Here it is, then, CAR Magazine's long-awaited first drive review of the new Ferrari F12 Berlinetta, replacement for the 599. The F12 is an all-new car, but the basics remain familiar: a powerful, naturally aspirated V12 sits ahead of the driver, while power flows to the rear wheels only.
What are the key features of the new Ferrari F12 Berlinetta?
The 6262cc V12 features the same bore and stroke as the four-wheel drive FF, but the bottom end is new, plus the top end has been extensively re-worked, says Maranello. The result is 720bhp and 509lb ft torque, and not a turbo or supercharger in sight. The engine – like the seats and dashboard – also sits lower in the chassis, lowering the centre of gravity and improving handling response. Click here for a Ferrari F12 Berlinetta video.
At the back there’s a transaxle arrangement, with a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox and electronically controlled mechanical limited-slip differential taking drive to the rear wheels.
The benchmark 0-62mph sprint is dispatched in just 3.1sec, while the top speed is said to lie somewhere north of 211mph. With that incredible performance in mind, 18.8mpg – that’s 30% more efficient than the 599 – and 350g/km isn’t quite so bad. Just bear in mind that you'll need the optional HELE stop/start system to achieve those economy figures, though. Do Ferrari drivers care? Probably not in the UK, put they might in places with particularly punitive CO2 legislation, such as Denmark and the Netherlands.
Elsewhere there’s an evolution of Ferrari’s carbon ceramic brakes and the magnetorheological adaptive suspension system.
Are the new F12 Berlinetta's dimensions the same as the outgoing Ferrari 599?
No, just the basic concept. The F12’s wheelbase is 30mm shorter, plus, at 1525kg without fluids, it’s 70kg lighter than the car it replaces – and both, remember, are aluminium. However, the dimensions themselves are only part of the story: the new car has 20% more structural rigidity, while clever honing of aerodynamics – born out of computational fluid dynamics and tested in the wind tunnel – has boosted downforce by 76% and cut drag.
The clever aero has a real impact on the car’s look: the ‘aero bridge’ channels air through a scoop in the bonnet, which then exits behind the front wheel, helping to push the front end of the car into the ground at speed while also reducing drag behind the wheels. Meanwhile, active aero – as seen on the Ferrari 458 Italia with its flexing front splitter – is at work too, only opening the brake cooling ducts when the brakes require cooling, thus minimizing the drag that the cooling ducts create.
What’s the new 2012 Ferrari F12 like to drive?
It’s amazing, and a big leap over the previous 599 – GTO special edition included. Part of the key to this is the hyper-quick steering, which uses the same funny-fast ratio as the 458 – you very rarely feel the need to move your hands from the quarter-to-three position, even in hairpins. This combined with tyres that are wider and have stiffer sidewalls than the 458, and suspension that’s both very supple and incredibly controlled gives the nose an extremely responsive and darty feel.
The shortened wheelbase adds noticeably to the sense of agility too: power out of a bend and there’s an almost four-wheel steering kind of feeling as the electronic differential sends power to the outside rear wheel, pushing you through the corner and compressing the felt-size of the F12.
Does that darty eagerness make the F12 feel nervous?
It can do at first, but you quickly get used to it. I found myself using a gear higher than was necessary, bringing the rear tyres closer to their adhesion limit and making this feeling worse, simply because I initially tried to drive the F12 as I had the 599 GTO, the ultimate road-going evolution of the 599.
However, the responsiveness of the F12’s engine, the fact that its seven gears are more closely stacked than the 599’s six and the extra low-down torque means it’s possible to be in, say, fourth when you initially thought third was appropriate. Hook the higher gear and the car calms down, and you start to work the front end harder, using the car’s impressive stability and reserves of grip to carry big speed through turns.
Tell me about the F12’s engine and gearbox
The seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox is fantastic. It manages to combine perfect manners during low-speed manouevring with instant shifts when you’re banging through the gears at the redline. It doesn’t have the engaging thump of, say, a Lamborghini, but I don’t miss that, and the instant shifts and explosive downshifts mean you never tire of pulling those paddles.
The engine is a masterpiece. Climb into the cabin and right before you sits a central speedo that reads to 10,000rpm and is redlined at 8500rpm. Peak power comes at 8250rpm, but there’s some breathing space before the cut-out, so you never find yourself clattering the rev limiter unless you’re fooling around and spinning the tyres up out of a bend. The result is an engine that feels endless, that climaxes in an F1-like yelp and has the kind of electric throttle response that turbo motors can only dream of. Yes, it’s around 70bhp more powerful than the GTO, but it’s the lowdown responsiveness and extra torque – 52lb ft of it – that strikes you more. Thank you, Ferrari, for sticking with natural aspiration.
Comfortable, fantastic to drive, dripping with raw emotion and combining a decent helping of practicality, the F12 is a giant leap over the 599 GTB. It’ll be interesting to see how it compares with Aston’s new Vanquish, but it’s clear that the Brits will have their work cut out on this evidence.