Fabulous drive in Ferrari's fastest

JOSH DOWLING
Last updated 07:15 01/09/2012
Fairfax Australia

Fairfax Media's Joshua Dowling is wowed by the new F12 Berlinetta is the most powerful Ferrari road car to date.

Ferrari's F12 Berlinetta
Ferrari's F12 Berlinetta

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Meet the supercar money can't buy. It's Ferrari's new hero, the F12 Berlinetta, the fastest and most powerful road car it has ever built.

It's expected to cost more than A$700,000 (NZ$901,800) when it goes on sale in Australia late next year.


Click on photo at left for more views of the F12 Berlinetta.

But unless you ordered one sight-unseen two years ago, you'll be waiting a while to take delivery.

Despite its giddy price, the queue for the F12 already stretches to 2014 in some countries. Only about half a dozen are expected to arrive in Australia next year.

Fairfax Media's crew at Drive jumped the queue to sample Ferrari's new V12 flagship that kicks off a revamp of the range.

Ferrari is poised to introduce more new metal than Alfa Romeo: a new model each year for the next five years, including a sleek hybrid successor to the Enzo supercar built between 2002 and 2004.

Until that car arrives, this is the most daunting model Ferrari makes.

Which is why it's both a blessing and curse to be on the famous Fiorano test track, across the street and down the road from the Ferrari factory.

Talk about jumping in at the deep end. I'm in the most powerful Ferrari of all time on an empty race track and we have only two flying laps.

The F12 may have set a new record for a road-going Ferrari at Fiorano (1 minute and 23 seconds) but I'm pretty sure I was about to set the record for the slowest lap. But then I lucked out, and got two more laps.

At about this point you're probably expecting to hear how blindingly quick the F12 is, and how razor sharp its reflexes are.

Well, it is. And they are. It is, after all, a Ferrari.

What staggers me most is that for all its raw power and capability, it is so easy to drive – especially with the electronics fluttering away in the background.

The super-sensitive stability control system subtly gives me a dab of brakes here and there, as it deems necessary, coming into or out of corners.

It makes the whole experience look easy. It would seem all I have to do is steer and brake somewhere near the right points and the car does the rest.

I dare not turn the ''Manettino'' switch on the steering wheel further to the right, which gradually switches off the electronic safety net click by click.

The V12 engine has a whopping 545kW of power and 690Nm of torque – both of which are more than what's under the bonnet of a V8 Supercar.

The acceleration is almost too much for your brain to comprehend, because you arrive at the corner in half the time you were expecting.

The car is so quick, Michelin had to make special tyres handle the extra power – and attempt to turn that into grip from a standstill.

While most other supercars with this much pace have all-wheel-drive, the Ferrari F12 is still doing it old school: with power to the rear wheels only.

It's the main reason it has a 0 to 100km/h time of 3.1 seconds. That's all the laws of physics will allow.

"The tyre technology is very good for this car, but at the moment this is the limit for acceleration," says a Ferrari engineer.

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The slightly less powerful – but all-wheel-drive – Lamborghini Aventador V12 claws its way to 100kmh in 2.9 seconds.

However, Ferrari says it makes up for lost time on the rest of the way to 200kmh: the F12 takes just 8.5 seconds to reach the double tonne. The Lamborghini takes 8.9, according to the claims from both manufacturers.

Ferrari also spent a lot of time using air to get "free" grip, in the form of downforce.

Rather than add unsightly wings and spoilers, two large grooves in the bonnet direct air into giant oval holes the front fenders, that then spill the draft along the doors.

It was designed in the same wind tunnel used to create its formula one cars.

Ferrari says the downforce starts taking effect at 110kmh; at 200kmh it claims the "air bridge" channels create 123kg of extra weight above and behind the front wheels, near the car's centre of gravity.

Meanwhile, two discreet vents atop the rear fenders allow air to escape, rather than build pressure in the wheel arches.

Air flow is so important to Ferrari that the brake ducts in front bumper are blanked off until the discs get hot enough (350 degrees Celsius and above), at which point an electronic servo flicks them open.

All of this wizardry with wind may sound fanciful, but Ferrari swears it works – and that the design was led by aerodynamics, not marketing.

Regardless, the result looks stunning.

My favourite touch, though, is the rear fog lamp designed to look like the warning light on the back of F1 cars. It's the best execution yet of what is often the ugliest part of any car.

I'm grateful to have been on the track before the road drive – at least we're acquainted now.

Most V12 Ferraris feel massive on narrow Italian roads – but the F12 is more manageable.

Not only because it is smaller (shorter, lower and narrower) than its predecessor, but because its reflexes are so accurate.

Before we hit the mountains, the stop-start traffic of Maranello's light industrial area prove to be a good test of the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.

It's not seamless, but given its heavy duty hardware, it is not jerky either. Its sedate behavior is all the more remarkable when you consider it can shift gears in milliseconds at full noise.

Ah, the noise. The F12 Berlinetta sounds fantastic at any speed. This is partly due to a sound tube that channels induction noise near the air filter into the cabin.

But, for me, the most impressive aspect of the F12 is how well it copes with rough roads.

Using the third generation of its magnetically controlled suspension, the F12's ability to keep pace over the worst bumps beggars belief.

It's almost as comfortable as a Toyota Camry, and yet it is riding on low profile 20-inch tyres – and has the grip of an angry bear.

If the car ever does get a little out of shape by a rut in the road, the electronics quickly deal with any drama.

So, bad points? There aren't many, but I did try to find some.

The indicator switches are still on the steering wheel and, bizarrely on such an expensive car, the passenger-side window does not have a one-touch "up" function. Only the driver's does.

And the vanity mirror on the passenger's side of the car is uncovered.

One last thing: if you use the F12 to its potential, it drinks fuel as if there is a hole in the tank.

I went through a 92 litre tank of fuel in less than 180km. That's more than 50L/100km – almost as much as V8 Supercars drink during Bathurst.

And you know what? I loved every minute.

Fast facts:

Engine: 6.3-litre V12 (6262cc)

Power: 545kW at 8250rpm

Torque: 690Nm at 6000rpm

Redline: 8700rpm

Compression ratio: 13.5:1

Gearbox: Seven-speed twin-clutch auto

0 to 100kmh: 3.1 sec

0 to 200 kmh: 8.5 sec

Weight: 1630kg (46:54 front to rear)

Aerodynamics: 0.299Cd

Consumption: 15L/100km (350g/km)

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