Ferrari’s greatest car for a generation.

First drive review: 2012 Ferrari F12berlinetta

The Ferrari F12berlinetta is a supercar of many talents, one of the less obvious being a capacity to make its occupants yelp.

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THE FERRARI F12berlinetta is a car of many talents, one of the less obvious being a capacity to make its occupants yelp. Of course, ever since it was first shown to the public in March, we’ve known that the F12 was destined to be the fastest, most powerful Ferrari yet, Enzo included.
Its 6.3-litre engine produces 730bhp — that’s a cool 119bhp more than that of the 599GTB that it replaces. Its power to weight ratio is close to that of the mighty Bugatti Veyron. But at the first long, hard press of its accelerator, the surge of power and sound from the V12 still manages to turn what had begun as a normal exhalation into a short, startled shout.

Despite being a standard production car with an aluminium frame and body, the F12 will lap Ferrari’s Fiorano test track almost two seconds faster than the mid-engined, limited-edition, carbon-fibre Enzo. That’s like an accountant who likes a bit of a jog at the weekend outpacing Usain Bolt.

Uniquely, I suspect, among supercars, the F12 is actually smaller in all three dimensions than the car it replaces. It’s lighter, too, to the tune of 60kg. With better tyres, extra suspension control and additional aerodynamic downforce, the car feels compact. And the amount of grip it can generate makes it seem more akin to a racing car than anything eligible for a tax disc. In all normal circumstances it doesn’t oversteer or understeer — it just steers. Its nose has a bloodhound’s ability to sniff out an apex and even if you’ve rested a little too long on the accelerator before chancing upon a tight downhill corner, you can count on its massive brakes to shrug off all excess speed in an instant.

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Having 730bhp is one thing; possessing the ability to deploy it properly is quite another. Bugatti and Lamborghini address the monster power issue by simply dividing the problem by two, sending it to each corner of the car rather than just the rear or the front wheels. But while Ferrari is happy to use four-wheel drive for its big FF cruiser, the F12 remains stoically rear-wheel drive like every other Ferrari in history.

It is thanks to the electronics that control the suspension and differential, as well as exhaustive development programmes with Bridgestone, Pirelli and Michelin, that the rear tyres don’t simply vaporise the moment you put your foot down, leaving you sitting forlornly in an expensive cloud of smoke. At least on the dry roads that accompanied this test, the F12 could be relied upon to take all its power and put it right where you want it: on the tarmac.

But this is no mere rocket ship. The quality of its performance, as expressed by the growl, howl, scream and shriek of the engine as it nears its 8700rpm red line, is just as memorable as the thrust provided. And whereas the 599GTB would give a sharp jolt every time you asked its robotised manual gearbox to shift up at maximum effort, the F12 has a double-clutch transmission so smooth, you know a new ratio has been selected only because you hear the revs fall: the acceleration does not falter.

In fact, for all its electronic sophistication, your first impression is that there’s actually something rather old school about the F12. Ferraris of yesteryear used to be so dominated by their engines that car journalists used to say the list price bought the powerplant and Ferrari threw in the rest of the car for free. It’s tempting to think the same about the F12.

At the Fiorano test track, where it was safe to turn off the stability and traction control systems, the F12 showed that it could torch its tyres with the best of them. It’s not the easiest car in the world to drift, but it’s fabulously rewarding when you get it right. Not that he’d ever say as much, but the Stig is going to love this car.

Though not as much as the 20% of owners who, Ferrari claims, will use their F12 every day of the working week. The absolutely best thing about this car is neither how fast it is in a straight line nor around a corner, but that it can be making your heart ram your ribcage one moment and will transform itself the very next into a civilised long-distance express. You’d expect a car of such performance to ride like a penny farthing, but it doesn’t: it’s no S-class Mercedes but its seats are excellent and its suspension supple enough to keep you comfortable for hours. It can even do quiet: while that engine can mount the most wondrous assault on your ears at full throttle, if you ease off the gas it falls almost completely silent.

First drive review: 2012 Ferrari F12berlinetta

It’s practical too, or as practical as a two-seat, rear-drive supercar can be. Despite its shrunken dimensions, there’s room aplenty for a 6ft 4in driver and passenger and a boot so big that if you remove the parcel shelf and use the space behind the back seats, it has the same carrying capacity as a BMW 7-series.

The only disappointment is that its interior does not really match a list price considerably in excess of £250,000 once the average option spending has been taken into account. The texture and fit of the leather is impeccable, but there’s too much cheap plastic you’d not want to see in a car costing half as much. Also, the interior design is entirely derivative from other Ferraris you can buy for far less money. I expected something rather more bespoke from a flagship.

The F12 is not the most exciting Ferrari ever made. Slower though they are, the lightweight F40, F50 and Enzo hypercars have that territory to squabble over. Nor, given the existence of the four-seat, four-wheel-drive FF, is it the most usable. But for yelp factor alone, this car is in a class of its own.


Verdict ★★★★★

Ferrari’s greatest car for a generation.


£239,736 (correct at time of first publication)
6262cc, V12
730bhp @ 8250rpm
95 lb ft @ 8750rpm
7-speed double-clutch, paddle shift
0-62mph: 3.1sec
Top Speed:
Road Tax Band:
L 4618mm W 1942mm H 1273mm