One of the most potent naturally aspirated supercars on the planet - and, thanks to ever-tightening emission, it may well be the last of its kind.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I grew up in a time when the most A-list pin-up machine for bedroom walls was the front-engine, rear-drive Ferrari Daytona – a car that eventually shot to full-blown mainstream fame on the back of the hit '80s series, Miami Vice.
For the standards of the time, it wasn’t just eye candy. Under the bonnet hid a 4.4-litre Ferrari V12, with six Weber carburettors producing 262kW of power.
Years later, I was lucky enough to get some time behind the wheel of a near-new 550 Maranello, another big-hitting 12-cylinder, front-engine Ferrari – this time with a stonking 5.5 litres and 357kW on tap. And what a drive that was.
That was 1997, and it would be nearly 20 years before I finally got a steer in another front-engine supercar from Italy’s prancing horse stable – suffice to say, it was worth the wait.
The F12 Berlinetta might share the same front engine layout as its celebrated predecessors, but believe me, this monster-powered Ferrari has more naturally aspirated firepower than the entire US Army.
Its 200-bar, 6262cc, 65deg direct-injection V12 motor is something to behold, colossal even. It generates a massive 545kW (730bhp) of power at 8250 rpm (it revs to 8700rpm) and 690Nm of torque at 6000 rpm. And most of that is available from just 2500 rpm.
The rest of the F12’s performance set is just as impressive: 0-100km/h in 3.1 seconds, 0-200km/h in 8.5 sec, and a top speed of 340km/h plus. It’s truly astonishing how Ferrari’s engineers can extract this kind of power and performance without the aid of the latest-generation turbos or superchargers.
It can lap Ferrari’s Fiorano test track in 1.23:00 sec flat, making it faster than the storied Enzo (1.24:9sec) and even the big-hitting 599 GTO (1.24:0sec).
In fact, up until the LaFerrari came along in 2013, with its V12 hybrid powertrain, the F12 was billed as the fastest road-going Ferrari ever built. That said, it’s still a ferociously quick car capable of mind-blowing performance – on and off the track.
To call it a technological tour de force is an understatement, particularly when it comes to aerodynamics. There’s no big wing, or even spoilers to call on, as you’re hurtling down the main straight of your favourite race track – they would have upset the design flow of the car and spoiled the look, according to celebrated designer, Flavio Manzoni.
Instead, the F12 relies on a subtle, yet more complex design, incorporating a swag of clever aero devices designed to reduce drag while keeping all four wheels glued to the tarmac at almost any speed.
The bonnet alone is worthy of its own stand at San Jose’s Tech Museum of Innovation. Not only a beautiful piece of automotive art, but the ‘aero-bridge’ formed by the two ducts either side, help produce up to 123kg of downforce at 200km/h.
The front splitter incorporates active brake cooling – innovative flaps that open to let cool air through once the car’s massive carbon ceramic braking system sensors detect things are started to heat up. This stuff is still cutting edge now, let alone in 2012 when the car made its world debut at the Geneva Motor Show.
That said, I can’t say the F12 is achingly beautiful in the same way an Aston Martin Vanquish is, or even the Mercedes-AMG SL63, purely because there’s so much more menace built into the Ferrari’s form. Some might even find it intimidating.
And if we’re sticking with Ferrari, then it’s the entry-level California T that gets my nod as the most handsome piece of design work in the marque’s current stable.
Ferrari describes its flagship as part GT and part supercar, but make no mistake, the F12 a purebred street-legal racer with an old-school F1-style scream from the very instant you start piling on the revs.
There’s nothing like it on the road today, at least nothing under a million bucks. It’s like being trackside at an F1 race back in the day, such is the acoustic assault this colossal engine delivers under full throttle, with the tacho needle wound all the way around past 8000 rpm.
From behind the wheel, you simply can’t get enough of it, but finding legally-biding roads is always an issue here, so I’m guessing those occasional track-day blasts are a must if you’re lucky enough to park an F12 in your garage.
You’ll need to be on your toes though, as this thing won’t hesitate to light up the Pirellis down back, the very instant you lose patience with your right foot. I’m not saying there’s a lack of grip from the super-wide tyres, but the rear axle can be overwhelmed at times.
There’s plenty of crackle and pop as you come off the throttle too, and that’s just in Sport. It’s even more boisterous when you flick the ‘manettino’ on the steering wheel over to Race mode, and everything becomes instantly more manic.
Throttle response is beyond ‘razor sharp’, and unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before, bar a full-blown GT3 racer. It’s a notion further amplified by one of the most free-revving engines on the planet.
And just when you thought driving couldn’t get any better, you switch focus to the F12’s seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and marvel all over again.
If you thought Porsche’s own PDK transmission was pretty much the performance car benchmark (and it is brilliant), Ferrari’s take on the technology calls for even quicker shift speed – bordering on telepathic. And it does so, in a still-refined manner, unlike the torso-snapping violence of a Lamborghini Aventador at full tilt.
There aren’t many road cars that can claim to do justice to shift lights on the steering wheel, but the F12 is properly legit in this regard, where they’re a necessary accompaniment to such ferocious V12 firepower.
And then there’s the steering; lighter than you might expect from such a stupendously fast exotic, and a seriously quick steering rack ratio to boot, which all require a bit of getting used to before you start to feel confident behind the wheel.
At first, it feels almost twitchy, but you’ll soon relish how little hand movement is required to weave through roundabouts or tackle those spiral funnels to city car parks – heaven forbid.
If you do happen to find yourself on a racetrack or a twisty mountain pass, you’ll marvel at the Ferrari’s bullet-proof stopping power, thanks to some truly massive carbon ceramic brakes and a wonderfully progressive brake pedal.
We weren’t so lucky during our few days with the F12 Berlinetta, instead, clocking up most of our kays on the urban/city beat, where at least, ride comfort was properly put to the test.
Around town, you’re aware of its sizeable proportions, but that’s countered by the car’s cat-like agility. And there’s no need to engage the paddle shifters either, just hit the ‘auto’ button on the stylish centre console bridge and you can amble down to the shops for a Piccolo with very little effort at all.
There’s an underlying firmness to the adaptive suspension system, regardless of the setting, but it’s not bone-jarring, and in most cases its entirely comfortable.
The F12’s interior space is superb. Exquisitely crafted leather upholstery, blended with beautifully fashioned alloy highlights and lacquered carbon-fibre, complete the fit-out.
Drop into the sports leather seats, and they feel as if they’ve been customised especially for your body shape (though they don’t look as so), such is the moulded fit and precise level of bolster for those more thrilling drive times.
I’m also certain there’s a perfectly good audio system on board, but most would consider it sacrilege to listen to anything other than the V12 under the bonnet. So no, I confess, I didn’t switch it on.
Open the hatch, though, and you’ll find a surprising amount of luggage space available in a two-tier arrangement. It’s more than enough for a week away and daresay could easily swallow a surfboard should those iconic surf wear entrepreneurs be in the market.
There are faster, less expensive supercars on the market, but the Ferrari F12 Berlinetta already feels like an icon. It might also be the last naturally aspirated V12 Ferrari ever built, as ever-tightening emissions regulations take hold.
Either way, I feel privileged to have had the opportunity.