The new F12 Berlinetta is Ferrari's automotive checkmate to all other grand touring coupes.
It throws down an ungodly amount of power as the ultimate proof of its noble king-of-the-GT roots, in a landscape spanning some of the most desirable exotic cars on earth. And perhaps most surprisingly, it then proceeds to popularize its power with liberal doses of practicality as well.
Coming in slightly shorter, lower and narrower than the 599 GTB V12 coupe it replaces, the car weighs only 70 kilograms less than the 599. But the power-to-weight ratio – a key figure in any performance machine – increases by a lofty 25 per cent, over a vehicle that was no slouch at 612 ponies, which still puts it amongst the most powerful naturally aspirated cars in the world.
But with the Lamborghini Aventador having hit the 700-hp summit, Ferrari now casts its naturally aspirated V-12 flag even higher: on a 731-hp peak, or 740 bhp (545 kW) in European trim. As the 599 was when it was launched, the F12 is the most powerful Ferrari road car built, thanks to its monster 6.3-litre V-12, and is currently the most powerful naturally aspirated production car available in the world.
Of cars available in North America, only the 16-cylinder Bugatti Veyron with its four turbochargers can pip these horsepower numbers, as does the naturally aspirated 750-hp Aston Martin One-77 that sold its last copy earlier this year. But those vehicles are all million-dollar-plus hyper-exotic machines, while the Ferrari F12 is a fair notch below that level, a relative bargain at less than 400 grand.
How much less will only be known closer to its arrival date early next year in North America. In Italy, it's priced at €274,400, which would translate to a starting price in the vicinity of $340,000. That's a lot of cheddar for a single car, but it's also only a starting point. Among the many factory options are a High Emotion Low Emissions package (with stop/start), carbon-fibre steering wheel with integrated LED rev counter, a 1,280-watt JBL Professional sound system, and a performance screen in front of passengers that displays/betrays the driver's speed, rpm and gear choices.
The F12 tester I drove was well-optioned, but not fully loaded, without the carbon-fibre wheel or screen, but with the comfort-oriented front and rear parking cameras and big sound system. All the materials and surfaces look sleek to the eye and virtuous to the fingertips, with red leather swathed across the dashboard and door panels to match the rosso of the carpets and leather seat inserts. Air vents are not mere airflow shutters, but mimic the design of the aluminum quad exhausts. Like in the 458, turn signal and headlight stalks have been banished, as has any manual transmission availability, to keep the serious driver's hands on the steering wheel at all times. And yes, that means still no cup holders.
Still, once the instant "wow" upon opening the door subsided, some in our group thought the interior didn't blow them away as much as a car in this price bracket should. Being blown away costs extra, and for that, there's a program called Tailor Made, which puts buyers in contact with Ferrari interior designers to go through and pick out unique colour blends, leathers and finishes.
It's not anything goes, as Ferrari says it will refuse requests it considers in poor taste. But at a minimum upgrade price of $50,000, this "extreme personalization" Tailor Made buyer is not likely to hear no too many times.
So, after an evening hearing all about the theory on what makes the F12 special, the bright morning finally dawned to experience it on the curvy mountain roads around Ferrari's famed Maranello factory. The low roof requires some flexibility to enter, but once seated, the dominant 8,700-rpm-redlined tachometer jumps out, its red face leaving no doubt as to this car's sporting intentions. Busy city streets were gobbled up in surprising comfort, the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission nicely civilized throughout in its fully automatic mode.
Experiencing the first full blast of the F12's power is like getting knocked over by a violent wave: you knew it was coming, but just didn't expect it to toss you around like that.
There were relatively few spots on our twisty route where we could accelerate right up to redline, simply because even first-gear blasts took us to triple-digit speeds that these curvy roads (okay, maybe us too) just couldn't handle. Yet we still heard that V-12's siren song at redline plenty of times on downshifts, and it's a permeating shriek that will leave Formula One highlights dancing in your head.
Design-wise, Ferrari has continued along the path of restrained aggressiveness, the body eschewing big spoilers or the massive intakes for subtler but still performance-oriented cues. Most notable at the front is what Ferrari calls the F12's Aero Bridge, two sheet-metal scallops in the hood that lead air under a bridge in the bodywork to behind the front fender to provide more downforce.
These and other aero tricks, like the brake vents that only open when the brakes are hot, tell onlookers and owners alike that while beauty is important, it's the F12 Berlinetta's performance that handed it its crown.
2013 Ferrari F12 Berlinetta
Type: Exotic grand touring coupe
Base price: (estimated) $340,000
Engine: 6.3-litre, direct-injection, V-12
Horsepower/torque: 730 hp/509 lb-ft
Transmission: Seven-speed, dual-clutch, automated manual
Fuel economy (litres/100 km, Euro spec): 15.0 city/highway combined; premium gas
Alternatives: Aston Martin Vanquish, Bentley Continental GT, Lamborghini Aventador, Lexus LFA