A FEW years ago I drove the then new Ferrari F12 in Scotland and emerged with a white face and what looked like the onset of Parkinson’s. Ooh, it was a scary thing. Yes, the weather was being all Scottish and, yes, the road surface was not ideally suited to a car with a simply enormous amount of bang-and-you’re-on-it power. But it was the size of the thing that worried me most of all.
It felt as though I was trying to steer an aircraft carrier with an out-of-control nuclear reactor up the Kennet and Avon canal. You didn’t drive this car. On roads like that, in the rain, you hung on for dear life and whimpered like a dog on bonfire night. Some questioned my petrolhead credentials when I returned and, after some medication, said the F12 was a car with too much power. “‘Too much power’?” they wailed. “That’s like saying your penis is too big. It’s impossible.”
I still feel, however, that I was correct. And I reckoned that what Ferrari needed to do next was go back to basics and make a small, 2-litre car. I drew it in my head and it was very pretty. It would have about 300bhp, a fast gearbox, the lightness of touch for which Ferrari was famous and a price tag of around £100,000.
But instead what Ferrari has done is replace the F12 with a car that’s even bigger and even more powerful. It’s so powerful, in fact, that it’s called the Superfast. And it’s so big that when you emerge from a turning, you need to stick 6ft of bonnet into the road before you can see if it’s safe to pull out.
Let’s start with the little things that are wrong with it. In the night it’s as paranoid as a cokehead, because every morning it flashed up a message on the dash saying a break-in had been attempted, even though CCTV said no such thing had happened.
Then there are its seatbelts. My car was fitted with £2,000-worth of optional racing harnesses that were nearly impossible to do up properly. What’s more, there were many sharp edges, which my girlfriend said, as she sat there like the star of an S&M movie, would play havoc if you were wearing a chiffon dress. I’m not sure that’d bother most customers, but you never know …
Of rather more concern is the turning circle, which is stupidly large, and the reflection of the yellow trim in the windscreen. Then there’s an astonishingly cheap wiper switch, the usual Ferrari problem of indicator controls on the steering wheel — which means they’re never where you left them — and a curious piece of string hanging into the passenger footwell. I pulled it, of course, but nothing happened. Maybe it had something to do with the imaginary burglar.
There’s much to annoy, then, but there’s much, when you put your foot down, to make your eyes go wide and your girlfriend say: “As soon as I get this bondage gear off, I’m going to f****** kill you.” This is a car that can get from 0 to 62mph in 2.9 seconds. And onwards to a top speed of 211mph. It’s really, really fast and really, really noisy.
Much has been done to get the weight as low as possible. Suppliers were told to shed as much as possible from every component if they didn’t want to wake up in bed with a horse’s head. But this car still weighs more than 1.6 tons. And you sense it.
You also sense the size, and the mere fact that I didn’t end up in a hedge is testimony to some brilliant engineering. The lightness of the controls, the four-wheel steering system, the dazzling speed of the double-clutch gearchanges … Ferrari has had to employ every trick in the book to make its Torrey Canyon feel like a speedboat.
“The main clientele for the Superfast is the chaps who arrive in London every August with an Antonov full of purple-metal-flake Lambos and G-class wagons”
I did not drive the car in the rain, or Scotland, but I can tell you that somehow Ferrari’s managed it. It’s managed to get 789bhp from the massive, gravelly 6.5-litre naturally aspirated V12, through the gearbox and perfectly normal Pirelli P Zero tyres and onto the road in such a way that a perfectly ordinary driver with no astronaut training can keep it pointing in vaguely the right direction.
That cannot have been easy. And it will be even harder when the time comes to design a replacement, because that will have to be bigger and more powerful still. Which takes me back to my point that at some stage Ferrari is going to have to start all over again, with a car that’s small and light.
Or will it? Because is that what Ferrari’s customers want? It’s what Ferrari’s fanbase wants: a pure-bred Italian sports car. But the fanbase only reads about cars in magazines. The customers? The people who write the cheques? Hmmm. I’m not sure.
There are undoubtedly those who want the last word in precision driving. They go to track days and they think that I am the Antichrist for not taking stuff as seriously as they do. They will not want a Superfast, because for what they do, the Lotus Elise is better.
Then you have the people who want a Ferrari to impress everyone at the lodge. They don’t want a Superfast either, because the Mondial does what they need for a tenth of the price.
The main clientele for the Superfast is the chaps who arrive in London every August with an Antonov full of purple-metal-flake Lambos and G-class wagons. They want the biggest, the brashest, the fastest and the noisiest, and for them a Superfast is ideal.
They need to know that in the right hands, on the right track, it can do what the Ferrari badge suggests it can do. But that’s only because they want bragging rights during a hubble-bubble pit stop. They will never actually go faster than about 9mph.
I believe this will one day be a problem for Ferrari, which seems to be focused at the moment on the customers with the big money, the people who will buy the really expensive cars and load them up with all the expensive extras.
The trouble is that this tarnishes the brand. Because the rest of us stop thinking of a Ferrari as something with Gilles Villeneuve at the wheel and start thinking of it as something that’s a bit sad. And that drives us into the arms of Lamborghini and Porsche and Aston Martin.
Let me put it this way. Do you dream about driving round and round Harrods in your car at 4am? Or do you dream about taking it along the Amalfi coast at 4pm, with Alicia Vikander in the passenger seat saying she can’t find her bikini anywhere? Because for that, a “humble” 488 would be better. And my small, nimble Ferrari would be better still.
As a thing, the Superfast is as brilliant as an Astute-class attack sub. Which is to say, very brilliant indeed. But it is too big and too powerful and too flashily expensive for those who simply want a very nice grand tourer.
Rivals head-to-head: Ferrari 812 Superfast vs Lamborghini Aventador S
|Ferrari 812 Superfast
|Lamborghini Aventador S
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