Road Tests

First Drive: Ferrari 812 Superfast

The name says it all

MARANELLO, Italy – I don’t know how Ferrari does it. For years I’ve been coming to Italy to test-drive the latest V-12 magnum opus from the House of the Prancing Horse, and every time I think, “Wow, how could a front-engine V-12 sports car possibly get any better?” And then Ferrari goes right out and makes a better one.

Back in 2006, it was the 599GTB, which at the time I dubbed “perhaps the finest all-around Ferrari ever.” Then, in 2010, I tested the fire-breathing 599GTO at Italy’s Mugello race circuit — and came away practically foaming at the mouth. The GTO was, I wrote, “the best sports car I’ve ever driven.” Last year it was the four-passenger GTC4 Lusso, which I called “an all-wheel-drive Formula 1 car with way comfier seats.” I mean, how do you top an automobile that can go 208 miles per hour and easily accommodate four adults in luxurious, leather-lined splendor?

Well, Ferrari has just done it. Again. Behold the Ferrari with the silliest, most childish, and absolutely coolest name ever: the 2018 812 Superfast. Officially, the name is an homage to the 4.9 Superfast of the 1950s, Ferrari getting all gushy and sentimental as it celebrates its 70th anniversary this year. But forget all that and just say the name again: Superfast. There hasn’t been a more descriptive and honest moniker for a product since Sugar Pops.

Replacing the F12, the Superfast is, quite simply, the fastest, most powerful regular-production Ferrari ever made (and, no, the LaFerrari was definitely not a regular-production car). It matches the LaFerrari’s V-12 in horsepower, tops it in torque, and simply obliterates the already stupefying special-edition F12tdf. Seat belt fastened, tray table in the upright and locked position? Good, because here come the numbers: 0 to 60 mph in just 2.9 seconds. Top speed: 211 mph. When it passes you at full tilt, the Superfast emits a shock wave that cold-cocks your cerebellum and does a Jake LaMotta to your kidneys. All of a sudden you find yourself looking for the nearest men’s room.

Though based on the 6.3-liter unit in the F12, the Superfast’s naturally aspirated 6.5-liter V-12 is 75 percent new. In addition to the increased displacement (via a longer stroke), the Superfast’s engine features a new crankshaft, new con rods, a new piston design, and a more robust crankcase. An all-new injection system operates at more than 5000 p.s.i. and incorporates smaller injectors to deliver smaller fuel droplets, improving combustion. A new cylinder head with revised cam profiles and new inlet- and exhaust-valve designs improves the flow coefficient by 8 percent over the F12.

 

As before, the engine sports variable-geometry intake tracts, but they’ve been improved with wider throttle valves and a larger-diameter air inlet, among other refinements. The result is staggering output: 789 horsepower at 8,500 rpm and 530 pound-feet of torque at 7,000 — with 80 percent of the grunt available by 3,500 rpm. (To clear up any confusion, the “8” in the car’s name refers to its output of 800 metric horsepower.)

Remarkably, given its astounding brawn, the Superfast produces far fewer C02 emissions than its V-12 predecessors. The engine breathes out through six-into-one exhaust manifolds with exhaust pipes optimized to enhance the V-12’s legendary scream. At its 8,900-rpm redline, the Superfast could make a Navy SEAL dive for cover.

Ferrari’s F1 seven-speed dual-clutch automatic returns, but it’s been beefed-up for Superfast duty. The gear ratios have been lowered by an average of 6 percent to improve acceleration, while faster-responding paddles and improved torque management have reduced shift times by 30 percent. Rather than having to blip the left paddle every time a downshift is desired, a “multi-down” feature allows the driver simply to hold down the left paddle; the system will automatically execute sequential downshifts for you.

The chassis receives perhaps the most significant upgrades of all. On board are a new, second-gen version of Ferrari’s “virtual short wheelbase” (a.k.a., rear-wheel steering), a fifth-gen edition of the maker’s side-slip control, and Ferrari’s first-ever use of electronic power steering. The EPS system allows the addition of two unique features: Ferrari Peak Performance (FPP) and Ferrari Power Oversteer (FPO). FPP is intended to improve the driver’s ability, by varying steering-wheel torque, to sense when the car is approaching its cornering limits, while FPO modulates steering torque when exiting turns under throttle — guiding the driver into making the proper inputs to counter any oversteer.

In practice, both systems are essentially transparent. You don’t feel them working per se; rather, you sense, though your fingertips, “this is what I should do with the wheel.” FPO is particularly effective, almost as if you had a ghost driver riding with you to help steer the car back in line when the tail steps wide.

Tires (either Michelins or Pirellis) are the same size as on the F12tdf, 275/35ZR20s up front and 315s at the rear. Inside the gorgeous alloy wheels lie Brembo Extreme brakes, the same binders found on the LaFerrari ultracar. Ferrari claims stopping performance from 62 mph has improved by 5.8 percent over the F12.

To say the Superfast is attractive is like saying Tom Brady is a decent QB. Designed in-house, the Superfast is simply dripping in beauty and curves and sex appeal. Yet around and beneath that lust-inducing exterior, all kinds of aerodynamic magic is at work. Compared with the F12, drag coefficient is reduced by roughly 3-4 percent. Underneath, the Superfast channels air as astutely as an F1 car, capturing and funneling the flow with near-surgical precision to reduce drag while simultaneously improving downforce. Above 124 mph, passive front flaps (via a calibrated elastic spring) open to reduce drag; at the rear, electrically operated flaps do the same. Also improving downforce is an integrated rear spoiler 1.2 inches taller than on the F12 and F12tdf.

The Superfast’s cockpit is a sublime blend of Italian style and astute ergonomics. There is no large central display screen, its presence having been dubbed improper for such a performance-focused machine. Rather, all nav, vehicle, and infotainment information is delivered by smaller screens surrounding the large analog tach in front of the driver. New seats fit like a Brioni suit, while a new steering wheel design feels great in the hands while placing important controls (such as the Manettino dial for choosing drive modes) in quick reach. Contrasting saddle-leather trim around the instrument cluster looks lovely but, unfortunately, reflects badly into the windshield. As on the Lusso, the passenger can enjoy his or her own systems display screen, the better to keep an eye on what the driver is doing with those 789 ponies. Among the available options are a telemetry system based on the LaFerrari’s, and a premium 12-speaker audio setup.

Before lapping Ferrari’s private Fiorano race circuit, I spent a few hours powering the Superfast through the hills and valleys around Maranello for some real-world impressions. My test car was wearing a new shade: “Rosso Settantanni,” a darker, bloodier red reminiscent of hues found on vintage Ferraris and offered as part of Ferrari’s 70th celebrations.

First take: Wow is this a polished piece. I set out initially in Sport mode, anticipating a little jostling from the broken asphalt found on so many of Italy’s roadways. It didn’t come. Instead, the Superfast almost glided above the rippled pavement, hovercraft-like, never losing composure or crashing over the rough stuff. I switched into Race, but still the ride was perfectly acceptable — very firm, yes, but compliant enough.

 

What’s particularly magical about the Superfast’s ride quality is that it’s served up with phenomenal cornering power and response. It hangs on to the tarmac harder than a toddler being stripped of his popsicle. It doesn’t understeer. It doesn’t step out at the rear (unless you want it to). It just bites, leans a bit, and powers through bends fast or slow. Despite being electrically actuated, the steering manages to deliver good tactility through the wheel. Cornering forces build naturally, and your fingers feel plenty of road info. The rear-wheel steering really isn’t a “thing;” all you notice from the helm is super-quick turn-in. The Superfast wastes no motion, lags in its responses not at all. Everything is right now and right here and hard-wired to your brain and hands.

Gunning the Superfast through Italy’s tight, twisting two-lanes — the passing vistas peppered with brick farmhouses and dark castles and tiny villages with old men in patio chairs waving from storefronts — I experienced an epiphany. “This Ferrari belongs here,” I thought to myself, its beauteous, modern, radiant form a passing star against the timeworn landscape, its searing engine note tuned to soar over the vineyards and sing with the church bells, its very presence an embodiment of all the passion and history and art that is Italy.

But if the roadways left me in wonderment, Fiorano left me in utter awe. The Superfast is deceptive that way; it’s so calm and mild-mannered at modest throttle inputs, you could easily forget the power it wields. Then you stand on the gas on Fiorano’s main straight and … it’s all you can do to hang on. The V-12 revs almost maniacally — especially above 7,000 rpm, where the surge of acceleration takes on almost otherworldly proportions. Your helmet bangs against the headrest as you click off the lightning upshifts. That scream! It’s intoxicating, addictive, electrifying…fantastic! In fact, the Superfast is so strident at max revs, on one section of the circuit I was told to lift off — lest the exhaust note disturb the inhabitants of some apartments overlooking the track.

Equally as incredible as its ability to make speed is the Superfast’s proficiency at erasing it. At the end of the main straight, I stood on the Brembos and the car all but stopped in its tracks. The next lap I braked way, way later but still easily slowed without overstepping the turn-in point. Three quick downshifts, into second gear, then squeeze on the gas again for a long, long increasingly fast right-hander. Fiorano isn’t a particularly fast circuit, but it is a technical one, requiring strict attention to the racing line, some unusual braking points, and absolute concentration. The wall or an ugly drop-off are occasionally only a few feet away. Yet the Superfast chewed up the track like a honey badger on a termite mound — ferociously, purposefully, as if utterly unaware of anything else but the tarmac straight ahead, there to be eaten. Lapping at speed in the Superfast was completely exhilarating yet involved no theatrics, no scary moments or even any sense that the car was being overly taxed. The Superfast made lapping at warp speed a thing of ease and poise and grace. There is nothing it doesn’t do to near-perfection and to the nth degree.

I’ve learned my lesson; I’m not going to say the 812 Superfast is the greatest V-12 Ferrari of all time (though — wink, wink — it may well be). As history has proven, something even more mind-blowing is undoubtedly already brewing behind the gates at Maranello HQ. What comes next, though, will likely incorporate some sort of hybrid powertrain. Indeed, the Superfast could prove to be the last of Ferrari’s big, naturally aspirated V-12 road rockets.

Which leads me to end with this: I cannot possibly imagine a better way to go.

2018 Ferrari 812 Superfast Specifications

ON SALE Now
PRICE $335,275 (base)
ENGINE 6.5 DOHC 48-valve V-12/789 hp @ 8,500 rpm, 530 lb-ft @ 7,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION 7-speed dual-clutch-automatic
LAYOUT 2-door, 2-passenger, front-engine, RWD coupe
EPA MILEAGE 14/17 (city/highway, est)
L x W x H 183.3 x 77.6 x 50.2 in
WHEELBASE 107.1 in
WEIGHT 3,400 lb (est)
0-60 MPH 2.9 sec
TOP SPEED 211 mph

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