Ferrari 812 2020 superfast

2020 Ferrari 812 GTS review: Track test

Rating: 9.0
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How do you improve the experience of a V12 Ferrari? By removing the roof, of course.
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Everyone needs to experience a naturally aspirated Ferrari V12 at least once in their life.

We're probably getting to the tail end of its reign, however. Emissions rules are coming down harder than ever – most so in Europe, where Ferrari's headquarters are situated.

If anyone can see that the end is nigh, it's likely a brand for whom this magical engine configuration has long been a halo.

The uprise in clever hybrid systems and forced-induction tech may likely see it live on, even indefinitely so, but I genuinely wonder how they'll compare to such a pure form of engine mastery that is the Tipo F140GA.

That string of letters that follows the word tipo, Italian for kind, denotes Ferrari's 6.5-litre V12 engine. This generation of V12 made its debut in the first modern-day Ferrari hypercar – the Enzo.

Eighteen years on, it now finds home in Ferrari's latest series of grand tourer, the 812. It has grown a bit since then, too, now up half a litre more, to 6.5 litres, but still retaining rather over-square cylinder dimensions. The reason I mention that point relating to bore-over-stroke ratio is because it's quite fundamental to the character of this engine.

This V12 turns to a mammoth 8900rpm. Part of the reason why it's able to spin 12 pistons off a common crank so supremely fast is because of their relatively short distance to travel in an up-and-down motion. Plus, you don't really need to worry about torque figures when you have 12 of the things at your disposal. We'll get to how it feels in just a second.

We were invited to briefly sample the latest version of the 812 series, the drop-top 2020 Ferrari 812 GTS, at Sydney Motorsport Park. This car is a grand tourer, not an outright sports car, so consider this testing in its second-best habitat. It's also worth pointing out here that the GTS is Ferrari's first series-production V12 spider in 50 years. That's a long time from the last one.

If you do dissect the complete Ferrari offering over that same period, you'll come across cars like the 575 Superamerica and the later 599 SA Aperta, which both offer the intoxicating blend of no roof and 12 cylinders.

However, Ferrari is quick to note that these are 'limited editions' only, and the last true V12 production spider it made was the 365 GTS4, colloquially known as the Daytona Spider.

It almost strikes me as too long to leave it, especially so when you come to understand that the best way to hear more of those 12 cylinders is to listen to them through a huge cavity above your noggin.

Plenty of smarts went into this car, too, in order to make it behave like the Superfast hardtop equivalent. The whole rear section of the car was redesigned, including the required abolishment of those subtle rear ducts behind the quarter windows as found on the hardtop.

In order to counter the required removal of such elements, Ferrari's clever aerodynamicists have implemented a plethora of moving, dynamic aerofoils to do the same thing, just in a different fashion.

Now, there's an additional flap in the rear diffuser that changes its state depending on what's going on with the car. This alone was enough to counteract removal of those aforementioned rear ducts.

I won't even begin to explain the complicated methodology used to "generate a coherent concentrated vortex that creates out-wash in the velocity field immediately above the rear screen", which also "facilitates both venting of pressure in the cabin and re-compression of the separation bubble downstream from the wind stop".

What this nerd-speak basically outlines is that they've applied epic levels of thought in order to keep the cabin as calm as possible at high speeds. I tested this with the roof down at over 250km/h. Despite my excitement bubbling out of the top, it remained a remarkably serene place to be.

Ideally, I'd like to experience this drop-top monster through the back roads of the Southern Highlands in New South Wales, as a true test of character. Consider this me just flagging it now with my colleagues.

Either way, regardless of it being more a road car than a race car, this opportunity did give us plenty of relatively rule-free road to stress-test all of its 800hp. You know, to ensure they all respond as originally promised.

It's actually quite an outrageous number, 800hp, which translates to 588kW in our language. It makes this huge peak power figure all the way up at 8500rpm, just 400rpm shy of its 8900rpm rev limiter. Torque is an equally brutal 718Nm that arrives at 7000rpm. Pretty quickly, you're able to discern what this engine may feel like from its lofty peak torque deliverance alone.

Eighty per cent of its turning force is on tap from 3500rpm. The other 20 per cent crescendos up until 7000rpm. Searching for that other 20 per cent is quite the pilgrimage. It's an event in itself; a magical sensation this motor has been specially designed to provide its lucky owners.

The engine responds to input in a manner that's plain unusual. Once the boot is in, there's an immediate kick from the thing, or jolt as I could describe it, as it initially loads up and begins to get on with it. The next sensation is pure, unadulterated acceleration. It's so impeccably crisp, almost buttery, in how it builds power. After exiting turn three of SMSP's Gardener GP circuit for the first time in the 812 GTS, I was already sold.

Coming out of turn eight shortly after made me realise how naive I was. The more gear ratio you throw at it, the more electric it feels. The huge torque figure doesn't care about gearing or torque multiplication. Fourth gear powers on with such ferocity.

Bear in mind that all of this engine superiority is going on to the soundtrack of all soundtracks. The echoed howls of V12 flicking off the hard stuff, pit walls, buildings and the like, is peak motoring.

It's even better with the roof down, too, which is why I find it so hard to understand why Ferrari has reserved this recipe for such rare occasions. As such a joyous thing, so monumental in experience, I can imagine Ferrari would have no problem peddling it to wealthy individuals in a position to home something with such tendencies.

Maybe Ferrari wanted to reserve it for special occasions, like exactly 50 years from the last time it formulated such a plan. Who knows? Either way, I should stop complaining now, curb my whingeing, and begin celebrating the return of such a marriage.

After a bit more time was spent marinating in the experience, and as my focus began to return back home, the manettino was dialled to race. Here in this selection it stepped it up again. Gear shifts from the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission were now devoid of any previous stretchiness. They became crisp but noticeable, and maybe a touch out of keeping with the grand-tourer character of the car.

Something that did beggar belief, however, was how the rear-wheel steering system felt. Whoever named this technology absolutely got it perfect. 'Virtual short wheelbase' is a technology that literally does what it says, for once.

How small the car felt, even in the narrowest section of track, was pretty remarkable. It places a sense of deftness over how quick the 812 turns in, and how much bloody grip it has in the first place. It's the feeling it conveys – how the overall body and chassis reacts to steering input, and reminiscent of a car that's much smaller and lighter – that's special.

Giving the responsible technology the moniker 'virtual short wheelbase' is spot on.

As track time was short yet sweet, I didn't get enough time behind the wheel to go out and trial Ferrari Power Oversteer (FPO). In my case, I'd need a fair amount of time to begin to throw it around sideways anyway. Maybe a few weeks, perhaps.

It's quite an intimidating car in ways.

First, there's the cost – $675,888 before on-roads. Regardless of your worth, these sorts of figures are not small to anyone.

Secondly, there's the ability it has. I'm sure it'll blaze the tyres with barely any throttle and some hamfisted steering inputs. But to do it justice, as in roll out of the apex in third gear at some astronomical speed for it to get loose and all crossed up, is something that requires huge ability and a few other things, too, for that matter.

You need to be equipped to push a car like this. The braking performance alone requires a dab hand to get the most from it, and managing that V12 at its peak is also quite the art form.

Once it was all done, and we were off the track, I did take the time to admire what it was. A pretty stunning execution of performance and beauty. Its long front end and greatly raked front window are fundamental to it emitting as much exotica as it does.

The cabin seems to have won second place, with more effort focused on housing that mechanical package in the ideal spot, as opposed to creating physical comfort or space for its occupants. The way this mechanical selfishness has manifested throughout its design is what makes it fundamentally exotic, to me at least anyway.

Despite being so wide, you sit quite outbound of the car, too. Put it this way, you can't adjust the electric seats with the door closed, as there's no room to sneak your hand down there.

Once you pop the roof off, its look changes again. Now it becomes the synonym for richness.

So fantastically classy yet strong, with its two buttresses now able to get the airtime they so deserve. Their extensions back almost into the tail-light area are also pretty aggressive, in the sense of conveying their scale and might.

I understand mid-engine Italian cars are also referred to by the same 'exotic' title, but they are not in the same league here. There's such drama from the proportions of this car, all of which are simply just paying their rent to the deeply set V12 under the bonnet.

It's a masterclass. It also shows you that if you start with something truly special, the rest cannot fail to be at least somewhat so.

Wistful thoughts will come to mind when I think back about the 812 GTS. I hope our next reunion is a bit shorter than 50 years from now, however.

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