would have it, a drop top version, for the time being there's only one car in the F12 range, the Berlinetta. Ahead of its appearance at the Geneva Show, the car was unveiled to Ferrari's most trusted customers. Of the 450 who clapped eyes on it, some 80 per cent paid a deposit there and then, which is a very encouraging conversion rate for the Italian marque, even in these straitened times. As you might well expect, Ferrari includes a generous roster of electronic driver aids to keep the F12 on the straight and narrow. It's fitted with Ferrari's E-Diff, ESP Premium stability control, F1-Trac gearbox and a fiendishly smart anti-lock braking system and also features an adjustable magneto-rheological suspension system (SCM-E). Like the 458 Italia, there are plenty of controls mounted on the steering wheel and the same central dial flanked by two configurable displays in the instrument cowling.
Cost of Ownership
Without wishing to sound facetious, does cost of ownership really matter when it comes to this market sector? Owners will want to know that their car isn't going to be prone to horrendous depreciation but the 599 always held up in that regard and there's little reason to suspect that the F12 Berlinetta is going to do a 612 Scaglietti when it comes to residuals. Fuel economy and emissions? Largely irrelevant for most typical owners who will be more concerned with the size of the fuel tank, this dictating a rare mixing with the lumpen proletariat. It's 92 litres if you're interested. Spare a thought for the poor Italians who are now being crippled by the 'superbollo' tax which charges a car's owner £20 for every kilowatt of power his or her car makes above 185 kW. The F12 Berlinetta makes 544 kW, which puts it 359 kW over the tax-free limit. 359 times £20 equals £7,180 per year in superbollo taxes. This comes on top of the regular "bollo" tax Italy levies on its drivers which runs around £1,300 per year. Ouch.
If there's a catch to the Ferrari F12 Berlinetta, I'm struggling to see it. It's eye-flatteningly quick, it looks great, it's packed with some amazing technology and it elevates itself to a position where its obvious rivals look a little half-baked in comparison. Maranello is on a bit of a roll at the moment, with great products like the 599, the 458 Italia and the FF emerging from its gates in recent years. You know your luck's in when the model that received the least rapturous critical reception, the California, goes on to become the biggest revenue generator. The F12 Berlinetta is everything a modern V12 Ferrari should be. It's bold and unapologetic, with a nod to the past but a clear focus on the future. The supercar's obituary has been written time and again in recent years. Here's proof positive that there's a lot of life left in that particular formula.