If you want the pinnacle of Ferrari’s road-going expertise, this is surely it, the Ferrari 812 Superfast – designed by Flavio Manzoni, the Italian brand's Head of Design – and the most powerful production car ever built by the marque.
You’ve got to love the name – on one hand, an outrageously apt description for this T-Rex of the modern car world, and on the other, it’s about paying homage to Ferrari’s V12 front-engine monsters of a bygone era, specifically, the 500 Superfast of 1964.
It’s also the replacement for the scary-fast F12berlinetta and its more track-focused sibling, the F12tdf, but according to Manzoni, ‘they’ve got nothing on the 812 Superfast’.
Because, under that beautifully sculptured bonnet is the God of all engines, a naturally aspirated 6.5-litre V12, sending 588kW and 718Nm to the rear axle, and put the ground through a pair of massive 315/35 Pirelli P-Zeros out back.
Let’s be clear, that’s 800-metric horsepower, and Ferrari says, it’s as big as they can go with a naturally aspirated motor. It can spin to 8900rpm – producing a proper old-school F1 scream and smash the 0-100km/h benchmark sprint in 2.9 seconds flat. Perhaps even more astounding, though, is its performance from standstill to 200km/h – in an inconceivable 7.9 seconds.
They tell us it’s much less intimidating than the F12, too. Good thing, and something of a relief, as we’re about to head south towards some well-trodden switchbacks to find out for ourselves, but not before a mad dash in the opposite direction to the picturesque town of Mantova, the birthplace of legendary Italian race driver, Tazio Nuvolari, who drove for Enzo Ferrari back when he was running Alfa Romeos.
It’s also the second time in as many years that we’ve arrived in Maranello, the ancestral home of Ferrari, and to be honest, the feeling is still surreal. To think, V12 Ferraris have been rolling out of these gates for 70 years, simply blows my mind. You can’t help feel humbled and completely in awe of this place.
And while this particular facility might only build Ferrari’s road cars, the entire place reeks of Formula One and the celebrated history behind this race-bred marque.
Last year, we were here for the updated California T with Handling Package, which transformed that car into a much sharper instrument than it was previously, and now this, the 812 Superfast, guaranteed to become another road-going icon from the house of the Prancing Horse.
Apart from selected media, the only folks generally allowed behind these doors are genuine Ferrari owners and currently, I count at least 20-or-more of those in the greeting room, and from all corners of the globe, it would appear.
I’m hoping our car is the one parked directly outside reception – the paintjob is new ‘Rosso Settantanni’ – the colour created to celebrate Ferrari’s 70th Anniversary. And, it’s the right hue for this flagship GT, though, truth be told, I’m partial to ‘Rosso Formula 1 2007’, but buyers can choose from several other shades, including Rosso 70 Anni, Rosso Monza, and Rosso Berlinetta.
And that’s just the reds; there’s an entire colour palette to choose from, but at the end of the day, it wouldn’t matter which colour you chose – it’s still an 812 Superfast, right?
We’ve only got the car for a day, as is customary with flagship models in such demand by the international press, and as much as we’d like to jump in and scream fourth to those beckoning hills, that moment will just have to wait, as there’s a couple of product briefings to attend, in order to get some modicum of understanding of the sheer mechanical and technological mastery at work here.
The engine, alone, is the work of pure genius. To extract this much power from a V12, without the aid of turbos, superchargers or hybridisation, is nothing short of miraculous.
It’s based on the 6.2-litre motor from the F12berlinetta, but thanks to a longer stroke, displacement was increased to 6.5 litres while power is boosted by 44kW. That’s despite producing less CO2 than the smaller V12 it replaces.
More importantly, it’s 75 per cent new – meaning new crankshaft, new con-rods and a new piston design, to boot. Ferrari also improved the intake system and combustion efficiency for better breathing all round, as well as innovative tech like the use of a 350-bar direct injection system for the first time on a spark-ignition engine.
The 812 also benefits from a specially engineered control system for the variable geometry inlet tracts, developed on Ferrari’s naturally-aspirated F1 engines, but further enhanced beyond that used even on the more manic F12tdf.
While no sane individual would ever have thought the standard (‘standard’ is so not the right word) F12 needed any enhancement to its peak exhaust note, that’s exactly what Ferrari has done with the 812 Superfast.
The sound from the engine compartment and the exhaust pipes has been increased and better balanced by using a six-into-one manifold – and, as you can imagine, it doesn’t get any better. This is what a Formula One car used to sound like. And there’s nothing quite like it.
Ferrari’s F1 seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is another carryover component and something to behold, if you enjoy the sound of the fastest gearshifts (up or down) on the planet. But, it, too, has been fettled to handle the higher revs and pace of the 812. All of the gear ratios have been shortened to the tune of around six per cent for quicker pick-up – even in the higher gears.
Not that we would have thought it technically possible, but shift times have also been slashed by 30 per cent. It’s insane how quick this thing shifts, but more on that shortly.
More extreme straight-line performance is all well and good, but that’s only the half of it. The 812 Superfast also benefits from one of the world’s finest chassis, along with some brand-new tech designed to keep it firmly planted under the most extreme loads.
Key to all this is version 2.0 of Ferrari’s Virtual Short Wheelbase (Passo Corto Virtuale – if you know Italian), an evolution of the system used in the F12tdf that combines electric power steering for the first time, with bespoke tyre dimensions (same as the tdf) and rear-wheel steering.
There’s also a fifth-gen version of the Ferari's side-slip control and new features like Ferrari Peak Performance (FPP) and Ferrari Power Oversteer (FPO) designed to detect when the car is approaching its adhesion limits via steering wheel torque, while providing feedback to the driver via steering wheel inputs to enhance car control when oversteer occurs.
Think of these systems as a collective and seamless guide to expert car control, especially under heavy loads, but you won’t feel them working as such, according to Ferrari. We’ll find out, soon enough.
Stopping power is courtesy of the same carbon ceramic monsters as those on the LaFerrari, improving braking performance by almost six per cent over the F12berlinetta.
Photographs are one thing, but honestly, they just don’t do this car proper justice when it comes to the inherent curves and beauty of what amounts to an aerodynamically-driven sculpture of such intricacy as to appear both menacing and gorgeous as the same time.
There’s nothing – not a single crease, line or vent that isn’t there to help keep this car stable at speed. There’s aerodynamic sorcery at play here, without question – and something we experienced first-hand on the Autostrada – with the taps wide open at full noise.
Stuff like ground effect vortex generators, active aero on the rear diffuser, passive aero on the front diffuser, Bi-bocca front intake, front bumper turning vane, ducts on rear guards, hollowed flanks, rear spoiler and optimised thermal management represent the key features only.
The result is a grand tourer unlike anything we’ve ever driven. The sheer, unshakable poise this thing exhibits at warp speed is both extraordinary and hugely confidence inspiring at the same time. It simply refuses to move off track, even a millimetre, or at least, it's undetectable from behind the wheel.
It’s not just the high-speed stability that blows your mind, either, it’s the real-world experience of a thoroughbred Ferrari accelerating from zero to two-ton in less than eight seconds. Yep, it will keep you pinned to the seatback. That’s a given. But what impresses more, is the absolute refinement of this V12 under full throttle moments. Moreover, with 80 per cent of torque available from just 3500rpm – there’s no end to it, it just keeps pulling, even in seventh.
And that steering!
It might be electrically assisted, but the calibration and level of feedback is simply peerless. It’s a big car, but it doesn’t take long before you’re wielding this Ferrari like Michelangelo would a chisel, over impossibly tight, cobble-stone lanes in Mantova, with all the confidence in the world. It’s a very easy car to drive. Period.
We eventually arrived at Tazio Nuvolari Museum after a photography session in the grounds of an old ruin where the 812 Superfast attracted loads of attention from local firies keen on a selfie with the car. Unfortunately, we ended up arriving too late to gain entry. Either way, we still snapped a shot of Ferrari’s finest out front of one of Enzo's favourites. Homage paid.
It wasn’t long before we were closing the gap to the Parco Regionale dei Sassi Roccamalatina and those switchbacks which define these parts. The road surface isn’t in the best shape, but the upside is traffic is almost non-existent – so nothing to hinder the V12’s high-pitched exhaust note or those whip-cracking-like downshifts. It sounds like semi-automatic rifle fire if you’ve got a quick hand working the left paddle.
It feels so much more tied down than the F12berlinetta. You can’t really detect the rear-wheel steer at work, or the wider rubber up front (from 245 to 275s), but the grip level and turn-in response is off the charts. You’re just not afraid to get serious with this thing, as it’s not going to bite, even if you overcook a turn or two.
Along with the all the corner-carving tech on board, there’s also a ton of mechanical grip, too, and while you can really feel that, it’s the ultra-sharp responses from the throttle, steering, brakes and transmission – all working in total harmony that combine to make this Ferrari such a unique driving experience.
At around two turns from lock-to-lock, the steering is mega-quick. And while the weighting is comparatively light, it seems in perfect sync with all the other controls. In fact, it may as well be telepathic, such is its precision and speed.
After a while, we managed full-throttle bursts between the hairpins – mainly because we couldn’t get enough of those three-clip downshifts. That’s when you need to lean on those enormous carbon ceramic Brembos up front, and by jeez, do they do a good job, but not before a moment or two of what turned out to be unwarranted panic.
And that’s with the Ferrari’s Manettino switch locked on Race mode. We tried Sport, but it’s so much more alive in the former, though, the ride stiffens up somewhat, but never did we find it openly firm. In fact, quite the opposite, and that even included the bumpy terrain over the switchbacks.
About the only regret we had during our day with the 812 Superfast was the fact we couldn’t get near the 8900rpm redline (anywhere near enough) and the subsequent shrill of this magnificent masterpiece of an engine. You need a long straight stretch for that, or plenty of clean air on a German Autobahn.
Only 12 per cent of 812 Superfast buyers cite ‘on-board comfort’ as the main reason for purchase, whereas performance and design attract a 90/69 percentage score, respectively. But that’s never stopped Ferrari from doing lavish leather fitouts inside.
The 812 is almost entirely new inside – combining Italian craftsmanship and style with superb comfort and ergonomics. Long-distance travel is a breeze in this thing. That’s down to the generous seat-cushioning and the layout of all the critical information.
You still get a large tacho centrally mounted in the driver zone, but surrounding it, are two smaller infotainment screens for the sat-nav and vehicle information, so you don’t have to look far to get what you need. You even get Apple CarPlay.
And, like the F12, your passenger gets to see how fast you’re travelling, with an rpm gauge, g-force meter and gear position in their own 8.8-inch touchscreen. It’s novel, sure, but my co-driver was fascinated all the same – mostly with the speed readout.
Not surprising, practicality doesn’t rate at all on the list of purchase triggers for this car, but the 812’s lift back design means is actually quite roomy as this segment goes, opening up between 320-500 litres of boot space.
It’s a genuine pity that most people will never get to experience the Ferrari 812 Superfast, because it is quite possibly the best GT ever built. It’s difficult to imagine how they might improve it.
There are simply no faults, except of course the $610,000 price tag, though plenty will also see it as a bargain against the likes of a Lamborghini Aventador S ($891,500).
Sadly, it’s also likely to be the last naturally aspirated production series Ferrari ever built, as hybridisation will likely power the next great grand tourer from Maranello.