2018 Ferrari 812 Superfast, Driven: The Maranello Mauler

Ferrari's 789-horsepower, 211-mph beauty breathes life into the V-12.

LORENZO MARCINNO—www.lorenzomarcinno.it

Picture a car with 800 metric horsepower, or a still-stunning 789 by America’s count. Picture a car that can honestly rock a racetrack, and sail past 211 mph. Chances are, your mental canvas won’t reflect the Ferrari 812 Superfast. Unless, perhaps, you’re the artistic type.

Ferrari

Classical, muscular shapes abound in Italy

2018 Ferrari 812 Superfast makes a case for uniqueness

Car manufacturers love to claim, often dubiously, that a certain model has no direct rival or analog. Ferrari floats no such claim on its home turf of Maranello. Instead, it simply tosses me a crimson key fob and raises the old-fashioned wooden crossing gate at the entrance to its storied Fiorano circuit. I floor the gas, floor any skepticism over this Italian heir to the F12berlinetta, and now proclaim for them: The 812 Superfast is sui generis among today’s wildly priced automobiles. The part you’ll expect, nay demand, from this $308,000 Ferrari is that it’s alluringly styled, technically advanced and all-day comfortable. Like its ancestors that trace to the first of Ferrari’s 70 birthdays in 1947, the Superfast flaunts the suggestively swollen hood and naturally aspirated V-12 that came to define the world’s haughtiest GT’s. Yet the old definition of “gran turismo” utterly fails to describe the essence and reality of the 812 – the “8” signifying 800 horses, the “12” the cylinder count.

The most powerful production Ferrari in history—setting aside the company’s limited-run, self-described “supercars” like the LaFerrari—is also a supercar by today’s usual definitions, even without the typical mid-engine layout and its compromised visibility and comfort: This is a bucket-list sports car to drive, a sensory overload of physical beauty, heroic speed and La Scala sound. Yet the magnetic-suspension ride remains comfortable, the cabin eye-popping and practical. Raise the rear hatch, and luggage space rivals a Corvette’s, minus the budget carpet. Instead, there’s a natty cargo deck with leather straps and buckles – and custom fitted luggage optional, of course.

Ferrari

No faking it at Fiorano

By the time I return from a daylong workout in the quilted, sun-scorched hills of Emilia-Romagna, I know the Ferrari’s infinitely layered, 8,900-rpm soundtrack will haunt my sleep for weeks to come. Charging down a final set of two-lane sweepers, passing a half-dozen cars at once as a BMW 5-Series driver wages a fruitless battle to keep pace, I roll into the village of Maranello. Even with car and driver tamed by rush-hour traffic, I continue to obsessively rev the engine, like a greedy oenephile downing the last drops of a rare Brunello di Montalcino. Equally delicious are the cork-popping backfires and gurgles when I shift the dual-clutch, seven-speed automated transmission, a sound aided by a 6-into-1 exhaust manifold. If this really is Ferrari’s final, naturally aspirated V-12, as it turns to the artificial sweeteners of turbocharging and hybrid electrification, the 6.5-liter is a fitting swan song. (For history buffs, the V-12 in the first-ever Ferrari, the 125S of 1947, was just 1.5 liters).

Lawrence Ulrich

Ferrari's first V-12 of 1947, on display in the company museum

Starting with a stiffened block and a new casting process to reduce metal fatigue, the new V-12 rises to a company-record 6.5 liters (versus the F12’s 6.3 liters). Seventy-five percent of engine parts are new, including the stroked pistons, connecting rods, crankshaft and combustion chambers. Valves are widened, with higher lift and longer duration. Add a fuel injection system with 350 bar pressure, unprecedented in a spark-ignition gasoline automobile—and nearly double the 200 bar of the F12--and you’ve got what powertrain chief Andrea Napolitano calls “the Gulp Effect,” an engine that can swallow vastly more air and fuel. The upshot is a decisive boost in horsepower and torque throughout the engine’s lofty range. Compared with the F12berlinetta, the Ferrari sends about 50 additional horses to the road anywhere between third and seventh gear. So girded, the 812 Superfast dashes to 62 mph (100 kph) in 2.9 seconds, and to 124 mph (200 kph) in 8.5 seconds. For context, the 550 Maranello, produced from 1997 to 2002, took 14 seconds to reach 124 mph.

Ferrari

70 years of Ferrari V-12 development reaches its peak, may soon reach its end

Ferrari’s F1 gearbox was already a strong challenger to Porsche’s PDK as the world’s most kickass automatic. That transmission now upshifts 30 percent faster, with 40-percent-speedier downshifts and 6-percent shorter gear ratios (on average) than in the F12berlinetta. Hold the left shift paddle down as you enter turns, and a multi-downshift function can automatically drop three or four gears in rapid-fire, rev-matching fashion. I spend most of my day thwacking its aluminum paddles before realizing that the Ferrari performs even better in full Automatic mode, accessed via a button on the flying-bridge console. As with Porsche PDK, this gearbox has near-psychic gifts to anticipate the road ahead and stay one step ahead of even top professionals. That includes Raffaele de Simone, the calm, uncannily talented Ferrari development driver who I always appreciate in my driver or passenger seat. Free instruction from a man who hones and heightens each new Ferrari? Are you kidding me?

Ferrari 812 Superfast is Superhot, too. 

With so much to discuss in technology and performance, can we all just agree that the 812 Superfast is beautiful, and leave it at that? Unlike some supercars, clad in their superhero get-ups, the Ferrari doesn’t need to scream for your attention and admiration; it already has it. From its Mona Lisa smile (braced with a dark carbon-fiber insert) to its four round taillamps and high-tailed fastback silhouette—reminiscent of the holy 365 GTB Daytona of 1969—the Ferrari adds its latest aerodynamic advances to ensure you won’t ugly up that pretty body at high speeds. There’s a so-called “bi-bocca” front air intake, and ground-effect vortex generators. Thin airflow elements direct air under, over and through the body, including tasteful ducts in front fenders, rear fenders and rear haunches. A passive front aero device, activated by air pressure, forces a flap open above 124 mph to stall the underbody and reduce drag. The rear diffuser integrates three active, electric flaps to further reduce drag at breakneck speeds. A downforce-generating tail spoiler is 1.2 inches taller than the F12berlinetta’s, and matches the hardcore, track-going F12tdf.

Ferrari

Redesigned interior includes slim screen for the passenger

Solid advances, one and all. But enthusiasts, including myself, often wish for some traditions to hold: The Superfast also marks the first Ferrari with electrically assisted steering instead of a traditional hydraulic unit. Ah, but dry those tears, or the sweaty palms: The 812’s electric rack is rewardingly quick, linear and never unnatural, as proven in the hundreds of hairpins that I swing through on the day’s ascents and descents. Does the 812 offer as much pure feedback as sports cars of old? No. But for an opening bid in electric steering, the Ferrari’s seems the best yet. I’d put it in a virtual dead heat with Porsche’s well-established electric units. By design, de Simone acknowledges, the steering is on the light side, as it’s been in most Ferrari V-12’s; Ferrari wasn’t seeking the physical workout of the 488 GTB and other mid-engine models. But the old hydraulic steering was destined for Ferrari’s dustbin – like stick shifts before it – because it could never be integrated with Ferrari’s myriad driver-supporting technologies.

“The steering was blind before,” de Simone says. “Now, we give steering a seat at the table of vehicle dynamics.”

Lawrence Ulrich

The Hills are Alive, with the sound of Ferrari

That groaning table of dynamic systems include the electronic differential, F1 Traction control and enhanced Side Slip Control 5.0, the F1-based driver aids that work at Brainiac speed to apply maximum power to the pavement. The electric steering’s contributions include a new “Power Oversteer” function that, when the Ferrari’s tires finally break loose, intentionally lightens the steering wheel in the direction of countersteer, subtly encouraging the pilot to make the proper course correction. Yet if there’s any extra help from the steering when I intentionally slide the car at Fiorano, it’s so subtle that I can’t even detect it – just as a good driver would like it.

Performance as good as its gets for a front-engine car

It’s all part of the 812’s “Virtual Short Wheelbase” strategy that aims to mimic the balance and feel of those mid-engine cars. That includes especially chunky front wheels and 20-inch Pirelli P Zero tires, with a 275 section width. Throw in standard rear-axle steering, and the 812 virtually banishes understeer, with front tires that grip for days.The Ferrari never gets squirrelly under corner-exit acceleration or hard braking, even when I hammer it on the rippled and half-ruined pavement of the Italian countryside.

Ferrari

Ferrari carves, cruises or seduces at will

Where, say, a 650-horsepower Corvette Z06 feels like it can only use 500 of those horses at any given moment – and a tire-spinning, 707-hp Dodge Hellcat even less – the Ferrari feels like it’s applying every horsepower and pound-foot when you mat the gas pedal. Electronic magic is being performed at every instant, but the rabbit stays hidden in the hat. The driver gets to feel like David Copperfield, dazzling a passenger with amazing feats – or frightening him with visions of bodies sawed in half.  Even on Italy's narrow, no-shoulder country lanes, where trucks and bicyclists loom around blind curves, I grow confident enough to crank the Ferrari’s manettino switch to its “CT” setting that shuts down traction control.

Ferrari

812 Superfast explores Emilia-Romagna, quickly

As with the Lamborghini Aventador Superveloce’s V-12, the Superfast’s lack of turbocharging becomes a pure performance advantage. A powerband as wide as the Italian horizon lets me cruise with magisterial ease at low engine speeds, then crank the engine to its shrieking heights. Corner exits are a revelation, because you can get back on throttle extremely early, with no chassis upset from a great belch of turbo boost. Torque remains not only ample at a maximum 530 pound-feet, but beautifully progressive: 85 percent is available from as low as 3,500 rpm.

Ferrari

Rev-crazy V-12 soars to 8,900 rpm. Repeatedly.

Even Ferrari’s wonderful, four-passenger GTC4Lusso – which shares the F12’s architecture but adds AWD – can’t lift you to this kind of seventh heaven of V-12 performance. As for competing front-engine, GT-style exotics, forget it: For $298,000, the 2018 Aston Martin Vanquish S is the Ferrari’s closest analog in terms of price, philosophy and gorgeousness.  But the Ferrari’s performance and technology makes even that updated Vanquish seem like Roger Moore’s 007 -- a fading movie star with arthritic knees, who gets by on looks. At the most basic level, compare the Ferrari’s epic 789 horsepower and slender 3,594-pound curb weight with the Aston’s 580 horses and chubby 4,000 pounds. A Bentley Continental GT Supersports brings a more-competitive 700 horsepower from its own twin-turbo W-12. Yet the Bentley weighs nearly 5,300 pounds, about 1,700 more than the Ferrari. Both the Aston and Bentley, for all their glories, are fish out of water – specifically, fatty tunas – on a racetrack.

Run the numbers yourself: Superfast has no straight-up rival

That leaves the mid-engine, 740-horsepower Aventador Superveloce as the closest V-12 performance competitor, even as its sci-fi design is the exact opposite of the elegant Ferrari. Road or track, I love driving the Aventador SV. But it’s not in the Ferrari’s ballpark as a roomy, versatile daily driver. The Lambo also starts from $491,000, about $183,000 more than the 812 Superfast.

Have I proven my case? If not, please name a car that can do what this Ferrari does. By that, I also mean an ultra-exclusive, high-design automobile, something that blows 'em away in Monaco. And Lord, if someone mentions a Corvette Z06, I’ll hang myself with a Corvette-branded bowling league jacket.

Oh, about that Superfast name, the object of so much journalistic snark. Company executives, their feelings apparently stung, rightly claim a historical precedent in the 1964 Superfast, the company’s last bespoke V-12 model, of which just 37 were built. One executive further informs me that “Superfast” refers not just to speed, but the traditional fastback shape and novel aero strategies that mark both Superfast models.

Either way, consider it Truth in Advertising. This 812 isn’t Sortafast, or Semifast. Superfast it is. Something tells me that owners will wear the name proudly. 

Lawrence Ulrich, The Drive’s chief auto critic, is an award-winning auto journalist and former chief auto critic for The New York Times and Detroit Free Press. The Detroit native and Brooklyn gentrifier owns a troubled ’93 Mazda RX-7 R1, but may want to give it a good home. Email him at Lawrence@thedrive.com.