2020 Ferrari 812 Superfast Drive: The Sweetest-Sounding V-12 Swan Song
Regrets assuaged, one tunnel at a time, before non-turbo V-12 engines go extinct.
LOS ANGELES—Writing this review of the 2020 Ferrari 812 Superfast doesn't feel particularly gratifying, or at least not as gratifying as it did when we named the 812 a 2019 Automobile All-Star. The very act of putting these words to digital paper signifies an experience completely in the past tense, and that leaves a rotten taste in my mouth. When the subject matter involves a handful of days in a front-engine, naturally aspirated V-12 Ferrari, "over" and "finished" are harsh, nasty words better suited for jury duty and splinter extraction.
Indeed, driving the 2020 Ferrari 812 Superfast again after it took home a trophy from the 2019 edition of Automobile All-Stars is just about the greatest vehicular treat I'll experience for at least the next few years, tainting future stints in mid-engine neon-wedges with tri-turbo V-8s—from Maranello or otherwise—with a bitter dusting of "this is fantastic, but it's no Superfast."
Presented with a thick, well-read catalog of automotive exotica from the past five years, the 2020 Ferrari 812, thanks to its engine alone, should be circled six-times-over with red Magic Marker and reside on the grubbiest and most earmarked of pages. Whether you bleed motor oil from Detroit, Japan, or Stuttgart, a full-throttle blast of the 812's V-12 engine overwhelms both the sensory nervous and endocrine systems like a fistful of benzodiazepines with an epinephrine chaser.
2020 Ferrari 812 Superfast: All About That Engine
On the subject of the "big" Ferraris, it is and always has been all about the engine. In the case of the Superfast, the 6.5-liter V-12 is arguably the most delicious—and rarified—method available with a warranty today for converting gasoline into sound and smoke. The depressing reality is, naturally aspirated V-8s are a dying breed, so how do you think the outlook is for something with four additional cylinders on tap? Twin-turbo V-12 engines are sticking around a bit longer than most doomsayers believe, but a future devoid of natty twelves looms closer than you think. The 812 Superfast line is rather likely to hold the final free-breathing V-12 engine Ferrari will ever produce; it's so endangered, I'm surprised I didn't have a cadre of armed anti-poaching rangers surrounding me as I drove.
What an evocative car. Including method of aspiration, nothing about the 812 makes sense in 2020, particularly the powertrain layout. Don't accuse Ferrari for being behind the times; Maranello acknowledged mid-engine superiority almost 50 years ago with the launch of the 365 GT/4 BB in 1971 as the replacement for the then-outgoing Daytona. Between 1973 and 1995, the only way to get something with a front-engine layout with a frenetic horse on the snout was to settle for the relatively demure 2+2 grand tourers such as the 400i, 412, and later 456 lineage. The shift in 1996 from the Testarossa with its mid-mounted flat-twelve to the 550 Maranello and its front-mounted V-12 marked Ferrari's deliberate resuscitation of past glories, and is a formula Ferrari seems more than happy to continue even as we enter the AMEC (After Mid-Engine Corvette) era.
2020 Ferrari 812 Superfast: Augmented Tradition
After all, Ferrari announced the absurdly exciting retro-futuristic Icona series early last year, with the Monza SP serving as the first fruits of this series focused on limited-edition Ferraris designed with historical reimagination in mind. As there is quite a large backlog of front-engined Ferrari icons to pull from, it stands to reason there are still quite a few front-engine fans roving Maranello's rosso-lined halls, so expect a smattering of coupes with 812-esque proportions to emerge for years to come.
Folded into this anachronistic design is bleeding-edge supercar tech, a table of contents comprised of state-of-the-art traction- and stability-control systems, whip-crack quick electric steering, wickedly sharp seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, and rear-wheel steering that magically turns the almost two-ton grand-tourer into a precision instrument. Like the bulky, unwieldy body of a robot you'd find in the ER operating room, there's surprisingly significant mass present for something so micron precise.
2020 Ferrari 812 Superfast: Making Up for Past Mistakes
As I mentioned, this is my second brush with Ferrari's mainline flagship, having driven the 812 extensively at last year's All-Stars. Not only did I participate in the regular parameters of both the track and the road tests, I was incredibly fortunate enough to keep the keys for the trip back from the winner's shoot through Death Valley to Los Angeles. That yellow 812 was unbelievable down those endless desert highways, but once I made it home—and unsure of how much to push my luck—I left it parked for the remainder of the weekend before Ferrari picked it up. Now, celebrating a visiting buddy's birthday weekend, I got my chance to live it all again, and then some, with a few blasts through southern California's extensive network of craggy mountain ranges, an epic drive culminating on the sweeping passes that slither through the San Gabriel Mountains just north of Los Angeles.
Located some 42-miles up from the base of Angeles Crest Highway, a tunnel drills through the mountainside for almost a quarter-mile, serving as one of the most secluded and crucially traffic-free ways of amplifying the aural bliss of the 812's Tipo F140 GA V-12 engine. At just before noon on a weekday, traffic even toward the base was light, giving me every chance to smack against the breathtaking 8,900-rpm redline during our charge to the top.
2020 Ferrari 812 Superfast: Big Car, Pseudo-Small Footprint
Even on the relatively wide road that comprises ACH, the 2020 Ferrari 812 Superfast and its engine bay feel massive, but only dimensionally. Ferrari's so-called Virtual Short Wheelbase—a comprehensive system that incorporates rear-wheel steering, braking, and the electric steering—somehow instills a darty, featherweight attitude, especially during long sweepers. In the tighter stuff, the Superfast almost feels as though it's turning-in on itself, like there's an invisible pivot driven through the rear-third of the wheelbase. As we noted during our All-Stars evaluation, the 812's steering is almost perilously quick, but a welcome alternative to slower steering that might have dipped too far into GT category—a characteristic Ferrari hopes to reserve for the GTC4 Lusso and its new Roma.
Who am I kidding—let's talk about that 6.5-liter stunner again. A tremendous 789 hp and 530 lb-ft of torque are on call through the cross-drilled throttle pedal, enough to hit 0-to-60 mph in 2.8 seconds, a top speed of 211 mph, and still scuttle the rear end above 70 mph if you're not careful. Truth be told, you don't actually have to be cautious, at least within reason. Ignoring the inherent day-to-day approachability of modern supercars, you don't need to drive the 812 like you have a broken toe; Ferrari's suite of performance driving aids is stunningly effective at making sure your $400,000-plus investment remains shiny and unscathed, and that its engine doesn't overwhelm you.
2020 Ferrari 812 Superfast: Absolute Power
From a dig, the 812 lists ever-so-slightly to the right as onboard systems subtly manage power, wheelspin, and stability while maintaining a frightful rate of increasing forward momentum. That's it, really—point, shoot, grin, and laugh. Even if you stand on the throttle while the steering wheel isn't turned arrow-straight, Ferrari's so-called Side Slip Control will make it look like you caught that inevitably pirouetting rear-end all by yourself. Too much excitement? Stomp those massive 15.7-inch front and 14.2-inch rear carbon-ceramic brakes yanked from the LaFerrari to put a stop to any forward motion lickety-split.
Even before we got to the tunnels, we lived for the straightaways. In the model year 2020, there's absolutely nothing that raises goosebumps like an 812 Superfast on the charge. Not even the mighty Lamborghini Aventador's metrically identical naturally aspirated 6.5-liter V-12 matches the Ferrari's superbike spin-up speed and eye-crossing, toe-curling engine scream. At any rpm, the 812 emits an eldritch howl that could only be the haunting sound of burned Mesozoic plant and animal matter being resurrected and subsequently consumed in those 12 cylinders. In the tunnel, it was borderline hallucinogenic; the sound reverberated and echoed like something from another epoch.
2020 Ferrari 812 Superfast: All The Sound and All The Fury
This is to say nothing of the absurd speed you gain while deafening yourself, as 789 hp shrinks any straight like a folded paper. Acceleration isn't quite as oppressive as the torque-tastic Aston Martin DBS Superleggera, but it's more than fitting of the V-12's habit-forming soundtrack. Unlike the aforementioned Aston's traditional eight-speed auto, the Ferrari's seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox almost requires you operate it in manual mode if you ever hope to hit redline. The transmission is quick to upshift and loathe to downshift in Auto mode, presumably out of both conserving fuel consumption and maintaining the veneer of leisurely grand touring. In some ways, this was refreshing; navigating L.A. 's stop-and-go traffic was made all that much easier by the 812's eager auto-upshifts and a torque-curve as wide as the Grand Canyon.
We couldn't stay on the mountain forever. The fey shriek from the tunnels no doubt attracted the attention of some manner of forest service or park ranger, and our fuel reserves were almost at the halfway mark, even after filling up at journey's beginning. With my previous regret squashed and my friend nursing a newfound 12-cylinder addiction, I said goodbye to the 2020 Ferrari 812 Superfast and its magical engine for the second—and what I believe to be the final—time. I genuinely hope I am wrong about whatever comes after the 812. If I'm not, then no matter if the next generation is hybrid, turbocharged, or a combination of both, nothing will intoxicate quite like this joyfully outmoded, non-turbo V-12 Maranello hot-rod.
2020 Ferrari 812 Superfast Highlights
- One of the greatest engines of all time
- Big power, big speed
- Unbeatable V-12 soundtrack
- Get yours now while you can, the next V-12 Ferrari will likely have turbos