I’D LOVE TO MEET someone able to drop over a quarter of a million pounds on a new Ferrari. Not out of jealousy, more so I could go through with them in geeky detail what their cash has bought them. It would be easy to get distracted by that badge, or by the stunning looks, but what makes this car so special is the hardware. And a little bit of software. To the uninitiated, and possibly everyone, the Superfast tag might sound tautological, but it references the last of the 1960s America models that had big Columbo V12S, space for people and – bless my soul – a useable boot. At the 812 launch the Fiorano test track, Ferrari went to great lengths to remind us how this newcomer is a GT car. There can’t have been many Ferrari presentations containing a slide detailing luggage space.
As wonderful as loafer-carrying ability is, there are more fundamental improvements that deserve closer attention. When glimpsed across a car park there’s an obvious visual link to the F12 in the proportions but the exterior is in fact all new, mixing a dash of the tdf s loony aggression with much aero management. It’s a credit to how hard Ferrari’s wind tunnel works that it takes a while to spot all the blades, scoops and vents that send the air in desirable directions without resorting to unsightly spoilers. The underfloor diffuser provides 40% of the downforce, which is the same figure as the tdf but with less drag. There’s a case for saying Ferrari currently doesn’t do pretty. The 812 has a functional grace about it while carrying some obvious girth around the hips, but it’s the length and sleekness of the nose as it rises and falls over the front wheels that raises the pulse. Safe to say that any 812 would elicit the desired response should one appear in your rear-view mirror, but it actually looks better wearing optional alloy wheels and painted something other than red.
Drop down into the slim but supportive seats and you’re faced with a relatively simple dash. The thin spar by your right knee carries the crucial drive functions. Everything else is grouped around the steering wheel, with the big analogue tachometer taking pride of place in the centre, flanked by digital screens for everything else. Partly inherited from the GTC4 Lusso, the dash functions are comprehensive and fathomable rather than wholly intuitive. But the 812 gets away with it because this patently isn’t the kind of car in which you spend a lot of time trying to save Radio 4 to your favourites. The 12 in the car’s name refers to the number of cylinders. Based on the block that first appeared on the Enzo 15 years ago, it’s bored and stroked to what Ferrari assures us is its maximum capacity of 6.5 litres. Hard to see how you could need more. Higher-pressure fuel injectors, a raised compression ratio and variable inlet tracts help it to kick out beyond the tdf to 789bhp at 850orpm – that’s
The fastest, most potent car Ferrari has ever put into series production is, it turns out, a doddle to drive 800 metric horsepower. There’s a little more torque than the tdf too, but this is an engine that has been tuned for power, with shorter gear ratios to help you make the most of it. Naturally aspirated, producing 123bhp per litre and capable of reaching 8900rpm for no other reason than it might do strange things to your undercarriage, it’s not short on excitement either. The roads immediately surrounding Fiorano aren’t the glorious mountain switchbacks you might imagine, so you just bimble around and find out how the 812 copes with reality. With the manettino multi-function controller set to Sport and the DCT gearbox in auto it’s easy to drive. The wound-down response of the long-travel throttle means you won’t trigger unwanted acceleration. The steering, while quick, won’t give you a headache. The ride is certainly on the firm side, even if you prod the bumpy road button, but as the speed rises smaller road niggles are filtered more readily.
It’s easy to see how you could cover long distances in the 812 without much fuss, aside from the inevitable attention from other road users. You can point it toward your favourite driving road, whether it’s 200 or 2000 miles away, and know that you’ll still be in the mood by the time you get there. Whatever settings you dial up, you’re never in any doubt that there’s something rather special in the engine bay. Yes, it’s tuned for power rather than torque – but there’s still 530lb ft available, 80% of that from 3500rpm; stuff happens quickly.
As with all the greatest naturally aspirated engines, applying throttle in the 812 doesn’t simply increase the power – it feels as though it’s releasing something contained against its will. Time and again it’s a thrill to witness how quickly an engine of this size can soar through the revs, delivering massive pace and a soundtrack worth playlisting. Wringing the V12 to 8900rpm through a couple of gears is usually enough to see you running out of road or courage. That last 400rpm from peak power to maximum revs is a wonderfully gratuitous treat to be savoured, the 812 squeezing in as much drama as possible before the DCT curtain falls and changes up for you. Never mind theatre, this is IMAX.
You at no stage find yourself thinking the engine would be better with a turbocharger. The question is rendered entirely superfluous by the response, the sound and the borderline violence of this V12. Even when kicking for all it’s worth the 812 Superfast is delivering thrills rather than potential spills. Wind the manettino fully into the ‘paying for your own repairs’ zone and the traction is still excellent (on the dry roads of our test at least), while the speed of the steering doesn’t scare you into nervy inputs.
There’s more tech at work here, as the 812 inherits a tweaked version of the Virtual Short Wheelbase concept first seen on the tdf. In summary it means relatively wide front tyres for sharp turn-in, and a degree of rear steer in the same direction as the fronts to avoid sudden oversteer. The 812 adds electric power steering, varying its torque to encourage the driver to steer in the right direction when near or over the limit of grip. In practice its operations are impressively subtle, not least because when you’re dabbling in the brown zone with an 800 horsepower car concentration levels tend to be high; all you notice is that the car is clearly on your side and doesn’t steer for you, only encouraging you in the right direction.
Throughout the car, the tech doesn’t stop the driving experience feeling almost entirely natural, leaving you to savour the response of the throttle and steering, the strength of the brakes and the composure of the suspension while you enjoy the company of that motor. The mix of old and new tech results in a car that’s as exciting as you’d hope, and considerably less challenging than you might think. Ferrari understands not all its owners will sleep in their driving gloves.
Feeling like a hero definitely comes as standard show just how deep its capabilities run. Engage the slight safety net provided by CT Off mode and there’s still as much oversteer as you could want unless you’re trying to win some kind of trophy. Those fat front tyres give razor sharp turn-in, and you can be as tidy or otherwise as you like, playing with the balance of the car through the bends and destroying rubber on the way out. Feeling like a hero isn’t mentioned on the specification but it definitely comes as standard. Ferrari is yet to quote an official lap time for the 812, but the La Ferrari does it in 1 min 20sec and the F12 tdf in 1 min 21; expect the new boy to at least match the latter. There was never any doubt that Ferrari’s latest was going to be special, but the magic is in making the eye-popping numbers translate into something that’s genuinely useable and easy to appreciate. It has immense wow factor, and it ticks enough of the relevant boxes to keep the faithful happy, but the hard miles have been done in layering clever, delicate electronics over the top of some very special hardware.