"It looks like a Ferrari."
That's the distilled wisdom of a dozen or so highly skilled and experienced designers, true car enthusiasts all, whom we consulted in an informal poll at the Geneva motor show, where the oddly named Ferrari LaFerrari (the Ferrari) was the unquestioned hit this year. That phrase may sound a bit simplistic, but it's vitally important. Ferrari's recent California may have been warmly received by wives and girlfriends in Beverly Hills and West Palm Beach, but most designers -- including me -- saw it as sadly inauthentic, rather like a Lexus LS in a Ferrari suit, not greatly more legitimate than various Pontiac Fieros disguised with Ferrari-shaped plastic skins.
One look at this car and you know whence it came -- Italy -- and who created it: a native Italian designer. It is not an exclusively Pininfarina design, as most production Ferraris have been for several decades, but a product of the in-house design department headed by Flavio Manzoni, who has a solid design education as an architect and a solid industry background, including successful stints at Lancia, Seat, and Volkswagen, to go with his undoubted talent.
LaFerrari is the highest-performance road car ever to come from Maranello, with the most power and the most exotic technology. If it is not the most beautiful Ferrari of all time, it is vastly more elegant and sensual than the Enzo, the F50, the F40, and other extreme-performance models offered in the years since Scuderia Ferrari quit sports car racing to concentrate exclusively on Formula 1. On the other hand, LaFerrari is rather predictable, recapitulating numerous well-established Ferrari cues and falling into the seductive trap that has engulfed Porsche's 911 and Volkswagen's Golf, abandoning formal innovation for the tried and true. Safe and predictable really appeals to upper management, whatever the passions that created the company in the first place might have been.
As most of us both expect and desire in a top model, LaFerrari's engine is a V-12, a big one with outrageous amounts of power backed up with an electric motor for added acceleration and a battery to recapture kinetic energy, as "green" ecologist/politicians demand these days. In one sense, it doesn't really matter whether the engine is "clean" or not, in that the already-sold 499 cars scheduled to be built will likely go to people who will barely drive them. Average annual mileage for each car in the LaFerrari fleet will probably be in the very low four figures, whether expressed in miles or kilometers.
Probably neither you nor I will ever get a chance to drive LaFerrari. The sad thing to me is realizing that I don't regret that reality. This may well be a fabulous engineering exercise, but it's not really a car, it's a symbol.
FRONT 3/4 VIEW
1 The lower part of the frontal opening suggests a Formula 1car, with a central mast and a downforce "wing." The red portion is essentially symbolic, not functional, however.
2 In plan view, the front end is arrow-shaped, with a graceful curve at the corner where the upper surface overhangs the sides to channel air aft.
3 Hot air flowing out of the radiator is directed over the roof, adding its energy to the airstream.
4 There are two peaks on each front fender, as on the new Corvette but farther apart.
5 The arrow-shaped negative surface on the nose picks up again on the roof after its point of maximum height.
6 The elegantly slim mirror stalks recall the carbon-fiber suspension arms of F1 cars.
7 Again as on the new Corvette, there are holes in the body surfaces facing up, forward, back, and underneath the tail. Functional surely, but not at all pretty.
8 Even from this forward viewpoint, the taillights are discernible.
9 Not visible is one of the car's best features: the carbon-fiber chassis section is tall and narrow at the cockpit, making entrance and egress astonishingly easy for a supercar.
10 Again recalling Formula 1 practice, a flat plane runs all around the nose and back behind the doors, where the body swells to cover the wide rear tires.
11 The long, boomerang-shaped headlamp assemblies incorporate the outer fender peaks and a subtle negative surface just ahead of the transparency. 12 The grille texture looks very functional, almost like radiator cores. From straight ahead, the car looks menacing, serious, and immensely potent.
13 Twin fender-peaks area is less complicated on the rear, but there is a lot of shuffling to get the various flat surfaces to encompass the round taillights.
14 The backlight seems to be more for displaying the engine than providing rear visibility. The glass is flanked by more ventilation holes.
15 Even so, they seem not to be enough, as witness these teardrop-shaped outlets.
16 Again, the grilles seem very matter-of-fact, reassuringly functional looking.
17 More visual trickery. These wings move to adjust rear downforce, not allowed in F1. 18 Still more F1 imagery. These LEDs recall the flashing rain/spray lamps on racing cars, flanked by still more grilled openings.
19 No, Ferrari hasn't overdone labels. This is where the license plate goes, and the small prancing horse above is more than enough marque identification.
20 You'd expect more bazookalike exhaust tips. These look almost too small for the size of the 6.3-liter V-12 engine.
21 More black skirting wraps under the tail, as the flat planes do in front.
22 The flattened top and bottom of the steering wheel once more recall the helm of the F1 team cars. 23 There's a bit more visible carbon fiber than is strictly necessary. This will probably look quaintly old-fashioned in a few more years.
24 No gate, no lever, just buttons. Do you, too, feel like something's missing?
25 Inner door panels have an air of practicality but are bereft of elegance and charm.