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<< Back to Robb Report, December 2012

Super Subdued

Paul Dean

The F12 descriptor, chosen by Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo, references the brand’s Formula 1 racing heritage and the car’s cylinder count; berlinetta is Italian for "little saloon." As of mid-October, Ferrari had not announced a price for the F12 Berlinetta, but estimates ranged from $300,000 to more than $350,000. U.S. deliveries are expected to begin in the spring.

The F12 Berlinetta is a 730 hp bogeyman and the fastest, quickest, and most powerful Ferrari road car ever. It has circled the company’s test track at Fiorano two seconds faster than any stablemate, including the 458 Italia and the Enzo. If the driver is willing to risk second-degree windburns, the F12 Berlinetta will sprint from zero to 62 mph in 3.1 seconds and reach a top speed of more than 211 mph while releasing a feral exhaust note that ascends from basso profundo to screeching alto.

That is the F12 Berlinetta’s wild side. But flip the right paddle to engage first gear, tiptoe on the throttle, and the car moves forward like a turtle on a leash. Apply more pressure, more power, and still there is no restless surging. Braking is light, precise, and smooth. Is this a Ferrari or a Honda Accord?

Gear changes, whether they occur manually by paddle shift or automatically, are imperceptible and immediate at any speed because the dual-clutch transaxle between the rear wheels adds satin to the power train. If there is any lurching and searching it is because the driver is flirting with the rev limiter, which is set at a ridiculously high yet highly useful 8,700 rpm.

The F12 Berlinetta can be practical, even domesticated. Under its hatchback is 17.6 cubic feet of stowage (with the security lid removed), which equals the capacity of a medium-size refrigerator. The cabin is too spacious to be called a cockpit; it is roomy enough for a pair of NBA shooting guards. And thanks to Ferrari’s weight-watching program and its infinite attention to airflow, drag, and engine architecture, the F12 Berlinetta can claim an approximately 30 percent improvement in fuel consumption compared with the 599 GTB Fiorano that preceded it. This gives the new Ferrari a respectable (for a V-12 car) 16 mpg.

Standard equipment includes a satellite-navigation infotainment center, a hand-stitched Poltrona Frau–leather interior, a USB port, Bluetooth technology, Alcantara-lined ledges and cubbies, and, heavens to Giuseppe, a cup holder—although one better sized for cappuccinos than Big Gulps.

For all its performance and panache, the F12 Berlinetta has a subdued shape: low and flat, with the cab well to the rear. There are no Bugatti bulges or Lamborghini airfoil appendages to disturb the proportions or harm the pleasing silhouette. All of the intakes and curves enhance the airflow that creates downforce and cools the engine and brakes. The engineers at Ferrari and the designers at Pininfarina collaborated on the shape, seeking an optimal meld of technology and aesthetics. The partnership appears to have aced it.

The F12 Berlinetta’s design includes what Ferrari calls an Aero Bridge: When the car is under way, air flows along the broad channels that run between the doe-eyed headlights and on both sides of the hood; the airstream then passes through side ducts ahead of the windshield and into deep indentations molded into the car’s flanks before exiting past the rear wheel wells. In combination with the front air dam, the rear diffuser, and the underbody panels, this Aero Bridge creates a downforce of about 270 pounds when the car is traveling at 124 mph.

The F12 Berlinetta sits more than 2 inches closer to the ground than the 599 GTB Fiorano, and it is 2 inches shorter. Ferrari uses about a dozen aluminum alloys in constructing the car, selecting different blends for components’ varying demands for weight, stiffness, and strength. The F12 has a nearly ideal 46/54 weight-distribution ratio, is 154 pounds lighter than the 599 GTB Fiorano, and rides on a center of gravity that is 1 inch lower than its predecessor’s. All of these factors contribute to the F12 Berlinetta’s exceptional agility, response, and poise.

The Ferrari’s cabin is a man cave. It contains nothing light or feminine, just the dark colors and black sheen of a fine shotgun. The drilled foot pedals speak to the car’s F1 alliance, as do the steering wheel–mounted thumb buttons. In this case the buttons control the turn signals, windshield wipers, and lights. A big, blood-red button starts the engine, and the magnificent manettino sets the suspension and shift points for the Sport, Race, or Wet driving modes; the off position cancels all traction control and will appeal only to the suicidal.

The paddle shifts are located behind the wheel, yet they are long and thus easily accessible. Indeed, each tab, switch, and button is set so that the driver’s hands never have to leave the steering wheel’s 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock positions.

Flinging the F12 Berlinetta around twisting, undulating two-lane roads outside of Ferrari’s hometown of Maranello earlier this fall elicited a certain sense of loss. Because of the car’s aerodynamic shape and space-shuttle technology, a driver can fling it defiantly; the F12 Berlinetta will cover most mistakes and dubious judgment calls. The car is even equipped with a revolutionary differential—E-Diff—that measures the vehicle’s speed and the driver’s steering input and then determines the optimum torque for each wheel. Lost, it seems, is the need for any human skills.

However, Ferrari has not repealed the laws of physics nor has it negated the effects of speed upon mass. Although the F12 Berlinetta represents a new level of semiautomated driving, the pace and depth of entry into a corner, the choice of turn-in point, and the heaviness of foot through a right-hand sweeper remain the driver’s responsibilities. And on a straight stretch of road, maybe after you have grown impatient with a stubborn straggle of traffic, you can hit a certain gear at a particular point in the power curve, and despite all the electronic governance, the F12’s tail will zig out, zag back, and then zig out again.

The rewards of driving the F12 Berlinetta are enormous. When 509 ft lbs of torque barge in at 6,000 rpm, they deliver a cheek-flattening sensation. Even at a piddling 2,500 rpm, the engine offers more than 80 percent of its acceleration power, enabling drivers to dismiss plodding Volvos, herds of motor homes, and other highway horrors with a double-tap of the paddle shift and a stomp on the gas pedal.

The F12 Berlinetta is elegant and savage, polished and brazen. It is the complete Ferrari. It is an automotive evolution without precedent that deserves to continue.

Ferrari F12 Berlinetta, www.f12berlinetta.com

This article was originally published in the December 2012 issue of Robb Report. Click here to read more articles from this issue.

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